- ronnie gladden
It Starts Early: Let's Foster Representation
If you’ve been online at all lately, you’ve likely come across the story of Kenzo. On the off chance this one has slipped by you, Kenzo is a 2-year-old that went viral recently when his mother posted a photo of him on Instagram. In the photo, Kenzo is standing in front of a scene from the movie Encanto paused on Antonio and the two look identical.
On Good Morning America, his father and mother would go on to say that the moment of representation was important to more than just Kenzo. His mother, Kaheisha, said, “I didn’t have the same experience growing up.”
Keith, his father said it made him “feel emotional to know that my son was able to see this and have that experience.” Adding “and for so many other black and brown boys and girls to be able to have that same experience.
The State of America’s Representation Problem
In 2015, the Journal of Children’s Literature published a review detailing the problem with picture books for children. The report found that a whopping 75% of human main characters in the books were white.
Unlike white children who get to grow up seeing depictions of their culture achieving all kinds of improbable tasks, black and brown children don’t have that opportunity. That’s the first issue with a lack of representation – unequal grounds.
When you grow up seeing depictions of people who look like you running countries and flying spaceships, you feel like that is a possibility in your life. The bulk majority of books for kids have messages to build up children but the characters that are in them only represent a single slice of the population.
The Other Issue With Lack of Representation
While the issue persists for children of color, it’s also harmful to children who are not. By not exposing them to other cultures and traditions, the media is also cutting them off from a wealth of human experience.
The world that we live in is filled with different people from different cultures and that’s a beautiful thing. We should be using children's media as a tool to showcase that and create a world of acceptance in the future.
A story featuring a marginalized community is beneficial to both the marginalized and the non-marginalized viewer. It gives agency and representation to the former and education and growth to the latter.
Multi-Culturalism Is On The Rise
The 2020 census showed us that we’re more diverse as a country than ever. Or, as they put it: “The chance that two people, chosen at random, are of different race or ethnicity groups has increased since 2010.”
There is no indication that this will slow down anytime soon. America has always prided itself on being a “melting pot” but that has historically meant other ethnicities melting into the predominant one.
As time goes on, we’re realizing that we might be better off as a “salad” than a “melting pot.” Each part can have its own identity and retain itself as is while still contributing to the effect as a whole. This is the aspect of multi-culturalism – or, the presence of multiple cultures within a single society.
Encanto made tremendous waves in the media when it came out because it didn’t try to cater to anglo culture. It was unapologetically Colombian and, though it may have occasionally explained things about its culture to the viewer, it never shied away from it.
Because they didn’t choose to put in the main character with light skin and caucasian features, Kenzo found himself in the film. His parents later discussed believing that their son thought that it was actually him within the film. That’s important.
Also important is the number of children in white households that now understand more about the world they reside in. They don’t have to live in a bubble around their own influence, they can step outside and experience all of humanity.
Ready To Bring Understanding To Your Community?
The quest for representation begins with everyone’s individual community. For years, my job has been going around the world to spread the message of understanding to gatherings of humans just like yours.
This includes primary, secondary, and higher educational institutions as well as corporate, non-profit, and community organizations. Wherever there is a desire to learn more, I return the desire to teach.
Reach out today and let’s start a conversation about where you’re currently at and where you’d like to be going. I specialize in all topics related to gender, race, divergent identities, LGBTQ+ issues, intersectionality, and more.
Or, if you’d rather learn more about these issues on your own, consider ordering my book: White Girl Within: Letters of Self-Discovery Between a Transgender and Transracial Black Man and his Inner Female. This new work is a unique telling of the story that shaped me and my journey to find it.