Representation: the real us

Dearest readers,

-- Edit -- this week I was reminded how important it is that we embrace the real diversity that exists and that we do not make assumptions on or about people. These assumptions can be both ways I find and also I have found how dangerous they are and how they can wound. We are not less, nor are we more. Not making assumptions challenges us as humans, yet this is a necessary challenge.-- 

I hope this finds you well and you are enjoying September. I have to admit it is a great relief that I no longer have to go back to school. I had the same fear and anxiety on the first day of secondary school through to the last day of sixth form: it never left. Rather September is the start of the academic year for university students. Reflecting back on the 'transitions' post I made about a year back, I have been able to update it fresh for this year and give it a sparkly new powerpoint too. 

This is an extension of one of the topics I spoke briefly on the radio on the 3rd September: representation. I mentioned an article, possibly in the Daily Star (a newspaper I normally try not to even touch, let alone read) reporting on one of the new actresses in one of the big soaps. Having done a bit of digging around, finding out more information than was originally given in the original article I read with the headline that I thought was poorly thought out, I've found some better articles and a bit more about the actress who is joining the soap. Rather than just painting as her 'the new flirt' or calling her merely 'disabled', hearing about how she wants to change perceptions of disabled performers (as the Metro states) and her perceptions as an actress. It was nice to hear about her other work she has been involved in and her perception of her work.

What I do wonder though is how much input she, or in fact, disabled people are having into her role? Having just read an article in the Guardian that disabled individuals are the most highly underrepresented group in TV and broadcasting in the UK (2017), it does raise questions on the authenticity of the experience shown and how true the knowledge being shown is. This is particularly valid for autistic individuals, where is a lot of stereotyping and poor knowledge out there. If there is one thing I never tell someone to do - or tell someone not to do - it is to google the word autism. You end up with a mixing pot of sources with no quality gauge as to how authentic or honest the information is. There is a lot of bad information out there on autism, an awful lot. In fact, it is quite easy to find sources that can be pathological or paint autism as a tragedy. If you do not know which sources or sites are best to look at, or more importantly, best to avoid, you may well end up very confused, lost and overwhelmed. 

It is these aspects of media portrayal that make it not only respectful, but also very much needed to include those you wish to portray in the creative process to correctly inform you. One massive example, very much current to autism, is Atypical. Now I admit - I haven't watched it, mainly because I won't fork out to pay for Netflix as I don't honestly see the point as I don't think I'd use it that much. Money aside, there has been an overall mixed response (all communities), with many (but not all I add) autistic people having a very negative impression, and that's an understatement. I say not all, as some will see themselves in the character and not critically analyse the show and creative process as others do. The lack of autistic people on board the creative process, stereotyping and stigma being a few of the concerns (understatement) that have been raised. Rather than me go into these reasons, as many talented bloggers have touched on this, I will use this as a lever to say why you need, in this case autistic input, to not only respect but effectively portray through visual media. 

There goes the old saying: nothing for us without us. Very much used in the field of participatory research, but also very much valid here. Why should you involve those you wish to portray? Because we each have a unique trajectory and some experiences are not to be assumed. I personally do not know what it is like to experience chronic pain: I don't know what I cannot see or what people do not tell me. I would end up making assumptions to fill the gaps and looking to my own experiences to make sense of something that is unknown to me. I might end up making the wrong assumptions if I did not talk to those who do know good information, who do experience first hand, who do know. Through not asking and assuming, and turning to potentially bad sources, it devalues the person you make such assumptions.  It takes away their voice and paints yourself as knowing them better than you do. But how can you know the innermost and internal workings if they are not shared? I urge you all to challenge the sources you learn from. Learning how it is to be someone else, rather than just learning facts or detached information, opens your mind to new possibilities and broadens your horizons to empathise. It also challenges the notion of who does have value. I firmly believe every human is of value and equally so (you might have seen this in some other faith based posts). This is, for me, non-negotiable, and ought to be for all. We all have opinions and perspectives and it is vital that these are taken on board. 

There is no doubt that change is needed and part of that change is building a rapport, listening and learning - not from facts or those who have an outsider's knowledge, but those who have an insider's knowledge and experience to build a more realistic portrayal. Not in a tokenistic manner, but in a way of yearning to learn and coming alongside. 



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