As the parents of biracial children, my husband and I decided it was important for our ten-year-old son to see Black Panther. It was groundbreaking for African-Americans in terms of representation, and we knew it would be empowering for him. We wanted to give him the experience of seeing himself represented onscreen in such a monumental way.
When he was born, I bought the book “Shades of Black, a beautiful picture book that explores the diversity amongst children in the African-American community. As both of our children are very light-skinned and light-eyed, this book was a wonderful way to show them children who looked like them.
We buy black dolls and white dolls, read books that include black children, white children, and biracial children, and make sure that our children are surrounded by images that reflect their own identity.
But while representation of your own identity and culture is important, it isn’t enough. We need to surround our children with images and examples that reflect the whole world, not just their own experiences.
While Black Panther was valuable to him as a biracial child, it also made an impact on him because it showed strong, powerful women, who fought side by side with them men as warriors, excelled at technology, and took on leadership roles. He is male, but he needs to see this example of female empowerment as much as little girls do.
We buy black dolls and white dolls, but we also buy Hispanic dolls, Asian dolls, dolls who wear hijabs, Polynesian dolls, First Nations dolls, dolls from as many ethnic backgrounds we can find to give our children a diversity of representation.
We enjoy stories and music from a myriad of cultures. In addition to the value in learning about people outside their own culture, the stories and music are beautiful and enrich their lives in their own rights.
We seek out books, TV shows, and movies that include same-sex people and families, people with disabilities or differences, and that are told from the perspectives of all different ages.
We intentionally choose media that features female leads for our sons. I loved seeing my son’s reaction to Rey in Star Wars, and felt joy and pride handing him the Wrinkle in Time graphic novel in preparation for seeing the movie. Tonight, we will start reading the full novel together.
While ensuring our children are surrounded by diversity is deliberate, our intentions are not obvious to them. We don’t point out the people who differ in identity from our own, they simply make up the tapestry of the make-believe world our children experience the way they do in the real world in which our children live.
We want our children to simply innately accept and acknowledge that living in a world full of people who are both similar and dissimilar to them is normal. We want them to see the differences, but to also see people as individuals. We want them to internalize the mantra “different but equal.” We want them to see the world for the mosaic it is.
It is absolutely important for people, especially children, to see people who represent them. It is empowering. It allows us to feel seen, valued, and acknowledged. But ensuring that our children see the representation of others as important is crucial as well. Letting others into our bubble doesn’t burst it – it simply makes for a more spectacular bubble.