Representation in literature is a portrayal of a person or group of people’s reality and lived experiences in written, spoken, or visual visual form. In recent years the topics of black representation, diversity, and inclusivity have become more frequent in our society. Minorities are calling for more inclusivity in media. Basically, people want to read and watch things that speak to their realities.
As we come to the end of Black History Month, let's take some time to reflect on the importance of black representation in our stories. And not just black, “western” representation, but the representation of Africans who live on the continent as well.
Representation increases self-worth
Whether we like it or not, our perception of beauty is often being controlled by what we see often in the media. Children want to become like princesses and princes depicted in the storybooks because that's what they see and read about. Until recently, most female protagonists depicted in stories and movies have all been one race - white. Unfortunately, many non-white children have questioned their self-worth, beauty and if they matter because of this.
It has been exciting to learn about people like Marly Dias, a young writer and activist, who got tired of reading books with only white boys as protagonists and began the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign to bring more attention to literature that depicted black female protagonists. Booksie is also doing its quota to highlight the representation of Africans in the media through the books we retail and read in our Book Clubs.
Representation inspires imaginations and builds ambitions
Books are tools used to foster creativity and inspire children’s imagination. They show children what is possible and shape their ambitions. It may be difficult for them to imagine themselves as their favourite characters because of the lack of similarities they share. Generally, people relate better to stories that talk about their own experiences and have characters that look like them. Hence if a character that looks like them accomplishes great things, it is easier for them to believe that they can also do the same.
The 2018 hit movie Black Panther got praised for its representation and celebration of Black and African culture. It sends a message to everyone that young black people can be superheroes too. It also depicted an African society as wealthy and technologically advanced. Which is vastly different from how Africa has been shown for many years.
Representation makes people more accommodating
Media has the power to shape one’s perception of a thing, a group of people, or an idea. People often treat others based on the knowledge they have about them. If a group of people is portrayed as untrustworthy and dishonest, you are likely to treat them as such. If they are depicted in a positive light your feeling towards them is likely to be positive also. When people are aware of different people and their cultures they become more accepting towards them. This is why it is important for children and adults to read books that depict different traditions. Thus making it easier to relate and feel comfortable around people of different ethnicities.