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Forced Diversity: A Myth or a Real Issue?

“Forced diversity”, or forced representation, is a concept that people throw around on the internet regarding Black characters or those of other ethnic minorities. But what makes diversity in television feel forced, and therefore, how should television approach representation? Or is the whole concept simply a myth?

Diversity can appear forced when characters and their actors are turned into trophies, when a TV show goes above and beyond to show how inclusive they are by announcing there will be a Black character. This is counterproductive as it simply puts someone on display as a front for representation, like the show has ticked the box of having a Black actor. Just write a character, a human with flaws and strengths, with fears and dreams, instead of setting out to write a “strong Black woman”, and the audience will admire them regardless of their race. We need characters that just happen to be minorities, rather than the fact that they belong to a minority becoming their defining trait.

Unless it is directly related to the character and their story, why should an actor’s race matter? Shows like Grey’s Anatomy, or more recently, Netflix’s Sex Education, both have wonderfully diverse casts and feature characters that are relatable and intriguing, and their race never mattered. Audiences love, or hate, the characters because of who they are as humans.

Maybe the real issue with forced diversity is that its foundation lies in the internalised racism of much of society. Many times, the concept of forced representation is used when characters of ethnic minorities appear without some kind of justification, or when others feel that they do not belong in the story. The idea that Black characters need a reason to be in a TV show is an issue in itself.

When you ask someone how they would define forced diversity, one of the common answers would be that it is when diverse characters are written poorly. But badly written characters are just that. Badly written. It does not matter that they happen to be Black, and it does not necessarily mean they are forced. White characters can be written just as badly, so does forced representation really exist?

I would say yes and no. If a TV show features a Black character just to tick a box, then to me, that is forced. The real way to achieve genuine representation is to be genuine. Write a character to be someone, not to be a representation.

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Nerisse Appleby

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August 2022
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