It’s been a hot minute since I’ve done a blog post. I’ve literally been battling a disgusting flu of some sort for the last two weeks and while I’m not a 100% better, I’m finally well enough to be back to posting!
And I actually wanted to do this post ages ago.
This blog post is called ‘Representation will ALWAYS matter.”
I couldn’t not do a post about representation because it’s literally why ‘The Black Book Blog’ started. There isn’t nearly enough representation in the publishing industry and I wanted to voice my opinion on it.
Firstly, I have to address that Barnes and Nobles, an American bookseller company, partnered with publishing company, Penguin Random House, to create a line of diverse book covers to celebrate America’s Black History Month in February .
Yes literally. Books like Treasure Island, Peter Pan and Frankenstein had black people on the front.
And I will continue to scream from the rooftops this is NOT what we mean by representation.
It’s pathetic…a cop out.
Sticking black people on the front of a story that has nothing to do with them is not how to address the issue of representation. Because all you’re doing is encouraging the issue I spoke about in my previous blog post.
Black people will begin to think they don’t belong in their subconscious.
Or they’ll look at customs that aren’t our own, as associated with us, which is not the case at all.
Either way, it ends up with a very confused mental state.
Luckily after a lot of backlash, Barnes & Nobles cancelled this campaign – as they should!
As a young black girl growing up in predominantly white neighbourhoods, family was where I looked to in terms of my culture and identity. But I also sought it in things around me, whether that be music, films or books.
As you could imagine seeking black culture in books is very difficult.
Majority of the black books I read growing up were about slavery or America during the 1960s, where racism was strife.
And as someone who has can’t really relate to those times, it is very much frustrating at times.
Black books tend to be associated with struggling and painful times, which is an issue in itself, nowadays. Yes, much of our history is and always will be attributed to some horrific times in history. But as a young child growing up, it can do wonders to your mental health. You start to question whether black people will always struggle? Is that just a part of our culture?
I, for one, can understand why it is always addressed. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it gets the recognition it deserves. But there has to be a balance. It’s great to read some books that address parts of our history because it’s important to learn about it. However, a novel that also is just a good laugh, focusing on the everyday lessons of life, is also a welcomed read.
But this issue is something that is only being addressed properly today. Young black children aren’t getting the representation needed in all genre of books for them to even want to read.
Lack of representation leads to your imagination developing a mental block. Assimilation takes place. You find yourself in all your English lessons at school writing about girls with ivory skin and dead straight blonde hair and blue eyes the colour of the sea. The closest you get to writing about black people is – mixed ‘caramel’ skin.
The complete opposite to you and your identity.
And what makes it ten times worse is that it’s acceptable. Teachers don’t even call you out on it. It’s normal.
During secondary school, I don’t think I ever wrote about my thick black hair or black skin. None of my characters represented who I was.
Now I’m not saying you can’t write about white characters. I’ve also struggled with this growing up. In your imagination, your entitled to be whoever you want to be. But if everyone writes this way, this cycle will continue for generations to come. We won’t see an increase in the number of black readers.
We need more books like the ones I post about. More novels that portray black people as just black.
I’ll forever be the biggest advocate for stuff like this because it helps you connect more.
Which is why Barnes and Nobles got it so wrong. If you want to celebrate Black History Month, post about authors such as Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison or Malorie Blackman and Jacqueline Woodson. Kiley Reid, Reni K Amayo, Yaa Gyasi, Derek Owusu, Tomi Adeyemi, Nicole Dennis-Benn.
Just to name a few.
Because then you’re actually posting and celebrating some amazing black authors, who write about black culture.
It’s why I loved Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. Reading a novel about Caribbean culture just felt like home. It felt right. It felt safe. I could understand all the quirks of Queenie’s Caribbean Grandparents because I had also experienced them.
What I quickly established is that having black books that are reminiscent of your culture, encourages you to be yourself. It gives you that crystal clear reassurance of acceptance and understanding.
It encourages a safe space for black children to become more creative in the way they think…in the way they imagine themselves and their culture. Young black children can use these novels to understand that your culture doesn’t always have to be associated with struggle. You can be yourself and that’s okay.
As I said before reading novels shouldn’t put a limit on your imagination.
Seeking your identity shouldn’t be difficult.
And accepting who you are shouldn’t be a struggle.
Representation encourages freedom…
Especially, the freedom to be whoever you want to be.