A 2016 study performed by Statista.com declared that 74.5% of the roles on cable scripted programs were cast to white actors. Out of the 25.4% of the roles portrayed by people of color, only 13.3% of those roles were occupied by Black actors. According to an article published by Pediatric Institute Publications, children learn by imitating adults. Currently, the average child spends 6.5 hours in front of a screen. Is it possible that Black children are being sent damaging messages by only seeing themselves represented 13.3% of the time?
“Is it possible that Black children are being sent damaging messages by only seeing themselves represented 13.3% of the time?”
One day, my son approached me with sorrow in his eyes. He asked me, “Mommy, why don’t I see more people that look like me on television?” Immediately, my heart sank, I looked up at the television program he was watching. I glared at the characters occupying the screen. I searched my mind for an excuse. I couldn’t find any words that would ease his pain. Instead of lying, I told him the truth. I told him that I would write a children’s book filled with characters that look like him and his family. With a heavy heart, I sat down to create, “The Adventures of Jaylen Newman”.
How can a child aspire to be something he or she doesn’t know exists for him? It is important for Black children to see positive reflections of themselves. All too often, the media portrays Black people as thugs, gang members, criminals, and troublemakers. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the only success that is heavily praised is that of an athlete or rapper. What message are we sending to our children? It is impossible to be what you can’t see. If our children don’t know that Black people have found success as doctors, lawyers, business owners, and politicians, how can they say to themselves, I want to be that when I grow up? In order for our children to aspire to obtain success, we have to expose them to positive images of success obtained by people that look like them. Rapping and throwing a ball are not the only ways a Black adult can obtain financial security and build a successful future.
“How can a child aspire to be something he or she doesn’t know exists for him? It is important for Black children to see positive reflections of themselves.”
Our children find their identity by watching and mirroring others around them. I feel it is important for Black children to have positive role models that look like them, so they never think that certain success is for others and not them.
Growing up I mirrored positive role models such as Oprah, Phylicia Rashad, and Maya Angelou. I had access to these women via television. In school, I was often the only person of color in extracurricular activities. I understand the pain in having a mirror that does not display a reflection that resembles yourself. I don’t want the next generation of children to endure the same kind of pain that I endured. I hope “The Adventures of Jaylen Newman” will give Black children confidence. I hope this series teaches them that Black children are educated, have loving families and come in many shapes, sizes and skin tones. Most importantly, I hope this series teaches Black children how to love themselves.
One children’s book series will not change the fact that Black people need to be represented at a higher level across mainstream media. What it will do is give little Black boys and girls something just for them. A forest was not grown in one day but, planting a seed will begin the process.
Wife, Mother, Entrepreneur, Author, Body Positivity Activist
Author of “The Adventures of Jaylen Newman” and “Diary of a Curvy Gal”
@izzy_spears on IG and Twitter