In the last few years within my social media circles, I’ve noticed a lot of promotion of positive images of black people.
I mean, I also joined a bunch of groups like this a few years ago when I got sick of hearing bad news on my Facebook algorithms all the time. When I wrote my book For Black Girls: The Shaping of a Young Woman I also created a Facebook page and group with the intent to post encouraging, positive, wins that had to do specifically with black girls and women.
If you’re not black and you’ve seen a lot of these types of posts it could be confusing. Why are there so many posts of black doctors, pilots, entrepreneurs? Do other cultures do this? Is it racist to single out one race to promote the positive things they are doing? Why don’t white people do this?
The simplest answer is that it’s needed. Growing up it was normal to watch TV shows and commercials with no people of color. At best we were sprinkled into the background. There was a focus in media on black entertainers and athletes. From my own personal experience, it felt like I needed to either fit into a category or be invisible. There may have been more to see in the world, but I certainly did not always have access to it on television. Even the black people that were on TV had a very specific look. When new black shows were announced I remember waiting in anticipation for months until they showed up. When I first got BET (Black Entertainment Television) I was so happy to see black people in commercials. It felt like a dream. I’m not a huge fan of BET anymore but I’m still glad it exists.
Stereotypes about black people were seen as the norm and it was common to see black faces flashed on the news.
My normal views of black people came from those I personally knew. Professional men and women, gifted children, and compassionate members of the churches I grew up in.
Skip over to school- where black influence in culture seemed to be missing from history books back then. If you know me personally (or maybe I wrote about this before) you may have heard me tell the story of when I was in grade seven history class. I had great kind teachers. We watched Dances with Wolves in class for weeks learning more about indigenous culture and studied our textbooks. I loved black history and often did a lot of studying on my own. We had a half-page in our textbooks about black loyalists. I saw it and couldn’t wait till we got to that page. When we got there our teacher skipped over it. I asked why. I was told there wasn’t enough time to cover everything in our books and that I was free to study it on my own. The whole class was encouraged to do this. This was a teacher I liked and respected who was in no way racist or biased against black people. But there was no way she would ever understand how important that half-page was to me. She may not have understood what that page meant to me, the same way most people may not understand how seeing yourself reflected in popular media or in a positive light can be taken for granted.
I hope that I’ve created a bit of a back-drop for you to understand where I am going with this. To be continued.
Wow! I’m actually a little bit offended that she skipped over that half page. Even if she may not have been racist or biased, I feel there still must have been a level of unconscious bias happening there? Only because I feel like she should have recognized the importance of acknowledging the topic for the purpose of representing and acknowledging the diversity of the children in the class.
Loved this post though! Representation is so important! If it wasn’t, then images of diverse groups of people wouldn’t have been with held from us for so long. I’m glad that as time has gone on there’s been break through but now especially, we’re living during a period of time where access is in our own hands and so we can seek out and put out the representations that were once not accessible
So right Rochelle,
It’s true although I did not feel that she was trying to intentionally hurt the students in the class I did feel like she was afraid of addressing the topic with the class because of the black students. I wondered if she was afraid of getting us upset. I did not believe the excuse of not having time to go over or read aloud something that would have taken two minutes. Representation is so important and we must never take it for granted. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!