Media Justice Begins Early: Children’s Books

This is a guest post by Bianca of Latino Sexuality and of The LatiNegr@s Project. I’ll be cross-posting and blogging for the month of March! Read a bit more about me when we introduced The LatiNegr@s Project team.

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to be an Auntie/Tia/Titi. My sister has always wanted a family. When she married her wife last year in Washington, DC, the Big Fat Puerto Rican Lesbian Wedding we had was marvelous! They began to plan for their family and the time is arriving for my nephew to be born. Our families and communities are so excited for his arrival!

As I prepare to become a Tia/Auntie the first thing I looked for were books including same gender parents, mainly women. It was not an easy search. It’s not as rare as it once was, but it’s still a hunt! Because I know how challenging this can be, I’ve decided to share a list of the books I’ve found and purchased for my nephew. These are books that are often still in print, affordable, well-written, and engaging. Children’s books are important forms of media that are also markers of class status. I like to purchase books for children instead of toys because I value them, especially in a time when books are now becoming paperless, I’d like to transmit this value to my nephew. Finding a book that represents our family, struggles, successes, and love is essential to my ideas of media literacy and media justice.

The first challenge was finding a book about two mami’s. It’s not too hard to find a book about two mommy’s but finding one on two women of Color was a whole other challenge. Then, to find a book that had mami’s of Color and children of Color was another challenge. Add to that trying to find a book that had characters of Color, same gender parents, and then ones that had two mami’s raising a son and them being in bilingual in English and Spanish, the search was exhausting! But, they do exist.

Here are the books I purchased for my nephew:

Antonio’s Card/La Tarjeta de Antonio by Rigoberto Gonzalez and Cecilía Alvarez

This book follows Antonio who is creating a Mother’s Day card in his class. He wants to include his mother’s partner, Leslie, but does not want to be made fun of by his classmates. Leslie picks him up from school every day and they spend time together before his mother arrives. I picked this book because it is bilingual (and one of the only ones), discusses a Latino boy (of which my nephew is), and because of how Leslie is described and drawn. She is someone described as being tall and large that she towers over Antonio, she wears baggy overalls that have paint splattered on them because she is an artist, and has short dark hair. Leslie really does look and sound like my sister and her gender expression being more lax with embracing more baggy clothing than her wife. It was the perfect book for our family and I am so excited to have found the book.

The Story of Colors/La Historia de los Colores: A Bilingual Folktale from the Jungles of Chiapas by Subcomandante Marcos and Domitila Domínguez.

I often purchase this book for the new parents in my life. The story is created by Subcomandante Marcos of the Mexican Zapatistas guerilla movement, an indigenous rights and equality movement. The illustrator is Domitila Domínguez, an indigenous artist from Oaxaca, Mexico. This book is so beautiful and shares the story of how colors have come into our world and lives. There are animals that help in sharing the story of how the gods decided to add color to our world. The narrative includes indigenous traditions and rituals, as well as the reality of what indigenous people in Mexico struggle with to maintain and preserve their cultural practices and rituals.

My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis and Suzanne DeSimone

Based on lived experiences of parent and author Cheryl Kilodavis, we follow the story of a young boy of Color who challenges the way we imagine femininity and masculinity in young children. He enjoys exploring what makes him feel most genuine as each day comes whether it may be “pink and sparkly things. Sometimes he wears dresses, and sometimes he wears jeans.” One of the few stories for young children that discusses gender, identity, and challenges how we socialize our children. Visit the book website and listen to Kilodavis discuss her book. 

Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman and Diana Souza

This was the first children’s book that featured two same gender parents that were lesbians raising a daughter. It is a classic that celebrated it’s 20th anniversary edition in 2009 and is now published in color. My sister specifically requested this book for their library. Author Lesléa Newman has written several books and many are on this list. This book follows Heather and we meet her family which includes Mama Kate, Mama Jane and her dog Midnight. The book centers love that is found in many families regardless of how they are formed.

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager and Mike Blanc

This book takes place on the beach where two boys have a conversation about their families. A girl nearby listening joins in and we hear how they have questions for the little boy who has two mommies. The boy in the book is a boy of Color, and the two mommies could be women of Color as well, but I read them as racially white. If the child was adopted this is not discussed.

Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr

One of the few books that centers transgender children, Be Who You Are tells the story of Nick. Assigned sex at birth male, Nick sees and believes herself to be a girl. The story follows Nick’s family who is supportive, loving, and works with Nick and her school to create and maintain a supportive environment.

Books To Purchase In The Future

Felicia’s Favorite Story by Lesléa Newman and Adriana Romo

Centers on Felicia who was adopted by her mothers Nessa and Linda. It follows a similar narrative that Newman is famous for: centering love in families. We learn how Felicia’s mama’s went about adopting her from Guatemala

Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman and Carol Thompson

Follows a lesbian couple and their child on a regular day. They go to the park to play, take a bath, have dinner, and a bedtime story. I read one of the parents as a woman of Color, so this is also an interracial book for some families.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole

Based on a true story that took place at the New York City Central Park Zoo about two male penguin’s Roy and Silo. They decide they wish to become parents and find an egg shaped rock to care for. When one zookeeper notices and provides them with an egg that needs attention, Roy and Silo care for their egg until it hatches and they have a daughter. The family is still at the Central Park Zoo!

The Family Book by Todd Parr

This book celebrates the differences and diversity found in families and includes same-gender parents. A picturesque story of how differences are important to recognize and value using the example of family formation.

In Our Mother’s House by Patricia Polacco

Centering on lesbian parents who have a large family, In Our Mother’s House shares a story that we rarely hear. Narrated by a young Black girl who was adopted by two white women she calls Marmee and Meema, she shares how her family evolved to include an Asian brother and red-headed sister. This book is one that shares how the community is supportive and a part of their family. It is the first book that has all the characters age and the ending is one that is epic.

Out of Print & Hard To Find (in the US)

123: A Family Counting Book by Bobbi Combs
Is a counting book up to the number 20. The images depict gay and lesbian parents and their children. The publishing company is a gay and lesbian centric one called Two Lives Publishingwhere online ordering is coming soon.

ABC: A Family Alphabet Book by Bobbi Combs

Similar to the Family Counting Book, this book helps children learn the alphabet featuring gay and lesbian parents. Published by Two Lives publishing online ordering should be available soon, and hopefully it won’t be over $25!

Asha’s Mums by Rosamund Elwin, Michele Paulse and Dawn Lee

Follows Asha, a African-Canadian girl whose family becomes of interest to her teachers and classmates because her parents are lesbians. This book has a more specific and overt homophobic tone as it features Asha’s teachers telling her she can’t have two mothers.

Keesha & Her Two Moms Go Swimming by Monica Bey-Clarke, Cheril N. Clarke, Michelle Hutchinson, and Aiswarya Mukherjee

We follow Keesha as she goes swimming with her parents and meets up with her friend Trevor who has a similar family as she does: two fathers. Keesha is a young girl of Color and she has parents of Color as well.

Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden and Sharon Wooding

Following a similar story found in Antonio’s Card, Molly creates an image of her family featuring her two mothers. When a classmate tells her that she can’t have two mommies Molly doesn’t know how to respond.


Sexy & I Know It? How Does Our Media Represent Sex?

This is a guest post by Bianca of Latino Sexuality and of The LatiNegr@s Project. I’ll be cross-posting and blogging for the month of March! Read a bit more about me when we introduced The LatiNegr@s Project team.

cross posted from my Media Justice column

Today (Thursday) I’ll be at SUNY Orange providing a discussion on Media, Gender, and Sex as part of their Women’s History Month series.  Much of my discussion will be about US representations in film, television, and new media. Here’s what I proposed to discuss:

“Media is complicated and so are we as viewers. During this presentation, this complexity will be centered with a focus on US television and film representations of gender, sex, sexuality and sexual orientation. This will include an examination of the media over the past 30 years and highlighting important films, TV shows, and characters. This discussion will introduce participants to media literacy and assist them in utilizing the skills that come with interpreting the media and recognizing its constructed messages about sex and sexuality and how they intersect with various dimensions of difference. The presentation will conclude with a look at how technology has changed the way we are consuming media and how viewers are becoming media makers, resulting in more inclusive depictions where we represent ourselves.”

It sounds like I’m doing a presentation on all the articles I’ve written for this column! And sometimes it does seem that way, especially as I prepare for this session. I’ve titled my talk “Sexy & I Know It?” and will be discussing various representations many readers are familiar with. I’m working on a PowerPoint/Keynote presentation and will post it on my personal blog when it is completed. What I’d like to do here is share some of the ideas I have for this session and if anyone has feedback please send it along!

I plan to begin with setting some boundaries with the group. It’s often one of my turn-off’s when presenters don’t discuss who and what is included only to find half-way through their session, they are excluding a ton of people and experiences. I have three boundaries: 1. my presentation focuses on US media which includes: film, television, and new media/webisodes; 2. the time period is from 1980-the present; 3. when discussing gender I believe that wo/man is anyone who identifies as a wo/man regardless of what their sex assigned at birth was. I considered a few other bullet points, such as: Tyler Perry and the show Sex In The City was deliberately not included! But I think that will be clear and I will welcome that as a question.

Next, a discussion of how media and sex are defined. I’m defining media (a term that is much like defining “culture,” is one that has many different definitions) as any form of communication, that it is varied and complex and very much created. I share these components of the definition for media because I think it is very inclusive and allows for more traditional forms of media, such as the ones I’ll be discussing, but also room for other less traditional forms of media that we think of such as tattooing, oral narratives, and make-up. Defining sex I go back to the Circles of Sexuality that are popular in comprehensive sexuality education classrooms. I define it as 5 intersecting areas of everyone’s lives that make us complex and interconnected. These include sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual health, and sexualization.

Defining media literacy, is my next step. Many readers will be familiar with this piece as I pull from the work of Elizabeth Thoman at the Center for Media Literacy. My overall goal is to have participants leave with an understanding of what media literacy is and what skills they already have that are connected to being media literate. I include a discussion of the framework/guidelines, skills and process in understanding and examining the media which essentially is about asking the right questions.

The 5 elements of media literacy include:
1. Media is constructed
2. Media is constructed using creative language
3. Different people will have different perspectives
4. Media is profit driven
5. Media has embedded values

The questions that media literacy allows us to seek answers to include:
1. Who created this and what messages are being sent?
2. What techniques are used to catch and hold my attention?
3. What values and points of view are presented?
4. How may others view this media differently from me?
5. What is omitted from this message and media?

Beginning with the 1980s, I start with a quote by Slick Rick, a famous MC from the 1980s whose song “Children’s Story” begins “Once upon a time not long ago..” Maybe it’s just me who finds this funny because I remember the 80s and it doesn’t seem that long ago! I begin with highlighting four television series: The Cosby Show, A Different World, 21 Jump Street, Golden Girls, and Roseanne. I begin with these because I think they are still relevant and in the minds of folks who may be present and range in age.

I include The Cosby Show because it was a great representation that challenged theMoynihan report  and reinvisioned the Black family living in the US by representing a Black family that challenged stereotypes presented in the Moynihan report. A Different World is included as a spin-off of The Cosby Show that showed Black college students building and sustaining an intellectual community of practice (and all the other reasons I wrote about  a few weeks ago). 21 Jump Street is included because it represented one of the first and few times we see people of Color in positions of authority and power. This was also one of the most multi-cultural casts on television at the time with Holly Robinson, Dustin Nguyen, and Steven Williams. This is included to provide a comparison of what the upcoming movie of the same title represents. Is the cast just as diverse and inclusive or is it marketed at a specific audience? Finally, the Golden Girls. They are still on the vanguard of television by representing older women experiencing pleasure and full lives. You can read more about what I think about this show from my “Revolutionary TV” series.

The two videos I highlight are when Blanche and Rose discuss Rose’s HIV test on Golden Girls. The other video is from A Different World when Freddie experiences a sexual assault. My goal is to have a call and response with the participants, having them use their media literacy skills and see how they would answer some of those questions.

Finally, Roseanne, a television show that represented my upbringing so much, especially as a working-class family. This clip is when Darlene begins to menstruate for the first time and her feelings and response to this development. She beings to throw away the items she loves and that represent her: baseball mitt, basketball, football, etc. Roseanne speaks to her about how her things are “girl” things. She says “these are girl things if a girl uses them.” This sent and continues to send an important message about gender, gender roles and expectations. Check out the clip below. The part begins at the 6.30 mark:

The 1990s had so many television shows. I have yet to decide if I’m going to list the tons and tons of them that I find important such as: The Magic School Bus, Daria, In Living Color, My So-Called Life, Life Goes On, Amen, the Arsenio Hall Show, New York Undercover, I Like It Like That, Living Single, and All-American Girl. The last three media I’m focusing on for discussion. Here’s some of the media I’ll be presenting for each show.

All-American Girl is the television show about the life of Margaret Cho featuring her playing herself. She’s discussed her challenges with this role and show in her stand-up comedy, and the first two minutes of the first episode I’m presenting to discuss culture, language, gender, expectations, immigration, race and identity. Check out the first few minutes below:

Next is the television show Living Single (which came before Sex and the City!) focuses on four Black women living in NYC. Synclair’s character deciding to have sex with her long-term partner for the first time. Her homegirls which include Kim Fields, Erika Alexander, and cousin Queen Latifah, try to help her find confidence and assurance in this decision. At the end of the show, Synclair and her partner Overton decide to abstain until they are both comfortable. This is one of the first times we see abstinence represented for Black women, a community that is often seen as hyper-sexualized and insatiable. This show was produced and created by Yvette Lee Bowser who became the first Black woman to create her own prime-time series. See the clip below:

I Like It Like That is a film I really adore. It focuses on a Puerto Rican family living in the Bronx in the late 1990s. Starring Lauren Velez (from New York Undercover) as Lisette, a LatiNegra mother of three who finds herself needing a job when her husband is arrested for stealing a stereo during a blackout. This film was one of the first times I saw LatiNegr@s represented, a story that focused on women’s work and redefines independence for Latinas. In addition, Lisette’s sister Alexis is a transgender woman (performed by Jesse Borrego) whose character shows the lived reality of transmisogyny that is still present and impacts women of Color in very specific ways. See the trailer below:

For 2000-Present I focus on New Media and more so on films and webisodes. Some of the films and series presented include The Wire, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Oz, Pariah, and Gun Hill Road. I plan to discuss the inclusion and representation of transgender people in the film Gun Hill Road, and connect that to the “activism” that occurred by Puerto Rican activists around the television show “Workin’ It.”  A discussion of the show Dexter I also plan to have to discuss again people of Color in roles of power and authority. Lauren Velez as police Captain and C.S. Lee as Vince Masuka a lab tech who offers one representation of Asian men as “getting the girl” which we rarely see. I also think I’ll discuss the film Girlfight with Michelle Rodriguez.

Ending the presentation I focus on webisodes and new media. I highlight the HomeGirl.TV series created by Sofia Quintero, Between Women webseries and how we are all becoming media makers and highlight the S*&% People Say…meme that was popular earlier this year.

Here’s the trailer I plan to show to discuss Between Women (a webseries that is doing so much so keep an eye out for a post coming soon about this series!). It follows several women of Color who identify as lesbians living in Atlanta, Georgia.

I end with a viewing of the S*&% People Say to Native Americans Part 2 as an example of how folks are becoming media makers and how this connects to media justice.


Useful Media for National Women and Girls HIV AIDS Awareness Day

This is a guest post by Bianca of Latino Sexuality and of The LatiNegr@s Project. I’ll be cross-posting and blogging for the month of March! Read a bit more about me when we introduced The LatiNegr@s Project team.

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

The National Women and Girls HIV AIDS Awareness Day is March 10th. I’ve written a lot about HIV for this column, however I have yet to really write anything specific for this coming day and with a focus on gender. I’d like to highlight some of the forms of media available that discusses and represents people who identify as women and how HIV and AIDS impacts our lives. Below are two main forms of media: Public Service Announcements that range from 45 seconds to 5 minutes long and music videos.

The PSAs may be useful to begin a conversation about HIV and AIDS education and prevention. They may also be encouraging to folks who decide to become media makers and create their own PSAs. The music videos fall into a few categories: quality videos and music and not so quality videos and music. The quality pieces focus primarily on HIV versus only having HIV as part of a larger storyline in the song. Some of the songs also blame the women in the songs for becoming infected with HIV versus individual responsibility.

Public Service Announcements

The Black Girl Project director and filmmaker Aiesha Turman  created an HIV and AIDS PSA a few years ago. Her PSA “Prevent, Don’t Manage HIV” can be seen below.

Rosa’s Story from the Ventura AIDS Partnership discusses a Latina’s story of HIV infection and how it impacted her family.

Helena Bushong is a 60 year old transgender Black woman living positive and shares her story in the video “Against All Odds: Transgender, African, and HIV Positive” by Josh Lederman. See the video below:

Merle “Conscious” Soden is living positive and identifies as a Black lesbian woman. She has created a one-woman performance of her life story called “I Got Unstuck”  and you may see videos of her story here.

Music Videos

Unfortunately, there are not too many songs that focus exclusively on HIV without there being some kind of problem with the media. For example, TLC “Waterfalls” discusses various challenges and HIV is one of them. Here’s the video and below that are the lyrics connected to one segment on HIV.

Little precious has a natural obsession
For temptation but he just can’t see
She gives him loving that his body can’t handle
But all he can say is baby it’s good to me
One day he goes and takes a glimpse
In the mirror
But he doesn’t recognize his own face
His health is fading and he doesn’t know why
3 letters took him to his final resting place

Now, I like this song for this message. However, it does focus on a heterosexual relationship and it is the woman who encourages her partner not to use a condom when he is prepared to use one. It places blame on the woman as the person who infected him. This may be true in some cases, and the reality remains that for many people whose sex assigned at birth was female their bodies are constructed with more mucus membranes which can tear than those on the bodies of people whose sex assigned at birth was male. This narrative in certain genres is not new.

For example, MC Lyte’s “Lola From The Copa”  focuses on a young woman who she calls a “freak” for having multiple partners and not thinking before drinking and sleeping with her partners. The song ends with Lola being dead. Also, rapper Lil B released a song “I Got AIDS” last year to much critique.

Here he discusses the multiple women partners he was with and how “she gave me AIDS.” Again, we do not hear the perspective of the woman who is living positive. Listen to the song below and this song has profanity so it may not be safe to listen to in certain spaces.

However, not all genres have the same message. I’ve shared some songs that I really enjoy for using in discussions on HIV and other STIs.  For example, The Conscious Daughters, a hip-hop duo from California created “All Caught Up” which discusses HIV and AIDS prevention and education. The song in a user made video is below. The song does have some profanity so it may not be safe to listen to in some places. Thanks to my homeboy Jerome for reminding me of this song.

Choice, another woman rapper, also had a song called “HIV Positive” which was more of a prevention message than a judgement or third person storytelling. Her song can be heard below:

Wu-Tang Clan’s song “AIDS” on the “America is Slowly Dying” album hook is “AIDS kills word up, America is dying slowly.” Although not specific to women or young women, this video of them performing the song live is an important piece of media. I have yet to really see a concert where the songs are all about HIV and the crowd is dancing, feeling the song, paying attention, and getting informed at the same time! Check out the video below:

Reba Mcentire’s: “She Thinks His Name Was John” is a country song that tells the story of a woman who is living positive. The story is that the woman met a man at a party, drank too much, and went home with him and she can’t remember much about him except that he was the person that transmitted HIV to her.

A few of the articles that I’ve written which may be of interest and use in preparing for March 10th include:

Media Maker’s Salon interview with Miss Kings County 2011 Carmen B. Mendoza.
Here I interview Carmen in her role as Miss Kings County (in Brooklyn, NY) and her platform is focused on eliminating the stigma associated with HIV testing. Carmen discusses her choice in choosing this platform issue, challenges and successes with this topic as part of her work in pageantry, and challenging stereotypes about women, pageantry, HIV, and Latinidad.

Myths and Messages about HIV
I wrote last year and discusses the myths and questions I’m often asked when doing HIV and AIDS education and prevention work. I share how some of these questions are connected to myths about HIV and our bodies and how I respond to them.

Conspiracy Theories and HIV 
I focus on what I say and how I discuss HIV when folks present question and believe that HIV is part of a larger conspiracy to get rid of people of Color, queer people, and immigrants.

What are some of the forms of media that you would like to use for National Women and Girls HIV AIDS Awareness Day?

The LatiNegr@s Project: A Response In Solidarity

In light of the recent Letter to the Editor of Latina Magazine from Alicia Anabel Santos, we, The LatiNegr@s Project/@BeingAfroLatino, stand in agreement that Latina Magazine is misrepresenting Afr@Latin@s through their recent list of “Happy Black History Month: The 50 Most Beautiful Afro-Latinos In Hollywood.” We also believe that the term Afr@Latin@ is not a fad in which to be used to sell magazines or advertisements.

However, we disagree in terms of who and what defines Afr@Latin@s.  Here is why.

Black Latinidad, Afr@Latin@s, LatiNegr@s and other panethnic terms are young in both U.S. and diasporic history. While it may seem easiest to define Afr@Latin@s as “descended of” any one particular thing, doing so only falls in line with codes that have been used to divide us (people of African-descent in the Americas) from much needed resources and divide nosotros (people of African-descent who are also Latin@ or Latin American) from creating coalitions with Anglo-identified or identifying Blacks in the Americas.  Policing culture, bloodlines, and birthplace is behavior very familiar to imperialist and colonialist regimes the world over—and it has worked for generations on generations.  None of it has ever gotten at the root of exorcising racist systems of oppression, classist modes of resources distribution or sexual violence within our communities.

The struggle against racist systems of oppression is about Blackness, as it relates to Afr@latinidad, being acknowledged as its own entity.

Afr@Latin@s are not Black in the same way African-Americans are Black.  Some are Afr@Latin@ because they have African ancestors connected to a particular land with its own particular culture that is not the U.S.  Others are Afr@Latin@s because their experiences, culture, lineage, and personal histories are both of Latin@ or Latin American-descent and of Black descent, whether that be U.S. or diasporic.  This is particularly true of the fast growing population of Afr@Latin@s in the United States—those of Latin@ and Anglo-identifying Black descent.  Still others are Afr@Latin@ because they self-identify as both marked by Blackness and as part of a global struggle against racist oppression enacted against Latin@s and Latin Americans of African-descent.

There have been generations of Afr@Latin@s born on U.S. soil. We cannot ignore or dismiss this history. As early as the fifteenth century and into the last decades of the nineteenth, Africans moved through the slave holding societies of North, Central and South America.  Most often as slaves, though sometimes as free people of Color, they crossed false boundaries created by colonial regimes.  Over the course of a lifetime, a Black person might find themselves enslaved in Cuba, fomenting slave revolt in Haiti, and freed in New York City.

Moreover, and especially in Latin America, Blackness existed and exists along a spectrum created at the intersection of two things.  On the one hand, state-sanctioned racial codes policed and police the line between Black and white.  In Latin America, gradations of morena, quarterona and other castas further divided people of African-descent, even determining access to freedom, occupations, and education.  As a result, Black identity was never any one thing but was always stigmatized in relation to whites.  On the other hand, Blackness itself was and is deep and varied, as Africans hailing from Dahomey created families with those of Congo or Segu, and a myriad other societies and cultures over time, including those here in the Americas.  The combination created and creates conflicting racial identities.  This is why there are even Latin@s of African-descent who do not identify as ‘Afr@Latino@.’  And yet their agency is important too.

This is our history.  ‘Afr@latinidad’ is not linear.  But our struggle creates commonalities.  Because Afr@Latin@s usually don’t match a specific “Latin@” image, we are forced to negotiate our identity and are discursively or personally positioned as outsiders in ‘Latin@’ spaces.  The struggle for inclusion, rights, and resources is also about our children, grandchildren, and kin.  And while relations between Afro@Latin@s and African-Americans, or Caribbean and Latin American folk who identify as indigenous or white, have never been perfect, bonds existed and continue to be formed.  We cannot dismiss or police individuals for how they have structured their families, and we must not think we can dictate individuals racial identities to them.  Self-identification is key.

We are concerned with the definition presented in the Letter to Latina Magazine because there is a difference between denying and accepting African-roots.  We gain nothing by using mainstream constructions of race to define our politics or our struggle.  Coalitions and acceptance are political imperatives as we work on behalf of ourselves and our communities.

To be clear: we will always stand strong when it comes to the exploitation and colonization of our people. We will not stand for commercialization and corporate colonization of Black and Latin@ people anywhere in the world. In Latina Magazine’s blatant disregard of the term and identity Afr@Latin@, they have allowed us to have a dialogue that makes our community stronger.

We always support dialogue that promotes Afr@Latin@s and African Descendants.  Discussion of Latin@s of African-descent needs to happen; often. Acknowledging, honoring, and raising awareness of Black people in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean is critical, necessary, and not up for debate.  And people of Color producing and sharing knowledge is powerful.  Remembering our historical legacy and the long struggle behind and ahead will only make us stronger.

In Solidarity,
The LatiNegr@s Project/@BeingAfroLatino Team

X-Posted at The LatiNegr@s Project

Flashback to Revolutionary TV: A Different World

This is a guest post by Bianca of Latino Sexuality and of The LatiNegr@s Project. I’ll be cross-posting and blogging for the month of March! Read a bit more about me when we introduced The LatiNegr@s Project team.

This article is cross-posted from my Media Justice column.

The first time I started this series I focused on The Golden Girls.  Today I focus on another TV show that continues to impact my life: A Different World.  Many may know this show to be a spin-off of The Cosby Show. This is true, but it was also its own solid show that began with Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) going to college.

Centered at a fictional HBCU (Historically Black College and University) named Hillman, we follow several students (beginning with Denise from The Cosby Show) as they interact with the struggles that come with being college students of Color: time management, interracial dating, HIV, consent, roommate challenges, managing work and school, class differences, dating, friendships, joining sororities and fraternities, being an activist, gender differences, apartheid in South Africa, and shadism.

The first season of A Different World we follow Denise as she rooms with two women, Jalessa (Dawnn Lewis) and Maggie (Marisa Tomei) and makes new friends with women in her dorm such as Whitley (Jasmine Guy) and Freddie (Cree Summer). Of course meeting men was also part of the storyline and they included Dwayne (Kadeem Hardison), Ron (Darryl M. Bell) and Shazza (Gary Dourdan).

This series began when I was just completing my first year in high school. It was one of the first series where I saw people of Color as college students, as intellectuals, creating supportive environments for each other, and investing in a form of delayed gratification (obtaining a degree). At this time it was rare for a young person of Color to see themselves validated on a public TV station and represented beyond the one-dimensional stereotypes of youth of Color (which still continue today.

The opening song for the series is a perfect example of how the show was centered on normalizing the humanity of youth of Color. Performed by Aretha Franklin check out the opening credits and song below:

The lyrics include:
I know my parents love me,
Stand behind me come what may.
I know now that I’m ready,
Because I finally heard them say
It’s a different world form where you come from.

Here’s a chance to make it,
If we focus on our goals.
If you dish it we can take it,
Just remember you’ve been told
It’s a different world form where you come from.
It’s a different world form where you come from.

The lyrics read as a mantra, an affirmation, something one puts on their mirror or writes down to hold and be reminded. To this day I can sing along to the song whenever I hear it. It’s part of my socialization into young adulthood that I’m very privileged and proud to have had. It also makes me sad that the young people I work with today have nothing close to A Different World. There are no shows or narratives that speak to these topics in such an important and entertaining way.

Sure, many may recognize additional members to the cast such as Jada Pinkett (before she became Pinkett Smith) playing Lena, Sinbad as Coach Walter Oaks, or the guest appearances of folks such as rapper Tupac, Tisha Cambpell-Martin, Gladys Knight, Billy Dee Williams, Jesse Jackson, Heavy D, En Vogue, Halle Berry, and Diahann Carroll who performed as Whitley’s mother and Patti LaBelle who performed as Dwayne’s mother. For the past decade, and maybe even the past two decades, there has been no show that has brought so many people of Color, especially Black celebrities and talent on a television show. I can’t think of one right at this moment.

One of Jada Pinkett’s performances was uncovering and sharing with Whitley (a wealthy light-skin legacy), who is the dorm director, that her great great grandfather bought and owned slaves. In “Mammy Dearest”  Whitley’s background becomes important because she plans her dorm’s official dedication ceremony and chooses to include images of “mammies” (black nursemaids, often forced into that position during slavery) to remember women’s roles in history. Kim disagrees as do some other students and the topic of shadism and how the mammy image continues to impact Black women. The outcome is that at the dedication several women, including Kim, create and perform a piece on the evolution of Black women. This message is so important, especially after still witnessing Blackface performed at the Oscars.

Another episode titled “If I Should Die Before I Wake” discussed how HIV and AIDS impacts the Black community, especially the impact on Black women. Tisha Campbell-Martin is Josie, who shares her eulogy, a requirement for the class they are taking, and comes out as a young Black women living positive. Her professor is Whoopi Goldberg. Watch the clip starting at the 3 minute mark. The class does an amazing job of being honest, showing fear and ignorance, and of discussing how HIV is transmitted. “I am a voice in this world” is the motto of this episode and to this day I adore this message.

During the episode titled “Ms. Understanding”  Shazza publishes a book about the relations between men and women that starts controversy all over campus. The women plan a boycott and the men choose to do the same. The interracial relationship that Kim is in at the time also becomes a focus for other students. Gender differences, roles, and expectations along with misogyny is the focus of this episode, and these are always important reminders.

The episode “No Means No” focuses on sexual assault and rape on colleges campuses. Freddie is courted by a Garth (performed by Taimak) who is a popular athlete. This episode the young men athletes question what rape and sexual assault include and how it is defined. They confide in Coach Walter Oaks who holds Garth accountable while Dwayne does the same. The men are educated and taught what their responsibilities are and the men hold one another accountable. Check out the way Dwayne supports Freddie and how her community comes to support her as well. Unfortunately, these are not the ways that many young women of Color on college campuses are supported.

These are just a few of the episodes that stand out to me. They are formative and important pieces of US media. I have a presentation coming up discussing media and sexuality and I’m going to use these representations as examples of media justice. I encourage folks who have not seen the show to take some time out and watch it! There were six seasons in total and they are still quality episodes for each season.

Sadly, as the theme song shares, it is a different world from where you come from. It was a different world when the show was on, and today without the series being accessible, that world has yet to value difference in the ways we know we can. Instead we experience isolation, limitations, and oppression because of our differences. The memories I have of watching A Different World are fantastic! It was something we did with our families, it was what we talked about at school on Friday afternoons. I remember the collective screaming in anticipation and surprise at some of the endings of the episodes (especially during the relationship of Dwayne and Whitley). If there ever was a TV show that needs syndication because those images and narratives still need to be shared, I’d argue that A Different World must be at the top, if not the first item, on that list.