In 2013 I watched the Black Girls Rock awards show on BET. On the show Mara Brock Akil, creator of the show Being Mary Jane, gave an awards acceptance speech. In her speech she said that it was important that we, black people, had pictures of our children and ourselves on the walls of our homes, because those of us who live in western countries are not represented in images in advertising billboards and posters, magazines, and on television. Therefore displaying these pictures on our walls will allow our children to be represented in a society where there are few images of them, and will give them a sense of self-worth and pride.
I have always had pictures of my children, and my wedding pictures, on my walls, as I do not see the point of taking pictures that are not viewed, especially being that I am an avid photographer. However Mara Brock Akil’s speech gave a deeper purpose to the images I was putting up on my walls.
Any black person living in a western country knows that black people are not really presented in mass media, and when we are, it is either a case of spot the black person, or a light skinned/mixed race person (I am not against light skinned people, it just creates another problem; colourism). Therefore if black images do not exist outside of our homes, there is no reason for them not to exist within our homes.
Imagine you have one sibling, and you both live with your parents. Whenever you go outside you see pictures of people and your sibling. When you watch adverts and programmes on television, you see people and your sibling. You see these images of your sibling everywhere outside, however you never see any images of you.
This is the world we who were born and raised in western countries live in. A world where you see positive pictures of happy, jolly, sexy people, all of them white, yet none of those people look like you (at least not in colour). Therefore you see yourself as non-existent in this world you are seeing around you, and unworthy of having a place in these images and this world. Eventually the intangible messages you are receiving from these images become embedded into your subconscious mind, and affects your self-esteem.
This self-esteem is what is at stake in the lack of representation of black people in mass media. The self-esteem that gives us our self-worth and our place in society. We have little to no control over the images the media and advertising outlets put out into society, but we do have control over the images our children see at home, and their source of true self-worth as important, valued, and existent people.
As well as having framed pictures of your children, yourself and partner taking centre stage on the walls around your home, I also suggest the following in order to minimise the amount of non-black images your children see, and to create a world where they are positively represented in images.
- Display pictures of other important family members and friends who you have relationships with on your walls or in free standing frames. This will allow your children to understand that they are a part of a community of people who look like them.
- Have a photo album with pictures of themselves, yourself, and other family members and friends which you can look through with them. This can also be done with pictures you have stored on a computer or on your phone. Talk happily about what is going on in the pictures, reminisce on what took place that day, laugh at funny faces, etc. Bring the pictures to life.
- Read a variety of children’s picture books which contain positive images of black children, and black families regularly to your children from birth.
- Do not allow your children to watch the degrading adverts from charities begging for money for hungry swollen bellied African children which are shown on children’s channels. These adverts are a disgustingly poor representation of Africans, and black African children. Such images will be embedded into your child’s subconscious mind and distort the image of black African children.
- Do not allow your children to watch music videos, programmes, news items, and movies that portray black people hyper sexually, aggressively and negatively as gangsters, pimps, thugs, prostitutes, booty shakers, and drug dealers, etc.
We must protect, and nourish our children’s minds where we can. Images are very strong and powerful, therefore let us use them as a source of good by putting guards around the images our children see, whilst also allowing them to see strong, powerful, positive images of themselves and people who look like them.