Juliana Narvaez/Contributing Writer
Representation in movies, T.V. shows and books play an important role in portraying minorities and giving these individuals a space to feel seen and heard. For FIU Assistant Professor, Dr. Rokeshia Renné Ashley, representation within the media becomes most impactful when it’s directed toward young children.
Following her research on the effects of colorism and skin whitening, Dr. Ashley, author of “SunFlower Child,” found that writing a children’s book was a successful way to encourage young black girls to love and cherish their skin and themselves.
“The book is about this little friend group that’s playing all day… outside in the sun; they’re experiencing this thing called girlhood,” she said. “By the end of the day, when the primary character is home looking in the mirror, she feels like she looks even more beautiful because she’s been out in the sun.”
Colorism can be defined as discrimination against individuals based on their skin color. Dr. Ashley explains the societal factors that influence colorism and skin whitening.
“They know from their experiences that if they look a certain way, they have more accessibility to better jobs which means more income; they can pass for a particular race and get a loan for a house,” she said. “All of these things used to matter and they still do … that’s why I produced ‘SunFlower Child.’”
“SunFlower Child” has gained national response amongst parents looking to open up the conversation to their young black children about loving and nourishing their skin.
“I thought that [‘SunFlower Child’] would be a good way to kind of start changing the narrative in association with colorism,” she explains.
Although she was already aware of the issues facing the black community, Dr. Ashley describes how her young daughter, Emery, expanded her view on how to educate young people on these topics.
“I think that it [being a mother] makes me more cognizant of what I’m saying to her,” she explains.
Dr. Ashley is a strong advocate for instilling young black girls with positive affirmations about themselves.
“I think that’s [affirmations] very important … reaching children in their formidable years … because the things we learn as children we really carry it into adulthood.”
According to Dr. Ashley, not only should affirmations be introduced to children by their parents, but by teachers as well. They spend almost 7-8 hours in a classroom, 5 times a week, leading them to become major influencers in their student’s lives.
“When you think about it, teachers are almost the parents of the students.”
In relation to her daughter, Dr. Ashley explains the importance of Emery having teachers that recognize who she is.
“If their [a teachers’] ideals are aligned with someone who does not recognize her as beautiful or does not associate her skin color as something that’s significant, then that’s going to be problematic for her figuring out … her self confidence … it’s very important … [that] she sees a black teacher and … other kids that look like her.”
As stated by Dr. Ashley, not only does representation matter, but it also must be done correctly.
She explains although society has progressed into including more black and people of color into the media, there is still the need to include these individuals within the production of media in order to narrate these stories.
“I think there is definitely a need to continue on this path to have not only representation on the screen or in the pictures, but to also have it behind the scenes to make sure that these messages are accurately depicted.”
Currently, Dr. Ashley continues her position at FIU and participates in virtual readings of “SunFlower Child” to local classes in cities such as Washington D.C. and Houston.