Living in Ghana, I never expected to see people who look like me on TV. After all, the population of Ghana is 99.5 percent black. That little fraction of non-Ghanians are the Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, and Western diplomats working in the country. Except for places popular with expats, I never expected to see other foreigners because Ghana is homogenous. After a while, I did realize that the Chinese and sometimes Koreans were shown on TV. Most of the appearances had something to do with trade and investment in Ghana.
Now that I’m back in the US, I feel pretty invisible. For some reason, I figured that the media should reflect the country’s demographic breakdown. Having been raised in the US, I’m not sure why I expected that after 3+ years the media would suddenly become enlightened.
For those not from the US, American demographics go something like this:
- Non-Hispanic White: 63.7 percent
- Hispanic or Latino: 16.4 percent
- non-Hispanic Black/African-American: 12.2 percent
- Asian: 4.8 percent
But those numbers are for the country as a whole. I live in California, one of the most diverse states, where the population actually looks like:
- non-Hispanic White: 39 percent
- Hispanic or Latino: 38.4 percent
- Asian: 14.1 percent
- non-Hispanic Black/African-American: 6.6 percent
Across networks and cable, the only person who looks something like me is the Asian guy from The Walking Dead. I realize there will be a new Asian-American sitcom coming out next year, Fresh Off the Boat, and John Cho has a leading role in Selfie, a sitcom on ABC. I tried to watch an episode but I didn’t find it believable that an Asian guy — heck, any person under 40 — had never heard of Facebook.
Being invisible isn’t anything new for Asian-Americans. I stopped watching ER because I never understood how there were no Asian doctors in the hospital. Seriously! What’s sad or surprising is how Hispanics/Latinos do not have much better media representation. They represent a much larger percentage of the US population. Sure, you could say they have their own channel, Univision, but that’s reminiscent of separate-but-equal logic.
Black-ish, a new show featuring an upper-middle class black family offers some hope. It’s funny and makes me cringe because I realize I may becoming as “un-cool” as the father character.
Oh, well, back in America. Back to being invisible.