V V Brown is a musician, model, entrepreneur, and a soon to be author. To celebrate the upcoming release of her book ‘Lilly and the Magic Comb’, she has very kindly agreed to write an article about the lack of multicultural representation in children’s books and media.
There is no such thing a niche.
I cried my eyes out when I watched the video of the famous doll experiment by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark, (1940). The experiment consisted of a group of black and white children who were given two specific variables to choose. One of the variables was a white doll and the other variable was a black doll.
As the experimenter sat in front of the children he asked each child a question prompting the children to choose the doll of their choice. This was accompanied with the experimenter asking a question with a primary adjective word such as, ugly, nice, ugly, naughty, good? etc.
The results were astonishing and had a profound effect on me! 100% of the children, both black and white, associated negative words with the black doll and positive words with the white doll.
This was a powerful realisation that there seemed to be a form of indirect prejudice within the white children. It also served as an opportunity to discuss the concept of self worth and self image within the psyche of the black children. Why did they choose a doll that looked like them, in reference to bad, naughty and ugly. The results were repeated in 2010 with similar findings.
When you become a parent you want to love and protect your children. I remember looking at my two dual heritage daughters with a sense of helplessness and fear after watching this experiment. The world we live in has so much unconscious bias. How can I navigate through this as a parent? How can I protect them from this level of conditioning? How, why and when is this prejudice and self hate taught to our innocent children?
The media has had a profound effect on the way images have been formed. Subtle stereotypes that feed into our lives categorise and play on our attribution processes. Representation matters. It isn’t just an issue to play fair or tick a box it has a profound effect on our children’s psyche and choices. It eats into the fabric of who they are and how they interact.
My saviour amongst this anxiety was books. I soon realised that reading was such an important way of showing my daughters they were apart of the world that described them as intelligent, confident, achievable, beautiful, good and valid.
As a family we read in the morning, we read in the evening and we read at night. However, as we moved away from cute animals and black and white sensory shapes I found it very hard to find books that represented my daughters.
We would spend long periods of time in our local library trying to add to our pile of tigers and cute little girls with pigtails, with no hope. I would find it hard to find books within high street bookshops and would leave resorting to my long searches on the internet again. It was so frustrating.
My search for books was exhausting but I worked hard to make our library filled with all types of families to make books our saviour.
Books matter. They are powerful nuggets of reason and discovery. When it doesn’t represent the world the way it should, its a quiet conditioning with white supremacy at its core. It ‘others’ our children of colour and teaches them to feel less than their white counterparts. It encourages white children to see the world through one lense and it keeps their inquisitive natures culturally deprived, passive and in one box.
But who is to blame ?
Societies history is to blame which has created a framework of corrupt values and ideals which have been passed down into our institutions like a disease.
Books are a powerful form of defeat against this madness and it inspired me to write my own children’s book: Lily and the Magic Comb. Despite, it was still a realisation of new hurdles to come within the publishing sector.
When we pitched our books to publishers we were told our market was too niche despite the positive interest. It was almost as if publishers only took on books that subconsciously represented their cultural memories and triggered their feelings of childhood. With the publishing world being a predominantly white middle class group of people I often wondered that perhaps this overwhelmingly white space, projected white experiences and white stories, into and onto white choices, leading to an inherited new overwhelmingly white opportunity of new books.
Inclusivity is a human right and we are playing catch up with a system that use to put black children in zoos and call them monkeys, as tourists would pet and stare.
We need multicultural books. We need it now more than ever and not only because it’s important but because it should be ‘normal’.
It should just be about
Children Books without the words diverse, niche or multicultural anymore.