By TERREECE M. CLARKE
I’ve been indulging in “Positive Blacks in the Media” sweet goodness and I am afraid to wake up from the high. First, it was the early morning news that Lupita Nyong’o landed the cover of People’s 50 Most Beautiful. Next, it was the published rumor that Black Panther and the powerful people of Wakanda may make an appearance in the next Avengers movie and my inner nerd nearly died on a heap of Vibranium. Then, I saw the clip of Doc McStuffins reassuring a curly haired doll that her hair was indeed beautiful. I shed a small tear and ran to DVR it for my curly ‘fro babies.
Yes, it’s been a really good time and I want more. I need more. I need more Lupitas and curly haired babies loving all of themselves and Black superheroes. I need more than these little bits of heaven… I need normal.
In normal society, media creations—cave drawings, ink on papyrus, books—are a reflection of the people of the culture/society in which they were created. Sure, there is fantasy involved: the slayed mastodon’s height is a bit embellished, the great Pharaoh’s conquering force numbers are a tad inflated, but in general, the Pharaoh’s people look like themselves.
One question the “My Black is Beautiful” Ambassador Search asked contestants was, “How can you help inspire young girls to believe they are beautiful and that they can achieve anything?” Every girl on this planet must be told, despite circumstances of color, economics, religion or gender, that they have a right to exist, their existence is no accident and their story deserves to be told. They need to be told they are loved and that they matter. And while we cannot touch each girl directly, we can continue to work to ensure that the media plays a role in promoting the message.
One medium that has always been at the forefront of transformation continues to leave our “colored girl” stories behind. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, fewer children’s books were written by Latinos or African-Americans in 2013 than in previous years. The Reading Rainbow song promised I could go anywhere as long as I took a look in a book. And I did: as a child I travelled far from my little front porch in the middle of the hood, but I often had to become a white protagonist to get there.
This isn’t about seeking validation and hoping to gain love for ourselves through others’ eyes. It’s about redefining what is normal. It should be normal to walk into a bookstore’s children’s section and see a variety of skin tones engaged in fun adventures—and not just in February.
Authors of color have long lamented the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult literature. Shoot, Denene has written about it here on MyBrownBaby countless times, including in the posts, “Everybody Should Read Black Children’s Books,” “We Need More Black Children’s Books On Borders’ Book Shelves NOW,” and her various lists of recommended books for and about African American children . Walter Dean Meyers and his son and fellow author Christopher Meyers called it out most recently in the New York Times. Social media amplified his critique and media critics and book publishers are paying attention. Speaking out works, but it’s an uphill climb. Here are just three ways we can demand more books featuring children of color:
1.) Good ol’ fashioned letter campaign 2.0 style.
Email publishing houses in support of your favorite books published by them and ask for additional books that feature characters of color. Forward your email to friends and family and encourage them to send a letter of support to the publishing houses as well. Broadcast your efforts throughout social media. Most large companies have social media associates “listening” for their name, along with industry news. The more channels you broadcast, the louder the message.
2.) Support authors and small publishers.
Seek out and share great books with your friends and family. Follow authors and small publishers who are committed to promoting diverse stories on social media and BUY BOOKS. Sherman Alexie stated in a recent CNN article that change always begins with the small publisher. Also, support websites that review and announce new children’s books, like TheBrownBookshelf.com and Crazy Quilts, and keep your eye on organizations like The Coretta Scott King Book Awards for news on the best in Black children’s books.
3.) Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and campaigns like it.
May 1st-3rd marks a concentrated social media effort to support diverse children’s and YA books. Coordinated book buys and more are in store to support the cause. Visit WeNeedDiverseBooks.tumblr.com for more information.
How do we support girls and their dreams? By demanding that they see themselves in adventures being anything and everything…including normaI. We must keep pressing book publishers and bookstores to carry the stories of children of all races. I know I’m not the only one that’s still hungry.
Terreece M. Clarke is a My Black is Beautiful Ambassador Search Semi-Finalist headed to Chicago on May 3rd for a Live Interview and to meet with 99 other beautiful, positive sistahs as a part of the campaign. She will be journaling her adventure on MyBrownBaby.com. A freelance writer/journalist for a variety of magazines, newspapers and websites, Terreece is also a rocking’ wife and mother of three. Support her trip to Chicago with a donation to her GoFundMe campaign and follow her onTwitter!