Children are our future. They absorb, they emulate us, they grow and then they lead.
My experience is just one underrepresented experience that children do not get to see. Those children who are sponges, soaking up information, learning, processing and regurgitating.
I have two young children, a son and a daughter. I am always careful to dress my son in a multitude of colours, to provide dresses as well as trousers, to limit his TV viewing to programmes that offered a ‘better’ representation of society (not necessarily good, because that was hard to find), and read him books that were inclusive and exciting. And I have to say it feels like I’m fighting a losing battle.
Every Christmas a multitude of ‘diverse’ books find their way into our house. However, once we read them there was a dawning realisation that they still included stereotypes and misrepresentation – the only black woman stating that she couldn’t afford something; the lead, yet sole, female character having her problem solved by the supporting male characters; male dragons being told not to cry. Our favourite TV programme, Twirlywoos, was celebrated for not being gender normative, until we realised that actually they were a traditional nuclear family complete with stereotypical gender colour coding. To give credit where it is due, their roles are non stereotypical, but the magic was ruined. In my son’s favourite programme Go Jetters (for which the music is incredible!) the sole black lead, Lars, suddenly had lighter skin in one episode, making me question if I had made it all up that he was black. I watched the incredible adaptation of Noughts and Crosses with fear in my heart (pre #BLM), but realised that, actually, the white male was still the central character, despite what incredible leaps the book and series has made. [My focus here has been on gender and ethnic biases, and has totally ignored ageism, those who are disabled, and the LGTBQI community, for which I, personally, need to do better.]
But why am I spending my time analysing everything, making sure that my kids can see a diverse range of characters in the media that they are consuming?
I am of mixed heritage. I have family living in the UK, Barbados and Canada.
I grew up in a single parent family.
In addition to my parents, I now have a loving step mum and step dad. I have two young siblings, twenty years younger than my closest sister and me. I have eleven aunties and uncles on one side, over thirty cousins and two uncles on the other, plus five cousins.Two step aunties, two step uncles and step cousins.
My children have three and a half sets of grandparents, due to remarriages, and aunties who are only a couple of years older than them. My parents (all four of them!), siblings and extended family get together at Christmas as a blended family who love each other and enjoy spending time together. I am blessed with the richness of my family who have grieved, loved and grown together.
Mine is not an unusual story but it is never represented!
However, I am cisgender and non-disabled. I live in the Western world and profit from colonialism. I have a roof over my head and benefit from peace and legal protection. I, like others, find my space to belong without realising I have that privilege.
This is not about me. This is only my story.
Diversity is nuanced. It’s in the expressions, it’s in the history, in the family, in the search for a feeling of belonging.
There are millions of children out there who do not feel represented, and yet they are people now and the leaders of the future. We need to ensure that our children relate to those characters in books and on screen and feel accepted, welcomed and loved in our society. Children are not only our precious charges, beautiful people with creative and imaginative minds, but they are also our hope for the future, especially with climate change on our doorstep on the verge of blowing it down. If we are unable to show them that they belong, then we, as ‘grown-ups’, have failed.
Ella is a critically acclaimed composer working in the TV and film TV industry, helping directors to hook their audience in by creating stunning music to plant their production in people's memories. Ella’s new podcast ‘Beyond The Chameleon: Conversations about Belonging In the Creative Media Industries’ launches on 2nd September 20. The podcast explores how we must feel a sense of belonging within ourselves, rather than attempting to fit in, in order to truly create authentic diversity, carve a space for ourselves and pave the way for those who come behind us. To find out more or be a part of the podcast email firstname.lastname@example.org.