Growing up Nigerian, I never knew or felt like I was different. The term ‘Black’ was not something that was ever used to describe anyone. Yes culturally, we were from various tribes – be it Yorùbá, Igbo, Hausa, Ibibio, Delta, Fulani, Kanuri, Ijaw or *insert other ethnic groups here* – regardless of our ethnicities, we were Nigerian.
My reality has been considerably different since moving to the UK. Like many other Black people I know, I have experienced racial bias on several occasions; perhaps that will be a blog post for another day.
When I became a mum, I realised I needed to consciously expose my child to a range of cultures, particularly because he identifies as Black British and Nigerian. One of the ways I do this is by reading to him and telling stories. Unfortunately, when it comes to books, there isn’t a lot of diverse representation. In fact, according to a study that was done a couple of years ago, only one per cent of children’s books feature a main character that is Black, Asian or minority ethnic. Yup! You read that right – one per cent!
The truth is representation matters. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. It is crucial not just for adults, but for children whose minds are continually developing to see themselves portrayed in all aspects of life. For me, that representation was to show my son that he can attain and achieve anything, and his skin colour is not and will never be a barrier to being successful. #blackexcellence
This may seem crazy to some, but one of the first things I did was chop off my chemically straightened hair. As a Black woman, I realise I will always be the first representation of #blackbeauty to my son. I needed him to understand that I was comfortable in my own skin, comfortable in the way I am, and in how I was created.
I also started to expose him to successful Black people in sports, science, arts, music, politics etc. – Usain Bolt, Barack and Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Lebron James, John Boyega, Anthony Joshua, Israel Adesanya, Chimamanda Adiche, Yvonne Orji, to name a few.
Representation matters. It has the power to shape knowledge and understanding of essential topics. There is something uplifting about seeing a version of yourself being represented through books and other media. Believe it or not, it boosts self-esteem. I’ve been investing more in children’s books with characters from different racial backgrounds – books reinforcing self-confidence, books celebrating Black success, books emphasising an appreciation for skin colour and books discussing culture.
I have found that the more I can show my son a representation of himself in various ways, the more he can visualise himself in greatness, and the more he genuinely believes in the mantra I have taught him.
I am a mogul. I am a champion. I can do anything, because NOTHING is impossible.
If you are looking to add some racially diverse reads to your children’s library, here are a few favourites that I recommend.
My Brown Skin.
Author: Thomishia Booker.
This was the first diverse book I bought for my son. I particularly love that this book talks about loving your skin and reinforces self-confidence.
Femi The fox: A Pot of Jollof.
Author: Jeanette Kwakye.
As a Nigerian, I had to get this book. Jollof rice is a popular dish in many West-African countries. This book talks about African food and culture cheekily.
Riley Can Be Anything.
Author: Davina Hamilton
This book talks about different occupations and is filled with words of encouragement to remind children that they can achieve anything.
Who Do I See In The Mirror?
Author: Vese Aghoghovbia Aladewolu
This is one of my favourite books. It not only teaches children to love themselves, but it also reminds children that they are much more than their physical appearance.
Young, Gifted and Black.
Author: Jamia Wilson
This book is a perfect introduction to leaders and pioneers in the black community. It highlights the achievements of extraordinary men and women.
I believe talking about diversity is extremely important – regardless of your race. Having these discussions can help us recognise and respect other cultures, but more importantly, it can help dispel stereotypes and biases – conscious and subconscious. #checkyourprivilege
How are you helping to promote diversity in your household and/or community? Are you having open and honest conversations about race? Are you an active bystander?
For there to be a significant change for us and for the future generation, we need to educate ourselves and be actively involved.