Claiming Authorship: Ayomide Oyedele and ‘The ABCs of Black Girl Magic’

“Inspire the next generation with education and preparation.”

Ayomide Oyedele’s statement rings true in our divisive world. Our once-aspirational unity seems to be crumbling. We are shifting towards increasingly dark and hostile futures. As an author and final-year Law student at King’s College London, Oyedele is trying to leave the world a more resilient and accepting place than the one she grew up in. Mainly, she’s “just trying to find [her] way in life.”

Oyedele kindly made time in her busy schedule to discuss her new books: A Black Girl Like Me and A Black Boy Like Me. The twenty-year-old details the persistent lack of black representation, the importance of awareness and the struggles of creating a new book. Though humble in her responses, she is crucially redefining a world that has, for far too long, lingered before its reckoning.

 

Ehsan: Your book inevitably focuses on inclusivity and diversity, important components that should be integrated into wider society. Why did you specifically want to create a book for children?

Oyedele: I, as a black woman, feel like I see a lot of black women who aren’t pushed to reach their full potential. For example, when I was growing up in Nigeria, education for women wasn’t as important as it is now. In general, I feel like black children need to know about these role models and the different things that can be achieved. A lot of examples in the book refer to the first black woman who achieved a monumental step, showing that the readers themselves can achieve such goals if they so desire. There are so many different paths that we can achieve as black women. We need to show that and aspire to just do that.

 

When you were researching and curating the book, did you see any gender differences, in terms of black men’s achievements being more well documented in media and in history than that of black women? Did you see that imbalance?

Yes, the stark differences were crazy. It took me an incredibly long time to find enough information on black women. This was quite ridiculous because black women are important, we are people too. It was just so much easier to find information on black men. Black women weren’t covered by the media as much, we weren’t popularised by the media, and contextual constraints prevent black women from achieving as much, despite our capabilities. A lot of the first achievements, after going through different websites, were achieved by black men. The information for black women even in the UK was sparse. I don’t quite understand why. That’s what I noticed and it was quite shocking to realise.

 

Did you look at international materials for your sources or focused on domestic achievements?

I used international sources. I tried to find a variety of international women and tried to find an inclusive range. Not just from different countries but from different backgrounds; some people were born in rich backgrounds, some people were born into poverty, some from the LGBTQ+ community. They were all incorporated into the book to provide a wide range.

 

How did you find this specific structure and subject matter for the book, in the sense that it is an example book and not a narrative story book?

This book is directed at children, and I don’t want to burden them with too much information. The women and men, of course, had interesting backgrounds. But by focusing on examples, it shows that your background doesn’t really matter, it’s not a prerequisite for your success. For children, especially, examples are much more accessible, rather than a longer, daunting paragraph.

 

What age is this book targeted at?

I would say all ages, but to start with, maybe 4+.

 

Did the idea to create this book just come to you, or did you find inspiration from authors like Vanessa Brantley-Newton, perhaps?

I think I found the inspiration from the show, ‘Family Reunion’. The show was discussing what black people achieved in life, and I thought that someone should document this for children. And I decided that I would document this for children. This is where the inspiration came from.

 

Is your book intended to be for educational purposes? Do you think education is the best way forward to make sustainable change and establish racial equality?

Yes, I do think education is quite important. I do think there is a movement to include more of black history within schools, making young people more aware of achievements from people of their skin colour, or other skin colours, which is always important. I wouldn’t necessarily say that my book is an educational tool but rather a source of inspiration. I would view my book as more of an external education tool.

 

In general, what do you think is the best method of education: top-down, starting with regulatory changes and syllabus changes, or; bottom-up, in a more anarchistic fashion, where society first must become aware and equipped to deal with these important issues, such as by reading books like yours?

I think bottom-up. To give an example, take segregation in America. There was a law passed that said that segregation is illegal, yet it still happened because the government can change the law all they want. But, if the people don’t change, there is no change. In the Black Lives Matter movement this summer [2020], the government didn’t pass a law that said you needed to read certain books, but people became aware of the circumstances because of contextual shifts. This is a more effective way of education.

 

Can you explain the process of actually creating the book, from forming the initial idea to marketing and selling the book?

I first had the idea in February [2020]. It was going to be a ‘Nigerian Girl Like Me’ book, but I felt like that was a bit too restrictive. Even though I may specifically be Nigerian, I am still black and part of a wider black community. Then I extended it to make it more inclusive. After my exams in May [2020], I started writing it. It was quite hard to find an illustrator at first but then I found a mutual friend who created digital illustration art.

It took a while to find a publishing mechanism. Then I decided to settle with Amazon KDP. They were the more economical option and also gave me more creative control. I then created a website, an Instagram account, a Twitter handle, and a Facebook page. Now, here we are.

 

Have you seen a lot of engagement on social media from readers?

Yes, I have received some positive feedback from people who saw the book and those who bought the book. That’s made me quite happy.

 

And as this is your first book, and such an important one at that, how do you feel knowing it’s out in the world for girls and boys to read and learn from?

It feels quite good. As long as I can inspire one person, that’s enough. Mostly, I’m happy and relieved.

 

In terms of the literary market, have you witnessed a change in representation in children’s books, and do you hope to further remedy this through more books?

I’m not too sure whether I can make another book, but I’ll definitely consider it. I didn’t have that many children’s books when I was growing up in Nigeria, but I have seen a lot more representation of other cultures and communities in children’s books. Not even necessarily just children’s books, but in toys and dolls as well. I also noticed that a book shop had an anxiety book for children, which is an extremely positive change.

 

What is the most important message you want your readers to take away from your book?

Inspire the next generation with education and preparation.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed, but its constitution remains the same.

 

Order Oyedele’s book here.