The One Where Representation Matters
This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here.
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Yesterday I talked to my dad about my love of Black Panther, I talked to my brother about how the process of getting my books published is going, and I talked to my 7-year-old about how and why there aren't many quarterbacks in the NFL who are people of color.
Believe it or not, these all have something in common. We talked about how attention has been given to Black Panther for being a mostly all black cast and whether people should be drawing attention to this and celebrating this. My opinion is yes! It's sad but we're still at the point where it's a celebration. This led to my discussion of my own books and trying to get them published. I shared how we're still moving towards having more diversity of characters in the range of books in children's literature just like in television and movies. I showed him this infographic, Diversity in Children's Books 2015, from David Huyck, in consultation with Sarah Park Dahlen and Molly Beth Griffin.
While I'm a Latinx author who writes #ownvoices stories and the publishing industry is saying they want to publish more diverse books, it's still taking time to find a place for my work. I'm glad to have this visual to clearly show the discrepancy. It's hard to explain the scope of the difference in what is being published so having the statistics made it easier to show the reality.
Which brings me to my discussion with Little Bean. The other day we were watching a movie and it occurred to me that most of the cast was white except for one person who had an accent but I couldn't tell if she was Hispanic or Italian. So I asked the boys, "Are there any people of color in this movie?" Right away Little Bean said there was a black fireman and Peanut said besides that there wasn't anyone that he noticed. I didn't say much else, I just brought it up because it stood out to me. Then yesterday, Little Bean was playing a football video game and his team was lined up on offense. He stopped and said, "The defense is all black people and the offense is white people. Except for that guy." This opened up a discussion of whether all offensive players were white and how that's not the case, it just happened in this moment that many of the players were white. But then we talked about quarterbacks in the NFL and how there really aren't as many quarterbacks in the NFL who are people of color. We tried to name as many as we could and then ended up looking up how many black starting quarterbacks there are and found that there are five.
Here's where these conversations all connect, each was about representation - in movies, in books, in sports. I'm working to bring attention to representation with my kids because I want them to notice. I want them to think about not just race but about gender and sexual orientation and people with disabilities and to actively notice who is represented and how. I want more people to pay attention in the hopes that they'll then think about what they might be able to do about it.
And this is also why I'm really into spoken word. In my mind, the music industry is the place where we see the broadest diversity of musicians and genres.
I know for me, I remember the late 90's when I discovered Jennifer Lopez. The fact that she was Latina and amazing and had my name meant I was instantly in love with her. And then just this week I found Soy Yo by Bomba Estéreo and I felt like I found my theme song. Music has been an important part of my identity for sure.
So many kids find music they identify with and I've noticed that many of the black and brown students in the schools I work in listen to hip hop. I wonder if they see themselves and their stories in hip hop. I imagine so but as I continue to explore hip hop and spoken word, this is definitely something I want to talk to students about.