Representation in the Stories We Tell.
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
Coming out at age 30 felt weird.
Understanding myself in a way I haven't before at thirty was strange.
No one prepped me for this. No one said, "Hey! You know all those stories about how you know at age 8, not always true!"
I went through a time where I felt like if I identified as non-binary and came out; I would be seen as not really that. I didn't know when I was a kid, so how could I claim this identity now?
It made me realize (again) how powerful stories are, and how important representation is in every aspect of our lives matters. Not seeing anyone have a realization that they were part of the LGBTQ+ community at the young age of thirty made me feel like I couldn't be that then. It made me question my own new understanding of myself as I explored the term and sought more information. My story wasn't present, so it made me feel out of place, different, weird.
As I researched, I found others who identified later on in life. They didn't know at a young age, but instead came to an understanding of who they were in their 20's, 30's, or even 40's. This empowered me. It gave me hope and a voice to come out. It allowed me to know that my experience is uniquely mine, but others have had similar journeys. It gave me a power to explore my own, uniquely, non-binary self by trying masculine clothes and pairing with feminine. It allowed me to completely be me. This happened because of stories that I was able to access. This happened because I found me represented in others.
Take a minute.
Think on a time when you felt hidden. When you felt not seen. When you read a story, watch a movie or T.V. show and did not connect because where were you?
How did this change you or affect you?
For some, you can probably think of multiple times.
I hold privilege. My skin color was consistently represented, but the feminine identity I held at the time was not. There were very few strong feminine leads which explains why Alien is still one of my favorite movies to this day.
The phrase "Representation Matters" is a powerful phrase. Not only because it is true, but, also, because we, as educators, parents, voices in our communities, have the power to influence it.
Think on your classroom library or the library you may frequent or even work in. What books do you see or have? Who is represented? How are they represented? If you only have books on African-Americans being slaves, what message are you sending to your learners? If you have no books with Asian-Pacific Islander voices, what are you saying to your learners? Do you have books that have characters with disabilities?
Think about the authors. Who writes a majority of the books you see? Who is represented on the covers of the books?
The lack of voice is detrimental to our communities.
We must work to being mindful, intentional, and thoughtful with our story choices. As voices in our communities, we have to seek out ways to include all and speak up when not all are represented.
1. Connect with the Library:
Talk with your librarians and local library about including more BIPOC authors and stories, and LGBTQ+ authors and stories. You can have a list of books and authors, or just bring up the problem to them. Also, you can seek out authors who can come to speak and promote their book when they are book tours.
2. Purposefully choose books for your classroom.
This can be done by reading the book yourself or reading reviews on the book. We need to be mindful of who wrote the book as well especially if it is realistic or historical fiction. Do they have the similar experiences as the character? Did they do the research if it is historical fiction? What language do they use to represent the characters?
You can find links to resources for books, but here are extra links as well:
Here are questions you can ask yourself from Lee and Low Books:
1. Does your book list or collection include books with characters of color? LGBTQ? Differently-abled?
2. Does it include books with a main character of color? LGBTQ? Differently-abled?
3. Does it include books written or illustrated by a person of color? Of different nationalities, religions or sexual preference?
4. Are there any books with a person of color on the cover? Do the characters on the book covers accurately reflect the characters in the book?
5. Think about your student population. Does your list provide a mix of “mirror” books and “window” books for your students—books in which they can see themselves reflected and books in which they can learn about others?
6. Think about the subject matter of your diverse books. Do all your books featuring black characters focus on slavery? Do all your books about Latino characters focus on immigration? Are all your LGBTQ books coming out stories?
7. Do you have any books featuring diverse characters that are not primarily about race or prejudice?
8. Consider your classic books, both fiction and nonfiction. Do any contain hurtful racial or ethnic stereotypes, or images (e.g. Little House on the Prairie or The Indian in the Cupboard? If so, how will you address those stereotypes with students? Have you included another book that provides a more accurate depiction of the same culture?
3. Read the Books to Them.
This may be stating the obvious, but take time to read the books to kids. Whether you are a librarian, educator, or parent, reading the books to the kids is so important. It not only helps develop fluency and a love for reading, BUT it shows that you are excited to read these stories. You are thrilled to read the book that represents them or is a window or door to them. When kids see and hear us read these stories, it sends a message that these stories are valid and worth our time.
4. Don't be afraid to remove books and challenge your OWN bias.
We need to be aware of author's background, content in books, and dated books. It is vital that we go through our classroom library and remove books that hold content that perpetuates negativity against a people or negatively stereotypes a character by race or gender. Some books hold well with time, but others do not. It is important that we hold a critical eye to all books, even ones that were part of our childhood and may have seemed 'harmless' at the time. Know that you will make mistakes, too! I know I have and still do. This is part of it. Learn and move forward.
Check Conscious Kid's site for more insight.
As the new year begins, look for ways to do the work and build up your library or connect with your local library. Use your voice and speak up if you notice gaps in the local library or school library's representation.
If you are an educator, seek out donation places. Many thrift stores, book stores, and libraries have donation programs with fantastic books. You can go through and take ones that you know will work for your library. You can also start and share an Amazon Wishlist filled with the new books you want. Also, Donors Choose is a great site where I have gotten most of my books. Lastly, Scholastic has some great books that you can get a cheap cost or buy them with points through the year. It is a great way to get your learners hooked on reading, too!
Thank you for reading and learning and growing with me,