Representation Matters: Highlighting Black Authors

What is representation? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, “the action of standing for, or in the place of, a person, group, or thing, and related senses.” This topic has become an important one among the Black community because it is essential for Black people, especially young children, to see themselves in a positive light in the media and in books. This shapes who they are and how they depict themselves and those in their community.

A sophomore nursing major, Victory Nnaemeka, added, “Sometimes I find it hard to relate to what I’m reading about because there aren’t people in the books that are described as looking like me, and it gets discouraging at times.”

Historically, the media rarely represented Black people, especially in the television and film industry. Before the Civil Rights Movement, this industry limited representation to light-skinned Black people who were “passing,” or those who are light enough for people to perceive them as white.

After the Civil Rights Movement, when the world of TV and film started to accept darker-skinned Black people, they had to be, what Black playwright and activist Pearl S. Sharp defined as “undeniably black,” meaning that they had to act out harmful stereotypes.

The stereotypes forced on Black people have led to the negative representation we still see in modern media. Some authors have leaned into these stereotypes and written Black men as drug dealers, criminals, and drop-outs; they depict Black women as rude and loud and often describe them with offensive and disrespectful character traits or innuendos. Seeing these types of harsh descriptions and character traits can truly ruin a child’s internalized view of themselves and their community.

Stereotypes are not the only type of negative representation; the overabundance of Black struggle movies in the media can become very toxic and tiring. Hollywood has created an excess amount of movies and television shows that emblazon the likes of slavery, police brutality, and low-income communities as if that is the entire Black experience. This issue is also prevalent in books written about Black people.
Madison Latimer, a junior sociology student, commented, “When books constantly portray Black struggle but don’t also highlight the joys and happiness that come along with being Black, it’s an immediate turn off, and I don’t bother reading it.”

Throughout history, representation of Black and Brown people has improved but is heavily centered around those who are lighter skinned. Constantly highlighting lighter-skinned Black and Brown individuals while ignoring their darker skinned counterparts is detrimental to the camaraderie and wellbeing of the Black community.

While some people may not see it as a “big deal,” representation for those who are rarely portrayed in books is important for everybody. It is crucial that those outside of the Black community are able to read about, understand, and respect the joy, love, and camaraderie that are heavily present, though rarely portrayed in the media, in Black people and our culture.

Here are some suggestions of books based around Black main characters and written by Black authors for your next read!

  1. Concrete Rose and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  2. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
  3. Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen
  4. In Every Mirror She’s Black by Lola Akinmade Akerstrom
  5. You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
  6. Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart
  7. Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan
  8. Blackout by Angie Thomas, Tiffany D. Jackson, Dhonielle Clayton, Nic Stone, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
  9. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
  10. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
  11. Enemies with Benefits by Lavender Fields
  12. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams