The 1st Time I Saw Me: Why Representation Matters

As a quirky little black girl growing up, I often gravitated towards television. I didn't have many friends since making connections with people often involved talking, which was a skill that I had not yet mastered. I was different than the other kids in my class; I knew it and so did they. There were several days where I felt as if no one understood me. Sometimes I thought that maybe I was the only one who experienced life the way I did. I went to a school in a town that was often called diverse, but it didn't feel this way. There were about five black kids in my class and even within this community I didn't feel as if I belonged. Once again, I felt different than everyone I encountered, and this sensation lasted long after classes were dismissed. After school, I always ran to the tv. I enjoyed a lot of shows like many children my age. But even here in my place of solace, I was never able to truly identify with any of the characters presented. I was never really able to truly find myself on screen. I remember watching tv with my friends and they often pointed out similarities they recognized between them and the characters on screen; I was never able to share in this. Sure, there were black characters such as Rugrat’s Susie Carmichael, Jimmy Neutron’s Libby, Penny Proud from the Proud Family, and Number 5 from Codename Kids Next Door. These characters are also very important and deserve to be noted for not only allowing little black girls to exist across networks, but different communities. However there was one cartoon who’s black character felt real. Keesha Franklin appeared on The Magic School Bus, which was one of my favorite shows. Not only did Keesha look like me (we even had the same hairstyle as you can see from the picture of me above!) but we had very similar personalities. Like me, Keesha had a strong love for science -- after all, she had Ms. Fizzle as her teacher. Keesha was hardworking and determined. Any goal that she set, she made sure that she achieved. I admired Keesha deeply and this was an experience that was completely new to me. Even in her strength, Keesha was vulnerable; she was able to admit when she was wrong. Keesha taught me that being different was not necessarily a bad thing and there can be good in difference. She helped me gain a new sense of confidence, but more importantly I didn’t feel so alone anymore. Once I found this small representation on screen, The Magic School Bus quickly became my favorite show. When my grandmother didn't pick me up from school exactly on time, I would get upset; Magic School Bus came on at 3:30 and I could not afford to miss an episode.

My example is just one of many people of color finding a voice. Representation is very important and the little black girl that still exists inside of me is very proud of the new projects that are emerging that are allowing black writers, directors, and actors to create new opportunities for representation. Projects such as The Chi, Blackish, Black Lightning, Doc McStuffins, Steven Universe, the recently released Black Panther, and the upcoming A Wrinkle In Time are illustrating the complexity of black people. Previously, black characters were one dimensional, only existing in shows as the comedic relief. Now, our characters are allowed to have complexity. I am thankful to be alive in a time where black people can be awkward, natural, emotional, light, dark, LGBTQ, and exist on screen without being the punch line.

The Magic School bus allowed me to love myself for all the right reasons, to see no fault in my skin color, hair texture, or quirkiness. And I hope producers are inspired by the success of the projects I listed, as well as others with black casts and continue to create work that allows all little black girls, boys, men, and women find this love as well.