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Dear White Parents, Movies and Shows About the Black Experience Aren’t Just for Black People

Jan 23, 2020

Every person has a history. And I believe that we can all benefit from knowing more about our timelines. 

Which is why, as the white mother of a black child via adoption, I go to movies and watch shows featuring black characters, or read biographies about black experiences as much as I can. 

It’s important for me to learn and understand as much as I can. Because I want to be sensitive, appreciative and respectful of our differences while also ensuring she knows about her own race.

It's a Privilege to Get to Know My Daughter

Books are a great source for learning about diversity, but not everyone enjoys reading like I do and that's OK.

Movies, plays, musicals and TV shows depicting black characters, all-black casts or historical figures aren’t just for black viewers and transracial adoptive parents like me. They’re every bit as important for white and non-black viewers.

I recently watched the movie Harriet (based on the life of the iconic Harriet Tubman) and was pleasantly surprised to see a number of white families in the audience with tween or teen kids. Understanding slavery and its true horrors is critical for non-black Canadians and while shows or films on the subject often have difficult scenes to watch, it’s our job as parents to ensure our kids don’t get a sugar-coated version of what slavery was.

I think discussion with our kids about racial privilege is an integral part of viewing movies and shows about black people. I believe kids need to understand that racial privilege doesn’t mean growing up wealthy and materialistically spoiled — it’s the fact that their race hasn’t and won’t be used against them in both blatant and subtle forms of racism the way it is with people of colour and Indigenous people.

Media Opens Up Discussions

Watching programs and movies at home is helpful, because it can be paused at critical points to discuss what’s happening on screen. This also makes for a safe and private environment for parents to provide explanation and context of what they’re watching in the moment. But I've achieved this same feeling of privacy having a discussion with my child on the way home from a movie — because at the end of the day, we're learning about history and it's nothing to be ashamed of.

While there are plenty of films and TV shows that depict experiences of slavery, it's just as critical to expose children to see stories that aren't about that at all. Because at the end of the day, visibility is so important, which is why I like to show my kid movies and TV shows that feature black principal characters in a variety of roles. 

And look, I know Hollywood has made a lot of money on important films about slavery, but it’s every bit as valuable for white children to see black characters who are educated, entrepreneurial, in love and artistic. 

Open More Doors

I think most people will agree that Hollywood needs to show more non-stereotyped black characters. I do think it’s slowly improving and will continue to do so if a wide audience appreciates the efforts, which is why I strongly believe white kids need to be exposed to these narratives. 

Brilliant shows like Black-ish are incredibly entertaining, but they also incorporate powerful lessons on what everyday life is like for some black families. It helps kids understand that while there are racial differences that need to be understood and respected, there are also similarities to recognize in an effort to avoid us-versus-them mindsets.

The media can be a powerful learning tool, but it is still so full of racial stereotypes.

There is far more to black culture than the stereotypes that are often presented in memes, GIFs, music videos and even some movies and shows. And there are plenty of people propelling the state of media forward, like transgender rights activist Janet Mock, Selma director Ava Duvernay, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and activist and author Desmond Cole.

As white parents, we provide most of the diversity education our kids receive. White has been the racial default for far too long in books, television, magazines, catalogues, commercials, movies and even kids’ toys. It’s our job to ensure our families know diversity should not only be tolerated, but embraced and respected.

See you at the movies. 

Article Author Jackie Gillard
Jackie Gillard

Jackie Gillard is a freelance writer who lives on the suburban fringe of Toronto. Between writing the thousands of stories she has in her mind, she is busy as the second wife to her second husband (no, she's not a sister-wife) and mom to an elementary school-aged daughter and a teen stepson. Coffee fuels her days and she used to enjoy wine occasionally in the evenings but now generally falls asleep tucking her daughter into bed. You'll find links to Jackie's published work on her neglected blog MyPapayaJambalaya or you can follow her on Twitter or Instagram to see what shenanigans she's up to each day.

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