It's not as simple as Black and White - representation really does matter
Updated: Apr 14
The other day on Twitter, I replied to a tweet about the book 'The Colour Monsters' saying that I thought it was a great book. A few minutes later, I received a message from a friend who wanted to let me know that the book is 'anti-Black'.
My friend is Black and she sees the world through a different lens to me. I see life through a White, middle-aged, heterosexual lens - a lens that hasn't seen a lot that my friend has. I want to be able to understand what it is like to see life through another's lens though and that is why I was grateful for this message.
Did I know this book was anti-Black? No.
Did I want to understand more? Yes.
In the book, the black monster represents fear, interestingly there isn't a white monster but the pink monster represents love. My friend helped me to see how this book could and has really upset black children.
A few years ago, I saw a video of Muhammad Ali talking about representations of black and white. If you haven't seen it, I strongly suggest watching it.
Yesterday in class, we were talking about our classroom elf and the fact that he was not making great choices! One of the children piped up and said 'but black elves are the naughtiest ones'. It was at this moment that I was reminded of my friend's message, Muhammad Ali's interview and how the colour black is all too often seen as the 'bad' colour. I asked him why the black one was the naughty one. He didn't know, he said it just was.
As a teacher, teachable moments arise that aren't planned for and this was one of those moments - a golden nugget of opportunity. I asked the children if they had heard of the colour monster book and we talked about the black monster. I then asked them how they might feel if they were a child with black skin (none of my class are Black) and were seeing and hearing about black elves and monsters being the more badly behaved or causing fear. My year 4 class showed a maturity in the next half an hour that astounded me. We discussed how representation is so important and how terrible it must be to see the colour black represented negatively if you are Black. One child asked me if I had heard about the black Smurfs. I told her that I hadn't. Apparently, they are the ones who have become insane and roam the woods.
I'm writing this post to heighten your awareness as educators. Look at the books in your classroom and school libraries and make sure that they are not anti-Black. Consider what images you are showing children and how, if they are that colour, they may consider how that represents them.
There is currently no list of anti-Black books that I can find. I have found many anti-rascist lists. I would love to create this, so if you have books that you feel need added please reply to this post with their names.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post.
I had a brilliant two part conversation with Aisha Thomas about 'Representation Matters' on my podcast 'Tiny Voice Talks' find both part here - they were released in July 2022.
The Tiny Voices Talks book is out now - order it here and use the code Tiny30. It contains a section on inclusion which includes chapters on race, LGBTQIA+, disability, neurodiversity and so much more. https://www.independentthinkingpress.com/books/teachingskills/tiny-voices-talk/