For us, Black history month is a time to celebrate achievements, not only of black people past and present, but of every notable person in history who has made an impact in promoting diversity and equality in both industries and society.
Yet a common misconception about Black History Month is that it should only be celebrated by black people or people of colour. By promoting inclusivity and celebrating black achievements, it can read as quite exclusionary.
We’ve heard about how some people are reluctant to get involved because they don’t know what they can offer or are scared about causing offence. But if you care about equality and acceptance on every level, celebrating and getting involved in Black History Month is for you, because – whether you’re disabled, LGBTQ+, Jewish or Black – the message is the same. It is a human right to not be discriminated against. This universal truth is something in which we can all agree and, because of this, we can ensure that the discourse that surrounds Black History Month can be truly inclusive.
A Q&A with Butterfly Books Founders
Who was your inspiration growing up?
Kerrine: It has to be my mum. She is extremely hard working and never gives up. I was one of only a few black children in my school and, from an early age, she told me that I would need to work twice as hard to get half the success of my school friends. I’ve always had this in the back of my mind and this has driven my determination.
Jason: I have to credit the strong black males in my family. It takes a village to raise a man, and I was blessed with a foundation of strong willed and successful men (and women). So I felt empowered to build on the foundations which were laid before me.
How do we include everyone in the celebration and learning?
Kerrine: we need diverse role models for children talking about Black History Month. In schools, teachers need to ensure that speakers and visitors that come in to talk to children about anything from careers to social issues are a true representation of our society.
I once recalled a time at school when a black boy in my class told everyone that his sister went to university. It was the first time I thought: ‘Wow? I could do that too?’ It is difficult to be what you can’t see. That’s why there’s a collective job at hand to communicate and celebrate diversity across the board. Children will then learn that gender, sexuality, race, physical disabilities or religion shouldn’t be a deterrent for pursuing a particular career. Diversity should be normalised.
Can children’s toys play a surreptitious role in reinforcing stereotypes that can hinder children’s aspirations?
Kerrine: As parents ourselves we are conscious of the toys our kids play with, for these can be imbued with gender and characteristic biases. Our girls have a Ken doll in a wheelchair, dolls of different ethnicities as well as trucks and cars too. It’s very easy to shop for toys and not think about the part it plays in conditioning a child to believe what constitutes ‘attractiveness’ and what defines a ‘boy’s job’ from a ‘girl’s job’. But once you can see this, it is very difficult to unsee. The toy category has a lot of work to do in order to ensure that its branding and positioning is inclusive. The typical colour codes of pink for girls and blue for boys is still very much present and must be recast.
Jason: When shopping for my daughter’s friend’s birthday, I found myself almost sleepwalking into buying a ‘standard’ Barbie doll. It is such a norm to purchase toys that embody an aesthetic that presents ‘ideal’ Western beauty. We therefore opted for something a little different. On the face of it all, it might seem like such a small and unimportant move. But nurturing a mindset of inclusivity starts with purchasing products that normalises difference.
What books do you recommend reading, not just for Black History Month, but for fostering an inclusive mindset all year round?
According to The Book Trust and CLPE’s Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation Within UK Children’s Literature, the number of children’s books published in the UK featuring Black characters has increased by 10%. This however still significantly under-represents the UK primary school population where 33.5% of children come from a minority ethnic background. Add to this the fact that less than 2% of British authors are people of colour, compared to 13% of the population.
As black authors and publishers, we therefore can’t leave out our own selection of stereotype busting books with diverse representation!
With most of our own team at Butterfly Books descending from the Windrush generation, we love Coming to England: An Inspiring True Story Celebrating the Windrush Generation by Baroness Floella Benjamin and illustrated by Diane Ewen.
These two Vashti Harrison books are a favourite in our own households:
There are currently very few books covering UK black history or significant figures, so we are really looking forward to reading Black and British: An Illustrated History by David Olusoga , Jake Alexander, et al. due out on 11 Nov 2021.
How do we use our skills to spread awareness?
Our own team of authors and illustrators have been spreading awareness with our Black, British and Proud campaign, comprising illustrations of role models with an associated rhyming verse about that person. In the process we were also able to expand our own knowledge of black history. Which goes to show – we can and should never stop learning.