Representation Matters

Written by guest blogger Shannon Powers

Representation matters. We hear it all the time, right? But most of us are desensitized to this fact because it’s not something many of us think about on a daily basis. Unless, of course, you’re brown or black, then it’s something always at the fore.

I look to how far we have come in the world—in media, television, and movies—where we once were seen as thugs, strippers, dead beat parents, welfare leeches, and drug dealers, we are now seen as strong business people, politicians, loving parents, and overall, just well-rounded, successful individuals. But we still have so far to travel.

I grew up military and I lived in England for much of my childhood. It was a juxtaposition of the melting pot that is the military community, and the British school system, which was quite binary, where mixed race children were not really present. Growing up, I was the in-between colour—my mother is white British and my father is black American. I was too dark for the white kids and too light for the black kids. I was this kind of alien. I had few friends and struggled to really fit in or find my place. 

When my brother and I moved to California with our dad, we felt more at ease as mixed kids, but then we got made fun of for our accents. It just goes to show it doesn’t matter what you look like, kids will find anything they can think of to pick on you! We attended a school with a heavy military population and skin colour was never a topic of conversation or bullying.

Microaggressions happen on a daily basis, and they happened in England, too. One instance of microagression that particularly stands out to me was when I was working for a coffee shop which, because of its location, served an older population. I was working on my own and a customer came to the till and asked for a cappuccino. I told her how much it would be and held out my hand to receive the money. Instead of placing the money in my hand, she placed it on the counter. When I went to hand her back her change, she motioned for me to put it back on the counter. Those moments are just as hurtful as blatant and in-your-face racism, if not more. When I mentioned this to other workers, they told me that I was being silly.

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain." - James Baldwin

As an adult with the current political climate around the world, but particularly in the two countries that I call home, I have seen a rise in fear of raising children of colour. Many parents of kids of colour have to address racism earlier and earlier in our children’s lives. My son was barely 2 years old when his skin colour was used as a negative descriptor for the first time. It was a hard moment for me, but one in which he and I both grew. I am glad to have strong people in my corner, one of which is my brother who is a black queer man. He is able to guide me in ways he wished our parents had guided him through loving himself and every part of who he is. I can only hope that my son and daughter will grow up knowing that both sides of their heritage are important pieces to the puzzle that makes up their being. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Building that village for me has been a virtual experience, and it’s been challenging to rely on people who have not lived through what I have.

It’s a hard path to navigate—especially on social media where we are offering snippets of what it is like to live our experience without being insensitive to people because they haven’t lived it. The biggest takeaway here is that there is still so much to do. There was an advertisement that was put out by a big conglomerate about the talk that all parents of kids of colour must have at one point or another. Conversations that start like: “People won’t like you because of the skin in which you were born;” “People will call you names; they will beat you down with words and you will get back up to fight another day;” and, “You will have to work twice as hard and be twice as smart as they are to be considered equal.” These are conversations that I have already had to have in pieces with my son. As my children grow, I will have to have these conversations numerous times throughout their lives. That’s hard on my heart.

No matter how hard it is for me, I refuse to sit down and shut up. I will forever fight for representation for all people in all areas. Seeing people who look like you makes it easier to believe that you can do whatever they are doing! Representation—positive representation—matters and it works!

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