This woman created a positive children’s book for young black girls
Not to start off on an
almost uncomfortably depressing note, but my fourth birthday was one I won’t soon forget, even these 16 years later. A friend of mine was kind enough to get me a Barbie doll for my birthday — in fact, it wasn’t just any Barbie doll, it was the exact Barbie doll I’d wanted that year.
There was just one problem — they’d gotten me the black one, and I wanted the white one. And I threw a tantrum. Are you physically uncomfortable yet? Just picture, baby (literal baby) Sarah crying and screaming at her own princess party because she got a black Barbie doll.
This scenario is so fucked up in so many ways that even Sigmund Freud would throw up his hands and call it a day. Mainly though, it shows how important representation is for young black girls. Because all of my idols and role models from the media were white, it only made sense that I wanted the white doll. And of course, I knew the black doll looked like me, so what does that in and of itself say?
I talked in another article about how watching Black Panther made me way more confident in my natural hair, and how important it was for me to see that portrayed on the big screen, even as a twenty year old. The point is, representation matters for everyone namely young black girls because of the lack thereof. And though it’s something that gets better each day, I think we all agree that media representation is still quite far from perfect.
Women Melanie Goolsby are contributing to this positive change. After reading a racist children’s book titled, “Hip Hop ABCs” written by a problematic Australian couple, she knew there needed to be a change. But instead of waiting on a more acceptable book to come out, she wrote her own.
“ABCs for Girls Like Me” is the response we, and quite frankly, the world needed. It’s a book portraying unapologetically smart, black, empowered women who are doing cool things and showing young black girl’s whats possible for them. It may sound silly or odd to those who aren’t underrepresented, but it’s hard to believe you can do something if you don’t see anyone like you doing it.
We spoke with Melanie about how her upbringing, her daughter and her experiences as a black woman working in media have helped inform “ABCs for Girls Like Me“.
Read below for the exclusive interview!
As a young girl growing up, did you feel you saw black women portrayed in an inspiring light for you to look up to?
I think the default was always to talk about black women from the past as inspiring. It is so important to recognize and give honor to our past heroes, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Madam CJ Walker, the list goes on– but I also think its important to show little girls our story didn’t stop there.
Our impact and accomplishments are seen today in women like, Issa Rae, Ava DuVernay, Epsy Campbell, Loretta Lynch, and the list still goes on. Connecting that bridge of past to present will hopefully inspire girls to be the connection of now to their future.
How does representation help inspire the youth?
I was reading an article about representation and in it Nicole Martins, a researcher from Indiana University says, “There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.” That to me is why representation matters.
When you show black women as the smart, beautiful, talented, strong, multi-faceted people that they are, you allow a little black girl to see herself. You validate that little girl’s existence. That’s why representation matters not only for black women but for all underrepresented groups.
Who are your role models?
On a personal front, my mother and 2 sisters are women I look up to. The 3 of them motivate and inspire me on a daily basis.
Outside of them, I look up anyone who is unapologetically themselves. I love when the interviewer asked Issa Rae who she was rooting for and she said “I’m rooting for everybody black” or when Regina King won the Emmy for outstanding supporting actress and Taraji yelled “Yasssssss”. As my brother likes to call them, aggressively genuine people, those are my role models.
Did you always want to work in media? Did you always think you could?
I discovered in about middle school that I wanted to work in media in some capacity. I didn’t quite know what exactly but I liked the idea of helping to put content, an idea or message out to a mass amount of people.
I remember watching Free host 106th & Park and thinking I wanted to be her. She came across as her authentic black self. The jokes she said and things she laughed at, I could relate to, her dope black hairstyles and outfits all things I could see myself wearing. She was me and solidified that I too could work in media.
What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced along the way to where you are now? How have you persevered?
I still, to this day, struggle with my own confidence. Questioning who am I to do this? or be here? Doubting my own capabilities but I remember watching Akylah and The Bee and hearing that Marianne Williamson quote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous. Actually, who are you not to be…” and it started a new way of thinking for me. That quote and some Beyonce always get my mind right!
Has writing always been something you’ve loved to do as well?
I’ve always loved a good book, but have never considered myself a “writer”. The funny thing is, since having my daughter 2 years ago, I’ve found that all of the things I’ve never “considered” myself are things I’m all about these days as long as it positively impacts my daughter or girls like her.
How would you have responded to this book as a little girl?
I think seeing a book like this when I was younger would’ve encouraged me to think about or pursue all types of careers. I’ve never seen a black woman be a Fire Chief but maybe reading a book like this where one is featured, I would’ve thought about that as a career. Or maybe if not Fire Chief, maybe I would want to make fire trucks, or uniforms for firefighters.
The goal is not for little girls to do every career in this book but the exposure is what could make them explore what that career could look like for them– an inspiration to change the world in their own way.
From what you’ve seen, do you feel it’s becoming easier or harder to demand that black women be portrayed as role models?
I think the more we continue to make an impact and celebrate our own wins, there wont be a choice but to recognize us as role models. When I think about the impact of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and the need to have fair skin to deep dark skin represented in makeup, or the success of Girls Trip or Black Panther, all of these things add credence to our validity and the positive examples we are setting.
We still have a long way to go but our voices are being heard and that’s how you swing the pendulum.
How do you hope readers respond to “ABCs for Girls Like Me”?
I hope learning about one of the women featured in this book serves as a starting point for a reader to change or impact their world. I want this book to create leaders that became inspired by other girls that look like them.
What are some things that make you hopeful for the future in terms of black female representation in media and other roles?
When I see women like Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, Serena Williams, Simone Biles– being recognized on a national and in some instances worldwide level, for doing things they love and being successful at it, it makes me hopeful for the future.
When I think about Stacey Abrams, who is on the road to potentially becoming the first black female governor in the country, I get excited and inspired. I want all of the girls who look like them and the ones that don’t to be inspired to change the world in their own way.
How do you still think we as a society can help improve and increase this representation?
I think we have to support and celebrate each other. The more we prove there is a demand for black women representation, I think the more we will see of it.
Advice for young black women looking to advance in predominantly white-driven industries?
Being the only woman in a room, being the only black person in a room–and here you are, both– it’s a harsh reality. It can make you question if you should be there. If your opinion matters. If you really have something to offer to this room of people who appear smarter and louder than you.
…YOU DO! It’s no mistake that you are where you are. Voice your thoughts and opinions and do it with the style, grace and the dopeness you possess. You matter and being where you are is going to inspire another little black girl to do the same.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT “ABCS FOR GIRLS LIKE ME”.