The following blog post was written by Jessica Hawthorne, owner of No. Nine Shop for us to share here on our blog. We hope to feature more posts related to this topic in the future.
Representation. It’s a word that we all hear getting thrown around a lot, but I fear many do not truly understand the meaning and its importance to our youth and their future. I am a mother to two multiracial children—I am Japanese and Native American, and my Husband is Black. Before we had children, I knew the importance of representation and the effects it has on a child. I was born in a small town in Oklahoma, and when I was about 7 years old we moved to Tempe, Arizona. As if relocating wasn’t hard enough, I was immediately thrown into a school three times the size of my previous school. It was at that time that I became aware of racial differences. I was immediately labeled as “Hispanic,” and assigned to their group. When I didn’t speak Spanish, I was interrogated about my ethnic background. Not understanding, they asked me point blank, “are you Mexican or White”? I was taken aback, confused, and COMPLETELY embarrassed. I didn’t know and didn’t understand why I was even being asked. That was the first day I remembered being labeled solely on the appearance of my skin. It was then I began to see how girls like me were being portrayed on television and in the movies—it wasn’t inspiring to say the least.
Once my daughter, Avery, was born I was determined to raise her to be confident—something I had always seriously lacked because of my physical features. About three years ago my beautiful, brown, curly-haired daughter was on the hunt for some new jammies. As we perused the aisles we came across two sets of pajamas, hanging side by side. Both sets were the same colors, pink bottoms and a white top, but one had little fair skinned blonde and brunette ballerinas, while the other pair had little, brown monkeys. With the only difference being the characters, my daughter chose the monkey jammies. I asked, “Are you sure these are the ones you want?” since I knew she loved ballerinas. She replied, “Yes! It’s like me!” She chose the damn monkey jammies because they were BROWN LIKE HER! I was beside myself. Seriously, I thought, my two-year-old daughter identifies with monkeys more than she does humans! That’s when my search began. I began constantly searching for items that had little brown girls. When I came up with very little… I was determined to create items with which my daughter could relate. Then, a good friend of mine led me into the Small Shop World. I was blown away by the thousands of Shops, owned mostly by Moms who are all so beautifully creative. I was inspired, and hopeful I would find more representation for my children. Quickly it became very apparent that representation is an issue even in the Small Shop World. Instagram feeds are filled with fair skinned beauties, but many of us would like to see our children represented too.
We need to end the era of having the Token Person of Color or TOKEN Differently-Abled person. People want to see themselves. People want to be included. When they look at those beautiful outfits, they want to see their beautiful child in it… and they deserve to see that! Our Shop should be like our salad— filled with variety in all shades, shapes and textures. It’s not just OUR children who need to see representation—it’s EVERYONE. Let’s introduce children to other cultures! Give your sons knowledge about girls! Share with your children that we’re all beautiful and important, no matter the how different we all may be.
This isn’t just about choosing variety for a rep team, but for our Shop items too. We have all these super hero outfits which feature Superman, Batman, Iron Man, and the Hulk (all of whom are White Men), but what about Black Panther?! A friend of mine who reps and has her own Shop disclosed to me that Black Panther material is nearly impossible to obtain. Black Panther was THE highest-grossing movie this year, and we can’t easily find our children Black Panther items. We’re sick of seeing ourselves as the stereotypes that society has labeled us with. We have heroes, and we want to see them too! I know many Shops are afraid of backlash for misrepresenting a culture or group of people, so they stay with what’s safe. They see what sells... But I promise there is way more in the world we’d love to see! Yes, you should be cautious, because there is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, but that’s for another day. As for now, I urge everyone to introduce their child(ren) to something you consider different, and for Shop Owners to find ways to be more diverse. Put an end to anyone feeling like they’re the TOKEN person in the group.
Peace. Love. EQUALITY.