At the Intersection: Erasing and Minimizing Women of Color

Women’s History Month is here! Our history is positively brimming with amazing women who gave their talents to help industries and our society as a whole progress and be more inclusive. Some, we are very familiar with - Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony - and have learned snapshots of their contributions through school or popular culture. Many others, especially Women of Color, are all too often left out of the history books or the mainstream narrative. And that leaves us all the poorer, because we miss out on giving our kids real-life examples of women in different fields, and flourishing in those roles.

It can be easy to dwell on comparing the availability of Women of Color role models, present versus past, and then come to the conclusion that the seeming “abundance” of examples (the women of Hidden Figures highlighted in books and movies, or so many Women of Color serving in Congress) must mean that we have moved a needle when it comes seeing representation. And while it’s great that we really are seeing more stories of Women of Color come to the forefront of popular culture, the practice of minimizing or erasing Women of Color from storylines is unfortunately very much alive and well - and responsible for the perceived gap that we may experience when looking back.

For example, at the beginning of the month, 60 Minutes aired an episode all about girls in tech: covering everything from the dearth in the field of computer science when it comes to women, to what structures are needed to make sure that girls and women are supported as they embark on that career path. However, when it came time to air the segment, the majority of its time was spent highlighting Code.org and its male president, leaving inputs from female-led organizations, Girls Who Code and littleBits, on the cutting floor. Even more upsetting was the fact that the research of Girls Who Code was deemed “good” enough to make it into the segment, but only as an uncredited source, and only when presented from a man. All of this accumulated in  minimizing and erasing the voices, experiences, and expertise of Women of Color from a segment that would have so obviously benefited from their perspectives.

Unfortunately, the 60 Minutes incident with Girls Who Code is just another in an unsurprisingly long line of erasing Women of Color from the dominant narrative. But with our kids, we can offer them a different practice. We can teach them to be critical thinkers and questioners of the world around them. We can model for them what it looks like to be inclusive in the books and media we consume and encourage them to do the same. We have been habituated over time to not question why Women of Color are missing from the stories we tell each other, and to reverse that trend will take intentional questioning and time, as we live into a new reality.

Want to read more about the Girls Who Code Issue?

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FOR THE KIDS…

books celebrating Women of Color you may not know…yet!

TITLES:

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya - Donna Jo Napoli, Kadir Nelson (IOC)*
My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz - Monica Brown, Rafael Lopez (AOC, IOC)
She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader - J.G. Annino, Lisa Desmini
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines - Jeanne Walker Harvey,Tiemdow Phumiruk - (IOC)

—> And a Bonus Book Rec for those of you who have a kiddo interested in coding, brought to you by Girls Who Code! How to Code a Sand Castle - Josh Funk, Sara Palacios (IOC)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  • Why is important to tell the stories of other people?

  • What happens when we don’t tell people’s stories?

  • Why do you think we know some stories more deeply or more often than others?

  • How can you help make sure the stories you know get shared in a way that is fair?

  • How can we know that we’re getting the whole story? What practices can we start to get in the habit of questioning if we do have the whole story?

*Author of Color/ Illustrator of Color. Here at We Stories, we are always working to uplift the voices and experiences of characters of colors in the books that we direct families towards. In that amplification, we are continuously mindful of the fact that authors and illustrators of color only make up 15% of published children’s books every year. As always, we strive to flip the script showcasing works that not only feature diverse characters, but also a majority of which are authored or illustrated by people of color.

This blog post was written by Rhema Anazonwu, Program Manager for We Stories
The title image is borrowed from this resource on Everyday Feminism