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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Giphy

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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Hidden Figures

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?

 

Friday Media Prep: As Above, So Below

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!

This was one hell of a week (*smirk*), but, thankfully, I had access to tons of media that got my mind off everything going on in my life and in my noggin’. This week’s FMP is all about the great “beyond”. When I say this I don’t mean solely the afterlife, but what becomes of us when we move beyond comfort, ease, and what you can envision. Everything below had me thinking about the wonder “ifs” in my life and whether or not I can go for them. Spoilers: I will.

The full list follows below. Enjoy!

 Read

“How Anna Brones Works Half a Dozen (Cool) Jobs” by Brendan Leonard for Outside Magazine

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Anna Brones, Outside Magazine

Anna Brones is a Renaissance woman if ever there was one. She’s a writer, filmmaker, cyclist, and all-around badass woman. Outisde Magazine interviewed her to get the skinny on how she manages to live her life so fully, which really got me thinking about throwing caution to the wind and chasing the dream.

You can read the full interview {here}

“How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think” by Vinson Cunningham for The New Yorker

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Illustration by Cleon Peterson for The New Yorker

This article isn’t what you’re thinking it is: rather than being a theological shakedown of our wayward lives, Vinson Cunningham is questioning how our obsession with fire and brimstone has led to a whole lot of sorrow and even more apathy. It’s a long read, but I sure loved it.

You can read more {here}

Watch

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Sky

A Discovery of Witches  by Deborah Harkness was a book my mom could not put down a few years ago. Revolving around a scholarly witch and a dashing vampire who team up and begin to fall for each other. It’s not your typical Twilight-era fare – instead, Harkness, who is a professor of medieval history and sciences, serves up a smart and enthralling watch.

Now, it’s a series airing on Sky (part of the BBC) and it is such an exciting watch. Season one is complete, but they’ve already signed on for season two and three. You can catch up with the first season of the show  on Sundance Now or Shudder streaming services.

Listen

Moderat “Out of Sight”

I have been listening to this song on a serious repeat. I know you’re supposed to be chill when you meditate, but I really like to sway to songs that allow me to lose myself a little bit. Moderat’s music does just that. This German tech group is my jam. Let me know in the comments if they become yours, too!

That’s all for this week!

 

 

Friday Media Prep: It’s All About The Details

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!

Good morrow and happy Friday! Today I wanted to share a trio of articles that have me feeling all kinds of things. Aliens? Possibly. Gender-defying historical shocks? For sure. Love and relationships? You betcha. Today’s list is all of the things, and I loved diving into each topic. I hope you do, too. The list is below.

Read

“Scientists Identify a Medieval Artist by the Blue Gemstone in Her Teeth” by Becky Ferreira for Motherboard

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Magnified view of ultramarine in dental calculus. Image: Monica Tromp

As a history buff with a taste for the medieval this article tickled my fancy right away! For background: illuminated manuscripts and bibles were incredibly popular in the Middle Ages. Scribes working in monasteries produced texts that mystify viewers to this day. It’s long been believed that only men, or monks, were allowed to undertake this task. However, this new discovery has scholars rethinking just who the artists were and how they had access to such rare goods. It’s quite the find! I love how long-held beliefs can be changed in an instant by the simplest of realizations.

You can read the full article {here}

“Repeated Radio Signals Coming From Galaxy 1.5 Billion Light Years Away, Scientists Announce” by Andrew Griffin for the Independent

A second mysterious repeating fast radio burst has been detected in space

Depending on how you feel about space, this is rather exciting! Scientists believe the radio signals could be transmitting from an alien source, which could be cool, or they could be the result of the death of a star. Either way, the phenomenon certainly deserves our acknowledgement.

You can read the full article {here}

“Serena: The Power of Unapologetic Greatness” by  Ashley C. Ford for Allure

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Allure Magazine

In this profile by Ashley C. Ford, Serena opens up about her marriage, modeling strength of character and body to her daughter, and finding the path to greatness that most aligns with her beliefs. I really love anything to do with Serena, so I just had to share it here. Her vulnerability and candor are so refreshing.

You can read the full article {here}

That’s it for this week! See ya with the next one.

Friday Media Prep:Self-Care Is A Many Splendid Things

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!

The weekend is just around the corner, and today’s list features just the kind of content you’re going to want to delve into while you relax on the sofa with a cup of tea (or a flask). From Big Freedia to a cute English dude, these pieces of media have kept me afloat and smiling when I’d much rather be sulking over the cold. Enjoy!

Reading

“I Spend $2,116 On My Beauty Routine, But Only $12 On My Skin” by Quinta Brunson for Glamour

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet or texting with friends there’s a chance you’ve come across a gif or meme of Ms. Brunson. To call her hilarious and lovable would be a serious understatement. She spent years working with Buzzfeed, but now she is taking television by storm. Glamour got her to share her beauty routine, which you’re gonna love. It’s honest, simple, but also fabulously extra in ways that are relatable.

You can read it {here}

Quinta Brunson
Brunson, Illustration by Aimee Sy

Art

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Image via legacy.com

The Art of Tamara Natalie Madden is captivating while managing to be iconoclastic. Without knowing it, you find yourself wrestling with multiple disciplines and emotions in the presence of her artwork. Sadly, she passed away in 2017, but her voice lives on in every canvas. You can see some pieces of her work below.  All images are courtesy of The Morning News. You can see the rest {here}

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“Bee Keeper” from her series The Guardians
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“Keeper of the Golden City”
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“The Black Queen”

Watch 

And finally, to the videos! First up is musician (and gorgeous icon) Big Freedia. She sat down with Broadly to talk about identity, finding your voice, and owning your truth. As a fellow unicorn, I loved this video. Check it out.

 

Last, but certainly not least, is the lovely music of Loyle Carner. This criminally young British rapper has been on repeat in my ear since 2018 and for good reason: fresh lyrics, captivating beats, and tons heart. Below is his song “The Isle of Arran” which is a gut-punch. Enjoy!

Now that my part is finished, it’s your turn to go out and turn up for the weekend, in whatever way you choose. See you next week!

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