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‘On My Block’ is the Netflix series where diversity is done right

On My Block season 2 was released for binging pleasure on Mar. 29. For those of us who have been down since season 1, it’s safe to assume we’ve already finished season 2 and are itching for more.

But why is a show about teens growing up so good? It’s because it’s not just another coming of age story.

On My Block takes place in a fictional inner-city L.A. neighborhood called Freeridge. In the neighborhood, a Black and Latinx cast must survive their dangerous gang based community.

The main characters are young, high school freshmen young. Although the actors are in their early 20s and late teens, the authenticity shines through their acting.

The show is labeled a comedy, but the very real drama is what hits the hardest. The show’s first season deals with one of the main characters, Cesar Diaz’s introduction into the Santos’ Gang.

Cesar’s brother Oscar ‘Spooky’ Diaz, is one of the leaders of the Santos so naturally, his little bro is expected to join once he’s of age. And of age means right before high school.

The show follows his group of friends, Monse, Ruby, and Jamal who are helping Cesar find a way out. They all know becoming an official Santo is detrimental to almost all other possible paths of life.

Through the lens of the teens, we get to see complex characters. Spooky for example may seem like the hard gang leader he wants you to think he is, but he’s also a talented cook.

Additionally,  he’s a loving brother plagued by the consequences from the choices he made to survive. After a few episodes, Julio Macias’ character Spooky shows a softer side, breaking away from his hard exterior.

But it’s the writing of the show that makes On My Block feel so real. Hint: The writers’ room is made up of POCs.

The slang isn’t cheezy and the experiences of the teens don’t feel overdramatized. The handling of the PTSD the kids feel is also on par with reality.

Simply put, it goes to show that having a diverse writers’ room goes hand in hand with diversity on screen.

As a comedy, one would expect the show to gloss over tragedy or use it for comedic effect. Yet, the negative experiences that the teens go through spare no pain.

The comedy shines through the hope that the teens revive time and again in order to stay sane. Humor is used as a coping mechanism instead of an escape or exaggeration of a problem.

The show explores gang life, poverty, teen homelessness, immigration, and gun violence all with respect to the very real communities that experience these issues.

Except for in season 1 where they had a white Trump supporter play a Latina who is dealing with her parents being deported, but season 2 makes up for that.

Season 2 also comments on gender politics, consent and sexuality, and disability. Still,  other issues carry more weight.

Ruby is often the voice of reason. He’ll protest gender reveals and advocate for males being in touch with their femininity. He also expresses his more difficult feelings without shame.

Ruby really serves as a good role model for his younger siblings, his friends, and viewers.

A master dancer, Ruby is possibly the strongest and well rounded young adult in the show despite the amount of tragedy he experiences.

The real tragedy is that we’ll have to wait another year for 10 more 30-minute episodes.

Getty Images leads fireside discussion tackling diversity in media

Work needs to be done to combat the lack of diversity in media and advertising, but before we go to battle with the corporations and powers that be, there needs to be a discussion.

It’s time for brands to take responsibility for their actions or lack thereof regarding the difficulties POC, LGBTQ, and the BAME communities have faced when it comes to appropriate representation in the media.

Throughout history, brands have proven that there is a disconnect. Now, in order to push the culture forward, we are seeing stereotypes challenged and an industry tackling diversity head-on in both serious and humorous ways.

At this point, it’s either big brands catch on or get lost in the mix of whackness. The proof is shown in an extensive study Getty Images put out earlier this year.

The data revealed that image searches for ‘LGBTQ’ swelled, seeing an 809 percent increase along with searches for ‘Multi-ethnic family’ up 385 percent and ‘Cultural Diversity’ up 252 percent.

In an attempt to educate the next generation in line about these struggles and how we can progress towards a world that is more accepting of all kinds, Getty Images led a fireside discussion focused around the need for more inclusive imagery and representation in the media and society overall.

Getty Images

The conversation led by Getty Images’ Head of Creative Research for the Americas, Tristen Norman was held at Arlo’s Soho Studios. Creative Director of Razorfish John Antoniello and CMO of DoSomething, Carrie Bloxson, joined Norman in the conversation.

Getty Images, Antoniello, and Bloxson have BEEN flexing for the multicultural community and their innovative approach towards media has proven itself time and time again.

The stock photo agency has directed their focus on highlighting diverse photographers in media. Their grant partnerships with Women Photograph, ARRAY, and Instagram proves that.

Antoniello’s 13 years of experience in leading digital marketing and platform efforts have allowed him to work on Dove’s Dear Media, He For She’s digital platform, and Uniqlo’s ‘Made For All’ campaign.

Bloxson, on the other hand, focuses on the youth as DoSomething’s main mission is to engage with young people to be advocates for change.

Diving right into the fountain of youth and culture, her work with the NPO promises to leave a mark on society.

As a global community, we have to look at diversity as more than just what we see visually. So, how do we champion diversity in the media and get Gen-Z to notice? Bloxson explained how. She said,

“For this particular generation, diversity goes beyond the parameters of just race and ethnicity. For example, there is diversity in sexuality, backgrounds, famalies, abilities, and lifestyle. We also know that Gen-Z is particularly gender controlled in just about everything. Including clothing, style, conversation, and bathroom choice. They have a tendency to reject gender labels when presented with that choice. They really don’t like things that are gender specific. In terms of support we know young people are more likely to get involved if they see somebody like them in a campaign, an image, or an advertisement… This is a generation that has the power and the ability to effect policy and change in a deeper and more meaningful way than just buying product.”

Real talk, Gen-Z is more likely to relate with brands that have a diverse message. Brands better recognize as Bloxson noted because the new generation is expected to make up half the population in 2020, will have an immense amount of buying power, and influence over household spending.

Getty Images

Still, the elephant in the room, when it comes to a discussion about diverse inclusion in the media, was pointed out by Norman. She expressed that we need to take a “giant leap back into history” and remember that this country was founded on the oppression and subjugation of entire groups of people based on the color of their skin.

This transition into a better world and influencing comes from a place where it was hard for anyone who wasn’t “white” to progress. The blockades went beyond the legislation that was put in place to prevent us from advancing but in fact, could be seen in the media itself.

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“When we talk about diversity it’s not just about making good. It’s the larger context that we are trying to solve for. All of the stereotypes that are negative… Until we recognize and acknowledge that the role that we play and how big of an impact that it’s made on our culture and society… Then honestly, ‘What are we doing here, said Norman”

Although this was a very positive discussion the thought of ‘anti-diversity’ media tactics came to mind. Just take a look at this year – coolest monkey in the jungle and all. Is there a way that brands could intentionally be engaging consumers for clicks by using offensive media?

Getty Images

One thing that the panel addressed was going to your “sherpas” and having the right team in place to avoid these bumps in the road. It’s important that we make sure that behind corporation doors that everyone is represented. Anotniello addressed the issue. He said,

“If brands are doing that, it’s such a dark reality that I don’t even want to face it… In theory, there is a lot of shady business that goes on in advertising. So I wouldn’t put that out of the realm of possibility, but I think that just makes me want to double down in making sure the initiatives that we do and the work that we do, it’s all the more imperative to keep the needle pointed in the right direction.”

Take note of the works of Getty Images, Bloxson, and Antoniello are doing to change the conversation. With that said let’s keep the culture moving forward because to be honest, we have no choice.

America has a teacher diversity problem. Here’s what’s being done to solve it.

In 2014, white students made up less than 50% of the public school system in the United States for the first time. But while our country’s racial and ethnic demographics may be changing, the people instructing those kids are largely, and increasingly, monolithic.

The teaching force in America is made up mostly of white, middle-aged, Christian women, meaning that a large number of kids are growing up without seeing themselves represented in education during the most formative part of their lives.

The teacher diversity problem arose after Brown v. Board of Education, when schools across the country were forced to desegregate. Up to that point, Black teachers had taught Black students and vice versa, but when the teaching force integrated, Black teachers were left by the wayside.

It’s ironic that one of the most important cases in terms of racial equality in our country actually worked in the opposite direction for Black educators, but America be like that sometimes.

So what is the going on? Why are there so fewer minority educators, why does it matter, and what can be done about it?

The Problem

It’s hard to understand that as our country becomes increasingly diverse, the teaching force has become less so, but that’s exactly what has in the last 20 years.

USA Today charted the statistics:

“At last count, about 82% of teachers were white, down from 83% eight years earlier. While the percentage of non-white students in U.S. schools rose 6 percentage points between the 2003-2004 and 2011-2012 school years, from 39.6% to 45.7%, the percentage of non-white teachers rose just 1.2 percentage points, from 16.9% to 18.1%.”

There are actually more white teachers compared to the turn of the century. USA Today further broke down how much whiter teachers are than their students:

“Even in schools located in the USA’s whitest 17 states, each class typically contains four or five non-white students. But just 1 in 33 classrooms has a non-white teacher.”

These statistics are staggering not only because diversity is so important to young, impressionable minds, but also because the already-formed minds of teachers contain implicit biases within them.

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that white teachers are far less likely to expect a Black student to graduate college than a Black teacher would be for the same student.

From the study:

“When a Black teacher and a white teacher evaluate the same Black student, the white teacher is about 30 percent less likely to predict the student will complete a four-year college degree, the study found. White teachers are also almost 40 percent less likely to expect their Black students will graduate high school.”

John King, Education secretary in the final year of the Obama administration, spoke about how problematic this is for kids, regardless of race:

“It’s a problem for students of color because it’s important for them to see mentors and role models. But I also think it’s a problem for white students. I think there’s a real benefit for white students in having diverse teachers, because ultimately we’re trying to prepare all kids for a diverse world.”

Ok, so we’re clear. There aren’t nearly enough minority teachers, the problem is getting worse, and the white teachers we do have are statistically more likely to expect less out of minority students. Not great.

Benefits of a diverse workforce

When you come across diversity arguments, which permeate virtually every industry and educational sphere (as they should), you’ll hear a lot of talk about choosing “the best candidate” irrespective of race or ethnicity. These people say we should treat everything as a meritocracy and give the position (whatever it may be) to the person who is most deserving.

This argument is meaningless. The problem with many of these spaces is that the hiring or selection processes are marked by biases that disqualify minority candidates, not that minority candidates are TAKING JOBS away from shockingly qualified white people.

That is to say, hiring processes in typically white spaces are not very good at improving diversity, even when data tells them they should.

In the case of diversity in education, kids of all races benefit from learning from minority educators.

A recent study found that young Black men from low-income families see their chances of dropping out of high school drop 39% if they have one Black teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade.

That is a pretty staggering statistic, but the title of the paper, “The Long-Run Impact of Same-Race Teachers” feels slightly reductive. Are we meant to completely segregate our schools and have all our kids learn from same-race teachers?

Far from it, actually, because white students also benefit from having minority teachers. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spoke to the UW website about how Black teachers can positively affect white students early in life:

“I want to suggest that there is something that may be even more important than Black students having Black teachers and that is White students having Black teachers! It is important for White students to encounter Black people who are knowledgeable and hold some level of authority over them. Black students ALREADY know that Black people have a wide range of capabilities. They see them in their homes, their neighborhoods, and their churches. They are the Sunday School teachers, their Scout Leaders, their coaches, and family members. But what opportunities do White students have to see and experience Black competence?”

It’s true that a white student, especially one from a racially monolithic area, would benefit from a cultural competency perspective by having a minority teacher. But an NYU study, “The Importance of Minority Teachers“, also found students favor minority teachers over their white counterparts. From the study:

“Using data from the Measure of Effective Teaching study, we find that students perceive minority teachers more favorably than White teachers. There is mixed evidence that race matching is linked with more favorable student perceptions. These findings underscore the importance of minority teacher recruitment and retention.”

Ok so, not only do kids benefit from having minority teachers from a test-taking and cultural efficiency perspective, but they actually prefer these teachers. So what’s being done to improve hiring practices?

Searching for solutions

The diversity issue in education starts with hiring. Many administrators from places like Silicon Valley to universities to school boards will claim that there aren’t enough qualified candidates when faced with calls for improved diversity.

This is never actually the case.

School districts need to the best they can to ensure diversity in its teaching force, even in the whitest districts.

One district in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana was forced to desegregate its teaching force as a result of a court case Moore v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board. The resulting desegregation, and how the district would incorporate and hire more Black teachers, became a sort of case study in how schools should improve diversity amongst educators.

Now, Tangipahoa Parish’s hiring practices are far ahead of the state and nationwide averages for minority teachers, but test scores have also improved. The Atlantic reported on the changes:

“And the value of this policy, it seems, wasn’t just a matter of optics. Since the paper was released, [study author Diane Whitmore] Schanzenbach has obtained additional race-specific data that reflect notable achievements for Black students. After the court order was implemented, the black-white achievement disparity in test scores narrowed by 5 percent. While it’s difficult to assess causation, this improvement, Schanzenbach theorized, happened ‘just from hiring different teachers within the pool of applicants.'”

In Tangipahoa Parish, quotas for Black teachers were enforced by the court and positive changes occurred both in the diversity of the teaching staff and the test scores of the students.

Pinellas County, Florida has vowed to increase the number of Black teachers in an attempt to improve test scores, but no quotas are enforced. Perhaps schools should have an NFL style ‘Rooney Rule’ where teams have to interview a minority candidate for head coaching for high-level front office positions.

Valerie Hill-Jackson, a clinical professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at Texas A&M University, told The Atlantic that this isn’t just about everyone feeling better, teacher diversity yields results.

“This isn’t pie in the sky, kumbaya. Whether our kids are growing in math, science, or language arts, it works to have [nonwhite educators] in front of the classroom.”

Rian Reed, a Black teacher who was turned down for a job in suburban Pennsylvania before being hired in the predominately Black Prince George’s County, Maryland, spoke to The Atlantic about the need for active efforts to recruit minority teachers.

“If student success is a priority [as] it should be, school districts must consistently reevaluate their hiring practices to ensure that they have a culturally diverse staff, [and] not just through quotas.”

Hire minority teachers.