What's the point?: Representation

A self portrait of me at 19.  

A self portrait of me at 19.  

In one week I'll have been on this particular journey as A Quick Brown Fox for an entire year. Now I'm taking the time to break down the things that matter to me and my mission. I've been taking inventory on the "why" and I think it will be helpful for me to blog it out. First up, Representation. 

A very big part of why I'm on a mission to become the first female African American pro road cyclist is that I don't think it's cool that there is a lack of representation for people who look like me in the sport.  t's no secret that I have only come across a handful of african american women racing road bikes for sport, and none of them at the pro level.

Representation is EXTREMELY important to me, as I feel that it can have a huge effect on the direction of the youth in the African- American community. 

If you don't see your potential in the adults of today, you might fail to see your potential as an adult  of the future. I like to imagine a world where society pressures you (and the people who you identify with) to do positive and incredible things with your life, instead of a world where society shows you that you (and the people who you identify with) are worth less than others.

So in a way, I guess my seemingly irrelevant mission is in my head a very tiny push for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Increasing positive representation will encourage and increase the value of black lives in the eyes of both black people, and non-black people. 

While my goal is specific to being the first "African-American", skin color as it relates to nationality and identity is not easily identifiable when talking about judgements and preconceived notions, so for the purpose of this blog post, I'm asking you to accept the general label of "black people". I suppose I'll write a more detailed explanation on my view of the fine line between the two at some point in the near future. (If you're impatient, just google Raven Symone for a reference of a confused black person who doesn't identify as such)

Here in California I teach at five different schools. Over the course of my week I have one "black" student. I've mentioned this to a few friends, no one was surprised. My favorite was definitely



You are in the MOST expensive city to live in [in the US]

You [work] in a city that is MORE expensive to live in than new york city..

of course you only have one black student." 

My friend is absolutely right, I work in very affluent neighborhoods at places where people have to pay for their children to be a part of my classes. Keeping that in mind, I don't expect many black students, but I guess I assumed there would be more than one. 

So now I'm thinking about representation for that kid, and the kids around him. When you are 3 (this little black boy is 3), you spend a lot of time at school. There are about 40 students in his one room school that are separated into 2 classes. Imagine being the sole representative for black people in an entire community for 39 other tiny humans. For several hours each day the only black kid they see is you, and for several hours a day all you see is them. This can lead to a buttload of generalizations in both directions. 

Granted right now, he's three, and it's not AS big of a deal. But when he starts elementary school, there's a whole can of issues that comes with being the token black kid. For example, you become the authority on all things black (even though you totally aren't). It's super awkward during black history month, other children look to you as some sort of ambassador, even though most elementary school kids haven't truly grasped the intricacies of their identities yet. Also, you are molded and shaped by your peers, so when you find yourself in settings with other black people you don't necessarily fit the mold. (The "not black enough for the black kids" struggle was so real for me as a kid).

The older I get, the more I find myself noticing the world around me. Not because I want to, but because I grew up in a cute little diverse bubble in Central NJ where it was impossible for me to really "get it". 

I didn't understand why my mom made fun of me for being so into the show "Friends". She would always remind me that the show is ridiculous because according to FRIENDS, "there aren't very many black people in NYC". I've counted, 4, maybe 5 black people with speaking roles in all 10 seasons (there was an actual total of 24). My favorite being the guy who sings "Good Morning" outside of Joey's window. I wanted to be quirky like Phoebe, and Sarcastic like Chandler. They were funny, people liked them, all was well.  It didn't make the show any less funny, but I identified so much with the main characters, even though they really didn't represent me AT ALL.

It's little things like that, that as a kid went right over my head, but now that I'm an adult, they really make me upset. There are SO MANY black people in NYC, but I never had any issues accepting that they weren't being represented on my favorite TV show. That is a problem. It was just like many other TV shows with maybe 1 or 2 black people. I accepted this as  how it is supposed to be.  

 I'm ranting, so I'll stop here and elaborate more next time, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Just know that I'm doing this so other little girls that look like me won't feel that being a bike racer isn't a thing that Black women do, and if they want to, they can totally do be a bike racer!

What are your thoughts on representation. How as an abundance or lack of representation affected the choices you make and the things you accept? I wanna know! 




Ayesha McGowanComment