The Power of Representation

Can you remember the first time you felt like you saw yourself in a character? Who was it? In what medium did it occur? And can you still feel how important that moment was?

If you’re like me, the answers might be manifold, because you had to piece together images to arrive at a close-enough snapshot of who you are, or were, when you starting searching those characters out. I had to rely on several characters to begin to see myself, starting with Princess Leia, and I ended up with a mixture of women who were imperfect, but fierce and loyal. Being able to watch them on TV or read their stories in comic books made me feel less alone in a confusing world. With the added confusion of being Black, a girl, a survivor, and admittedly weird, and it was even harder to feel seen. That’s why it has been so life-changing to discover characters who not only look like me, but share some of my quirks.

I want to talk about representation today, not  because it’s a buzzword of the moment, but because in many ways it has saved my life.

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What is representation?

Representation is a term that’s floated about quite often, but I’m only now becoming aware of how powerful it is in the shaping of lives and dreams. When we talk about representation we’re calling for media industries from books to movies make sure stories about different kinds of people are not only told, but also accurately portrayed. I think a lot of times those in positions of power think slapping a Black bestie in a flick is good enough, but, alas, that will not do.

Representation means that the writers, crew members, directors, producers, actors, artists, EVERYONE, aren’t all coming from one place and looking the same. It’s greater than Black and White, and all-encompassing. Representation means a kid in Uzbekistan can see someone on screen who looks like them, or a woman in a wheelchair from Harlem has access to Harvard. Boiled down to its most concise meaning, representation just means that everyone should get a chance to claim their seat at the table.

Why does it matter?

I believe it matters for a simple reason: when you see yourself in heroes, whether they be in academia, or leading a movie,  you start to take chances on yourself. You start to believe in your worth, where you might have otherwise given up. Being able to see myself in various characters across the spectrum of media has allowed me to redefine what I can do. I don’t have to be relegated to the wings in this life due to my appearance or where I come from.

Even better than that, is the truth that representation breeds more empathy. By listening to the words of people from various backgrounds we are opening ourselves up to see beyond the differences, to get to the heart of what makes us all the same. Our world is made richer when we are able to look at someone else and see what we share.

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How can we help?

Things have gotten so much better, but we’ve got a way to go. Many of the stories we champion are still quite one-sided. They lean towards straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, and white-passing. But the world is round, just like we like it, and full of all kinds of stories that don’t belong in a perfect box. To ensure representation doesn’t slow down, we have to invest in people who are doing it right, i.e. putting our money where our mouths are, and divesting from things that aren’t down with the plan. I read books by authors who tell unique stories, go to movies with casts that reflect the world as it is, and invest in other pieces of art by those who might not otherwise be seen. Additionally, I do my best to turn the people in my life on to those things as well. On the flip side, I pass on projects that are dedicated to holding up progress. It might seem small, but every step counts.

I hope this post helps to embolden you to seek out different kinds of stories, and people, to further your own growth. Being able to find slivers of myself across mediums has been life-changing in untold ways, and I think it can be for you as well. Let me know in the comments the first time you saw yourself in a book, movie, scientist, or comic!

 

Friday Media Prep: You MUST Read These 5 Books By Black Women

Every Friday I will feature the inspiring books, movies, TV shows, and other works of art you have to check out.  Please share your suggestions below!

Who would we be without books? I often think about the times in my life when a book brought be back from the darkness, and the ways reading made my life seem worthwhile again. On the other side of that coin are all the times an author pushed me to the brink, forcing my spirit to see things I hadn’t previously perceived. There is magic in the written word and being able to wield worlds in the space between covers.

Black women who write have been my salvation. In this life, in this body, I have felt the most magically undone at the hands of their words.  That is why I’ve chosen to feature five books by five authors who came into my life at exactly the right time. Each book has coaxed a pinch of growth from my soul whether I was prepared for it or not, which is precisely what a good book is supposed to do. I truly hope you will give one or all of these books a go after reading why I have loved them. Enjoy!

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The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 

I owe an eternal debt to Oprah’s Book Club for selecting this book, which led to my mother buying the book, leaving it laying around, and catching my eye (no pun intended). The young black girl on the cover – a representation of the heroine, Pecola – felt familiar in a way no book had before. The contents were more familiar than I’d dare imagine.

Set in Ohio, the short novel follows two black sisters and their relationship with the young Pecola, a little girl who is considered ugly, because of her dark skin, short hair, and poverty. Pecola wishes for blue eyes so that she may be as beautiful as the dolls in the shops, and the novel tracks her quest to capture them. To call this book heartbreaking would be an understatement, but reading it made me feel less alone and seen in unforseen ways. It’s a brilliant  exploration of generational trauma, colorism, self-loathing, racism and the effects of poverty. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

I don’t think there’s a more  pertinent book for any of us to read in these times. Set in the very near future, Octavia E. Butler’s book (the first of two) is set in a time of climate-related disaster, broken governments and wealth inequality. The heroine, Lauren, possesses “hyperempathy”, or the ability to feel the pain and emotions of others as she witnesses it.  Lauren develops a religion called Earthseed in order to prepare those who follow her for a life beyond Earth.

Octavia E. Butler’s books changed my mind about what kinds of books Black women are allowed to write. For years I thought only White men could craft science fiction adventures, as that was all I had available in my library. Stumbling upon Ms. Butler’s books in Barnes and Noble one day changed all that, thankfully. Her vision is unmatched, in my humble opinion, and her capacity for hope has kept me from losing my own.

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Dancing on the Edge of the Roof by Sheila Williams

Black women in love gives me my greatest joy. Plain old, regular degular love, folks. I have inherited a soft heart from my mother, one that craves romance and tales of starting over to discover what lies beneath our fears and dreams. This lovely book by Sheila Williams was one of my first romance novels, and I have returned to it time and time again. It is delightfully effervescent, the kind of story that I didn’t want to end when it finally had to.

The story follows middle-aged mother and new grandmother, Juanita, on her journey to California to start her life again. She gets broken down in a small Montana town along the way and finds more than she bargained for – home.

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White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This book i just damn good. I mean, hopefully you know about the powerhouse talent that is Zadie Smith, but if not you should get acquainted with her via this one. I can scarce sum it up without going on for days, so just suffice to say that you have to give her a go. White Teeth has it all: War, love, science, 90s-era nostalgia, race, and transcendence. Dear reader, you would be remiss to skip it.

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Passing by Nella Larsen

Nella Larsen tackled a topic that I believe is still very taboo in the Black community. The concept of “passing”, i.e. being of a light enough complexion to cross the color barrier and claim a White identity, was and is something few of us talk about. Nella Larsen herself played with race in her own life, living alternately as a Black woman in the Harlem Renaissance, then attempting to disappear into White society to escape the persecution.

This book explores the lives of two friends who can pass for White and the paths they chose, one as a White woman married to a White man, and the other as a Black woman married to a Black man. It left me with sinking feeling, but it was a necessary exercise if I want to truly be considered a “book person”. This book is going to be made into a film, which I look forward to watching.

That’s all for today, my friends! Thank you, as always for coming along on the journey with me. Enjoy your weekends, whether you be snowed in, or free to roam the streets. Maybe give one of these titles a once-over?

 

Media Prep

Every Friday we will feature the inspiring books, movies, TV shows, and other works of art you have to check out. Please share your suggestions below!

We’ve been granted another weekend to celebrate, so let’s do it! This week we’ve rounded up some of the best pieces of music, literature, and commentary for you to explore, as well as the movies hitting the scene. From Scarlett Johansson to mermaids, this list is a doozy. Enjoy!

Movies

Sorry to Bother You premiers this week and we can’t wait to see it. The film debut of musician Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You has been highly anticipated since it was first screened at Sundance in January. Lakeith Stanfield leads a cast of Danny Glover, Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews and Armie Hammer in a look at race, wealth, identity and perception through the lens of a young black man. If nothing else this film is definitely timely.

Ant Man and the Wasp

This is the 8 millionth Marvel movie to hit the cinemas in their 10 year dominiation streak, but we can’t stop running to the theaters to check out the films. Ant Man and the Wasp is the sequel to Ant Man (2015), which followed thief Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) as he teamed with Hank Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly) to save the day by shrinking to the size of an insect. Sounds crazy, but was so good! The sequel promises just as much of a fun ride, so you should check it out with the rest of us nerds.

Music

High as Hope by Florence + The Machine

This is the band’s fourth album and it arguably goes deeper than ever before. Florence Welch has opened up about her struggles with alcoholism, disordered eating, family relationships, and aging. Her voice soars and swells, stripped down to the essentials to deliver something beautiful. You can catch videos of the band’s recent performance here .

Books

The Seas by Samantha Hunt

Samantha Hunt’s novel is being reissued , and we highly recommend giving it a look if you’re interested in thinking about the nature of reality and identity through the eyes of a young girl. Narrated by a young girl who doesn’t reveal her name, the story explores her isolation with her mother in a small town and her belief she is a mermaid. We suspect the novel will stick with you long after you’ve put it down.

Articles

It was recently announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing a trans man in her upcoming flick “Rub and Tug”. Writing for Slate, Evan Urquhart explains why it’s not only inappropriate, but downright offensive.  If you’re struggling to understand what all the commotion is about, Evan makes it quite clear. At a time when there is push back from marginalized groups about who gets to tell their stories, this misstep is particularly frustrating. Read Evan’s article here.

(If you already knew about Scarlett’s nonsense and just want to laugh at the burns she received, go here.)

In not so great news, the Trump administration is working to undo an Obama-era protection for diversity on college campuses, essentially creating a timeline for the revocation of Affirmative Action. You can read more about the process here.

Finally, in news that gives us hope for the future: on the 4th of July activist Therese Patricia Okoumou climbed the Statue of Liberty to protest the separation of children from their parents by I.C.E and the administration’s treatment of immigrants in general. Upon her release she had this to say,

“Michelle Obama, our beloved First Lady that I care about so much, said when they go low, we go high. And I went as high as I could.”

Please have that printed on a shirt for me IMMEDIATELY.

You can read more about Therese and view her press conference here.

That’s all for this week, folks! Take care of yourself out there!

 

 

 

 

Friday Media Prep: The SciFi Brilliance of Octavia E. Butler

Every Friday we will feature the inspiring books, movies, TV shows, and other works of art you have to check out. Please share your suggestions below!

 

Happy Friday, all! This week’s Media Prep is dedicated to the wonderful literary works of author Octavia E. Butler. She is being honored today – her birthday – on Google, so what better time to bring more attention to a writer who possessed a formidable imagination? While Butler died in 2006, her legacy reshaped the modern Science Fiction genre in exciting ways that continue to ripple out. Before Butler, the protagonists in the genre were predictably white, straight and male, but her works feature African-American women who works with aliens, time traveled, and infused new life into her landscapes. Below is a short list of her works that you absolutely must give a go if you want to see the world of SciFi through new eyes.  If you are already a Butler fan, take to the comments to share your own suggestions!

 

Kindred

Dana, a young African-American writer living in California in the 1970’s is suddenly transported back in time to the Antebellum South, where she must keep the son of a slave owner alive. Butler pulls no punches with the narrative, as Dana is forced to choose whether or not to keep a vicious cycle going so that her own ancestors might be born, or allow the cruelty of slavery to die with the young man who will inherit the plantation. This book might be hard to swallow, but it is more than worth the read.

Parable of the Sower

This novel might be set in a future rife with unrest, but isn’t your typical dystopian romp. The protagonist, Lauren Oya Olamina possesses the power of “sharing”, or hyperempathy as Butler referred to it. She can feel the emotions and physical sensations of others, be it pain or joy. Lauren goes on to create her own religion called Earthseed, which posits humankind has a higher calling in the universe. Now, more than ever, this book deserves to be revisited.

Dawn

This book is the first in Butler’s Xenogenesis Series, which chronicles the destruction and potential rebirth of the human race. After nuclear warfare rendered the planet all but demolished, an alien race called the Oankali takes the few surviving humans in an attempt to begin again. Through the human survivor Lilith, they hope to merge the two races into a species capable of surviving without the weaknesses both bring into the fold. The series is a triumph of imagination, and is in development with Ava DuVernay to be brought to the small screen.