Representation & Inclusion – Day 4

I ran a free online 5 day course on social justice parenting last year and I recently rediscovered the pdfs so thought I’d pop them here so they don’t get lost again:

Hello and here we are on the final day of the Raising Change mini online course- I hope you’ve enjoyed the content and found at least a few things helpful in implementing the fight for social justice in your parenting and you relationships with children. I’d love to know how you get on with any of the challenges and if you have any further questions about anything I’ve talked about this week, do get in touch! 

Right, let’s jump straight into our last topic of the week: representation and inclusion. So, what is it? When we talk about representation, it’s about being mindful and conscious of who is and isn’t being represented in the culture, the environments, the media and people our children are exposed to. And inclusion is ensuring that the representation includes all marginalised people respectfully and honestly, not just tokenistic tropes. 

Obviously I will be talking about how this is managed for children, with a focus on books and for me, I love the analogy of books needing to be both windows and mirrors for children. They should be a mirror; reflecting a child’s marginalised identity back at them, ensuring that they see themselves as whole and valued members of their community (whether this is a child of the global majority or queer, poor or disabled kids or a child with various intersecting identities). Books should also be a window for children who hold many privileges- such as whiteness, being middle class, non-disabled, cisgendered or growing up in a heteronormative family structure- as it’s incredibly important for these children to see and learn from others’ lived experiences to understand that their narrative is not the default. Without these windows, white, middle class boys, for example, are often only exposed to the singular narrative that their mirror holds which in turn upholds white supremacist patriarchy.

So how does this show up in our lives? Basically, it doesn’t if you don’t put the work in but once you start looking at the media that your children- and you yourself- consume through an intersectional, anti-racist lens, you will probably want to. It isn’t just about books but TVs and films, the toys your children play with, the friends and family you surround yourself with and the community you are part of. Who do your children see day to day, who do you invite into your home and what roles do these people play in your child’s life? These are very important questions you should be considering. 

Now books. Yesterday, I posted some true or false questions in the group and I wanted you to take a moment to think about them. I asked whether you thought it was true or false that in 2019, only 5% of the main characters in children’s books were of the global majority. Quick side bar- I use the term global majority rather than BAME or ethnic minority because white people need to unlearn the eurocentric, colonial framing of race. Global majority includes people who are Black, Asian, Brown, dual-heritage, indigenous to the global south, and or have been racialised as ‘ethnic minorities’ by white people. Anyway, in a country where people of the global majority make up 18% of the population, it is true that only 5% of main characters representeded them in children’s books, while 57% were white and 38% were animals. But, as of 2021, that figure is up to 8%. Just think about that for a moment. Your child reads over seven times more books with animal protagonists than people of the global majority. I also asked you whether you think it’s true or false that only 11 years ago in 2011, only 31% of children’s books had female central characters while 23% had male animals as main characters. This was also true- there was only 8% difference in the representation of girls and male animals! I know that 11 years feels like a long time ago and there have been some wonderful children’s books released in the last few years but we must remember how timeless and traditional our children’s book collections still are and they are often filled with our own favourites from our childhoods. 

On to our final true or false. When we look at the fact that 8% of children in the UK are disabled, it doesn’t seem that unlikely that 7% of the books children read feature a disabled main character, no? But it is in fact false and the figure is actually half of that at 3 and half percent. 

When we think about these books being windows and mirrors, books that children read over and over again, what message are we sending our children? That some groups in our communities matter more than others? That some just don’t matter at all? 

Right, I’m done with the facts and figures and we’re going to take a quick look at how it impacts our children. By perpetuating a singular narrative, we contribute to the proliferation of a white supremacist, heteronormative, ableist patriarchy. Your child is learning from their surroundings all day every day and if all they are faced with is white, non disabled boys playing the main roles in every story, then that contributes to their self worth. If they are mirrored in that image, they struggle to see someone else playing important, valuable roles and if they are looking into a window and fail to see themselves, this can be detrimental to the building of self esteem and how children view themselves in important roles in their own lives. We perpetuate an ugly vicious cycle. 

So what can we start to do? Learn about your own intersecting identities and how they impact your parenting choices. This can be bring a lot of discomfort acknowledging our own privileges and oppressions but it’s important and affirming work and helps you reframe how you have moved through the world and how your child does too. Secondly, mind your language and remember that impact is always more important that intention. Listen to people from marginalised groups when they tell you what language they want you to use and honour that.  You can also look at the toys your child plays with- what groups are represented in their doll collection? Who is on their flashcards and in their colouring books? When your child plays families with their toys, what family structures are represented? Actively and consciously develop your child’s cultural literacy and advocate for all children by speaking to your child’s schools and nurseries about how representative their curriculum really is when it comes to their books, toys and which cultural and religious celebrations are observed. 

And always look carefully at the media your child is consuming. It’s not just about who is shown but who is writing them and what tropes they portray. When providing your white child with examples of Black culture and history, make sure you are providing them with experiences of Black joy, genius and artistry and not just Black trauma. Watch and discuss the news in an age appropriate way and talk openly about stereotypes as this helps develop key critical thinking skills.

We have reached our final challenge of the week. I want you to spend 5 to 10 minutes looking at your child’s book collection. I want you to remove and put to one side all of the books which feature an anthropomorphic animal or machine as a main character. Look at what you’re left with. Now, I want you to remove and put to one side any books with white male main characters. I wonder how many are left now? Now, remove and put to one side any books with a white female main character. Take a look at what you are left with. Now consider how many of those have disabled or queer main characters. How many feature non-heteronormative families? SIngle parent families? And what about religious representation? Look carefully at how the piles vary in size and consider how this contributes to the building of your child’s world view and also how they view themselves.

I have really enjoyed sharing these videos with you this week and thank you so much for coming on this journey with me. I’d love to hear if you’ve found any of the content helpful and I am always happy to continue discussing these topics further either in comments sections or one to one. 

So, sending love and solidarity as you continue to do important and valuable work in raising the future. And don’t forget that parenting can be a truly radical act. 

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