Student Opinion: How School Curriculum Embarrassingly Underrepresents POC

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Sakshi Palav, Co-News Editor

As growing children who absorb the behavior and characteristics of their environment, we often take on the personalities of our favorite characters from the movies and books we watch and read. Intentionally or even unintentionally, we slowly become obsessed with becoming who we liked the most on a show or in a book which pushes us to suppress traits of ours that we believe don’t fit into the aura or character we are trying to emulate. 

As western art forms like TV and books primarily focus on white culture, it becomes difficult for children of color to not begin idolizing certain physical or behavioral white traits over theirs. Very few stories, on TV, screen, and in books, are written about people of color (POC), where even those are typically embedded with stereotypes. This lack of POC representation, mixed with the overrepresentation of white-only values, leads many young POC to believe Eurocentric features and traits are the standard and any other culture or race is “flawed.”

Even if done unknowingly, constantly feeding generations a white-only representation has led to the degradation of POC and their cultures that even the education system plays into, and not only in a skin color way. Schools cannot control the poor representation of different ethnicities on TV, but they can control the literature they choose to feed children and adolescent brains.

Literature usually found in any school are novels like The Miracle Worker, Les Miserables, The Crucible, and The Great Gatsby. As these novels are immensely well known and are indeed very well-written books, they are not the issue. The issue is schools choosing books, like these, that only represent the two categories of being white and being part of a Christian-based religion. This failure to recognize any POC-written novels, that are arguably equally great pieces of literature, pushes the idea that being white and Christian are the only socially acceptable race and religion. 

Personally, as an Asian American, I grew up watching movies and reading books where the main characters were always white. This was difficult for me because like any other child, I was always latching onto my favorite characters and trying my best to adapt to their characteristics. But in seeing that I was not of Anglo descent, and in fact very much of ethnic culture, I often, in all honesty, wanted to be white. And that’s something that many POC go through in America. We often don’t realize how beautiful our culture is because we are always focusing on being something we can never truly attain. Young children of color wanting to be white is not healthy, and it stems from the heavy intake of mainly white culture through the entertainment industry and school curriculum.

This constant thought process and consumption of white and Christian being the “norm” creates this toxic mindset that ethnic skin color and non Christian religions are unworthy traits that fall short. 

As lucky as I am to have grown out of my “I-want-to-be-white” phase, I should have never been in that phase in the first place. Being exposed to Bollywood movies, which are Hindi-Language movies, and diversity in culture from always moving around, has allowed me to see how having an ethnic background is not something to be ashamed of or to despise. It changed my perspective from questioning if I was the problem, to questioning whether the problem was the representation in things like Disney, Barbie doll collections, and school-chosen books. 

However, I would have never had to teach myself how to become comfortable with embracing my skin color and religion had the culture of being white and Christian not been vividly taught through TV and schools. 

As schools lack POC representation in their curriculum, they reinforce the idea of European features and a Christian-based religion being the “norm.” 

It’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with being white or being Christian. It is wrong, however, for schools to dominantly only present literature that emphasizes those ideals. This is the critique of the absence of diverse literature in a diverse country. By only portraying white culture through selective European novels, schools add to the discrimation and lack of inclusivity POC students experience in America. 

As a junior in school, I have yet to be given a novel to read that was either written by or about people of color, and I don’t say that in an annoying, whining way. As a Hindu and as a brown person, when you are constantly given books to read that only seem to emphasize the idea that you are not worthy enough to be given any representation, it pushes young students to question if there’s something wrong with them rather than there being something wrong with the choices in representation. 

Schools fail to realize how easily susceptible young minds are because we are still growing and absorbing. This failure in diverse literature cultivates into the making of negative social norms in society today. It adds to the pressure POC already feel, while also creating this ideology in them that they are not accepted or important enough. The lack of POC representation also creates a blockade between young minds and their understanding of cultures that are not theirs.

Diverse literature culturally and religiously is desperately needed in schools because America is not an only one race and one religion country. The more schools fail to include diverse literature and steer away from very Eurocentric idealistic books, the more they feed into the idea of the American gap between different ethnicities and cultures, ESPECIALLY in this political climate. By adding diverse literature into school curriculum, schools would slowly help in building a healthy mindset for students with diverse cultural and religious backgrounds by not contributing to the self questioning and doubt that society’s very one sided art forms already do, while also expanding students’ understanding of different cultures and religions.