The 2016-2017 High School Essay Contest Winners:
Honorable Mention

Honorable Mention

Grade 10

An issue that has been debated frequently in the last couple years, mainly due to political changes, is equality. Our society has improved in terms of equality by a lot in the last few decades; human rights have been given to different groups that have long been discriminated against and hostility toward many minorities has decreased. However, we're still quite a ways away from reaching equality between everyone.

We live in a very diverse society, with many different races, sexual orientations, religions, gender identities, moral views, ethnicities, and backgrounds. These groups have been developing in our country more than ever recently, and there's many who wish to stick to the traditional ideals. Historically, those who are straight, white, middle class, Christian, and male have been seen as the dominant, well-rounded people. This is understandable - males do have more biological strength, and being straight meant you could have children and pass on your ideas. Religious books like the Bible spoke of dark skin being an indicator of evil, and having money to live comfortably meant you got to live well. However, we have advanced so much and these "advantages" are no longer applicable in our society. Being female no longer means that you must stay at home - women are perfectly capable of everything males are due to modern machinery and technology. Being homosexual no longer means that you can't have children - adoption has become a good opportunity for same-sex couples wishing to raise kids. Having darker skin no longer means that you are of evil origin - modern medicine has revealed that the color of your skin is caused only by the amount of melanin in your body. With socialization, we're now able to obtain food and a roof even if we're not rich. This being said, why is it that we still portray these groups as being of less value?

I believe that one reason for this is the media. Media is any way we can spread our ideas to people, whether that be radio, magazines, movies, TV, or the internet. The internet is an especially influential source of information because we're all so connected to it, with social sites and news sources feeding us ideas at all times of the day. Many minorities are viewed in a negative light on these platforms. Often, members of the LGBT community are called corrupt because so many believe straight relationships are the only thing that can work in the world. Women are objectified in many aspects - movies, games, magazines. People who have little money are portrayed as dumb or useless.

However, one issue in the media I would like to focus on is how different races and ethnicities are shown. The first one that usually comes to mind is African Americans. The stereotype shown in the media for this race is usually criminal - they're shown as being drug users, being violent, and living in poor conditions, even though these can just as easily be qualities of people from any races. Another race that is unfairly portrayed is people of eastern Asian origin. Women are often sexualized even more than those of other races, and they're seen as extremely scholarly people, which can place unhealthy pressure on students of this race. There's two ethnicities that concern me very much, though, because of our new president-elect: Middle Eastern and Hispanic. There have been many immigrants coming into the US from our southern neighbors, some legally and some not. The media portrays them also as drug users, assaulters, and thieves, although statistics have proven that they're no more of a problem than Caucasians. With recent scares of terrorism coming from the Middle East, those who are Arab or are followers of Islam are portrayed as dangerous people who are terrorists, even though Islam is a religion of peace. Our president elect, Mr. Trump, has an especial dislike of these ethnicities and has publicly announced his opinions of them. He announced in one speech concerning our southern border, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.... They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." And when he was discussing the migrant crisis in the east, he explained that we shouldn't be letting them in because they're terrorists and need to be put in databases. Now, if it were one citizen saying these things, it wouldn't be a cause for concern, but the leader of a country of 300 million people has said this, and his words are being spread through the media for everyone to hear. Being such a big figure, he will surely be included in countless TV shows, movies, books, newspapers, and social sites, which will be viewed by many.

If I were to be in charge of, say, a TV program, I would focus on the most impressionable group of people: children and teenagers. They are in charge of the future, and if through media they could be taught that your race, sexuality, religion, and gender don't determine how good of a person you are, they would have a better time getting along. In shows for this age group, I would be sure to include different races and cultures, and give them roles outside of their stereotypes. In my show, it would be clear that skin color and religion do not affect your role in society and there is no reason to treat someone differently for it. I think if young people could be taught this while growing up, they would have many fewer conflicts when running society as adults. I'm confident that we'll be able to use the media as a tool for positive change in equality in the coming years, and I hope that we can come together as society to make it happen.

Daisy Kwok
Grade 12
John Foster Dulles High School
Sugar Land, Texas

From the World Wars to current times, there will always be people that stand out for not fitting social norm. Whether it be because of ethnicity, religion, beliefs, or sexuality, the amount of people not fitting are increasing. Formed almost immediately after World War II, homosexual groups formed around all parts of the world. It was only after the Stonewall Riots in New York City that caused the LGBT Community to actively fight for their rights. They banded and moved toward publicity in attempts to further their rights. In light of this, media decided to portray members associated with the community in a negative way, creating the common stereotypes of today.

It is very uncommon to see homosexuality portrayed without the stereotype of all homosexual males being extremely feminine and talk in a high or higher pitched voice. However, depending on the creator it may be shown in either positive or negative light. In the TV show Glee, the creators portrayed this stereotype in a positive light. The show focuses on prejudice toward teenagers and attempts to fight for the represented group's rights. The character fitting the effeminate stereotype is Kurt. Throughout the series he is shown to be bullied a lot more than the other characters and mocked a lot for being queer. It is quite noticeable in the series that he can sing higher than the other guys and likes to gossip. The show proceeds to show the friendship Kurt has with his other male friends in the glee club and that they can get along perfectly fine. One of the other members of the glee club is also gay, but he isn't effeminate. He seems to be like what people would expect guys to be like: masculine. By portraying two contrasting characters belonging to the same group, the series shows the problems with the stereotype. Not all homosexual people act the same way. You could know a homosexual person and not know that they are that way because they don't act differently than normal standards. Later on, the series emphasizes on the friendships that Kurt has with his other male friends. This showed that homosexuals aren't really different from any other person. They just have some differing likes and dislikes but can get along just fine with others as long as they are given a chance. People should not immediately become homophobic based on media stereotypes and should get to know the person. Tolerance should be practiced.

Also, there is another type of stereotype associated with LGBT members, the fact that they are promiscuous. In the show How to Get Away With Murder, the character Connor Walsh is portrayed to be that way. When media doesn't portray homosexuals as effeminate for males and masculine for females, they portray them as people who are frequent in sexual activities. What most people talked about for that series about Connor is the fact that gay people have lots of sexual partners. This stereotype doesn't fit all people. It may be true for some but not for all. This is one of the main reasons people are homophobic. While the intention of the series about this stereotype isn't very clear as of right now since it in a fairly recent series, it does seem to paint homosexuals in a bad light and possibly increase the amount of homophobics.

Media doesn't portray members of the LGBT in a very positive light and have created multiple stereotypes that have harmed the groups' actions for rights. If I were to portray them in a movie, I would attempt to create a situation similar to the one in Glee, where there would be multiple people representing the stereotype with different personalities. I create a situation that would avoid any of the current stereotypes for the group and highlight upon the positives. Ideally the members would live a life without bullying, be successful, and have the rights they deserve. Everyone would be treated the same regardless of their sexual orientation. The other characters in the movie would tolerate the members and actually get along. This would portray what should be happening in our world right now that can actually be done if we look past our differences and practice tolerance.

[A NOTE ON THE WORD "TOLERANCE": Ms. Kwok has written an essay with great insight into how the media can influence stereotypes, and we at TAP really enjoyed reading it. However, we also felt the need to comment on the word "tolerance." While we recognize the word may have different connotations for different people, we have purposefully avoided using it in our own publications because it can suggest putting up with a person or behavior that doesn't really meet one's approval. Social commentators often speak of the need to move beyond tolerance, as in these recent headlines: "Inter-religious engagement needs to move beyond mere tolerance," "Allophilia: Beyond tolerance lies true respect," and " 'Tolerance' is shallow; 'acceptance' goes way deeper." As far back as 1925, Brooklyn children's librarian Elizabeth Wisdom wrote, "The sympathetic understanding of other races than our own is a matter of education and of an education that begins at home with the growing generation. The feeling must extend beyond a mere tolerance of other countries and people." ("International Friendship in Children's Reading," The Elementary English Review, 2(5), 157-161)]