Growing up as a girl in a township on the Cape Flats of Cape Town was incredibly difficult. I had no role models to look up to, I didn’t see myself being mirrored back to me in a positive way.
Everyone I knew had unbelievably hard lives, they were given subpar education if at all, and as a result, had to work jobs that no one else wanted. I had no idea what existed in the world for people like me, my only dream was that if I worked hard enough maybe I could work in an office. This was not because my community was lazy or because we lacked intelligence, but it was just structures of oppression and racism. I could not envision myself as something that I had not seen before. How can a young girl imagine herself as a writer when she doesn’t even see writers who look like her?
The Importance Of Good Representation
Viwe Dweba, a clinical psychologist based in the North of Johannesburg, shared her views on the lack of representation in the media and how it affects children with me.
Viwe says “positive representation in media serves the function of mirroring us to ourselves, affirming our existence and our place in society.”
However, it also is equally as harmful when the media perpetuates negative imagery of certain people, and we know this has happened.
Viwe suggests that “negative representations of a people inform how society views that people, often reinforcing very harmful stereotypes.”
Terry-Ann Adams, an author and disability rights commentator shared their experience as a person with albinism.
Terry-Ann expresses that “there is a magical moment that happens when you see someone who looks and talks like you on a screen.”
They sadly say that this is often something children with disabilities are deprived of.
Breaking The Stereotypes
Stereotypes hold us hostage in the view of someone else’s misguided understanding of who we are. It is important to break down those stereotypes so that children don’t feel burdened to be a certain way based on a stereotype. It is equally as important to break down the stereotypes so that children see themselves in diverse ways. Terry-Ann suggests that how we are represented informs “how people who are not marginalised treat us”.
So, it isn’t just about whenever children have access to people who look like them but also that these representations are wide and varied.
For Black Children Exclusively
When talking about the development of media and products made for the African child exclusively, from a developmental perspective, access to things for African children can inform a child’s development in a positive way. Viwe echoes this and says,
“We are social beings, the beginning of our self-image is externally informed and then becomes an internal process that we negotiate as we grow.”
If we focus on creating things designed for Black children, I believe we can eliminate a lot of internalised anti-Blackness. One important example of this can be seen in hair products, if we say products meant for Black hair are for “bad hair”, how do we expect children to see themselves in a healthy way? Instead, the language should be shifted and created, if need be, to express that it is meant for curls and coils.
Perceptions Of Beauty In The Media
All over the world, the media is exceptionally Eurocentric. It focuses on light skin, thin bodies, blue eyes, blonde straight hair. The media ignores people who are differently abled.
Viwe argues that these perceptions inform what we consider “to be normative and marginalising certain identities.”
She goes on to say that it creates a lifelong effect on how someone sees themselves and their people. We see this in the media even today,
“From the negative perception of the naturally coiled hair of a little black girl in school to the problematic view that dreadlocks are unprofessional.”
Terry-Ann weighs in to say that the media can erase us,
“We are taught to hate ourselves. We are told we’re too much or we’re not enough.”
The Beauty Of It All
It is easy to understand why it is hard to practice self-love, self-acceptance, and to have a healthy sense of self in a world that tells us the opposite. We therefore must step into these gaps in our memories, media, and histories. In stepping in those gaps, we are able to create things that represent us. If not by us, then by whom? So, we should write books, create games, play positive roles in films, and make our own products.
By creating we can accurately present what and who we are and insist on how we want to be treated. We need to remind children that they are beautiful, kind, unique, and smart. We have to relieve our sons of harmful representations of manhood that stunt them, equally we have to ensure that our daughters know they are more than just mothers and wives.
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