COMMENTARY: Representation matters, especially for Black women and girls

February 7, 2021 /

Growing up, I hardly saw women in the media that looked like and represented me. To say it was rare is an understatement. 

The black women in the spotlight were mainly musical artists, athletes, dancers, and actors. In tv shows, the black female characters were often portrayed as loud, full of attitude, and “ghetto.” None of that describes me in the slightest way, so I never saw myself. 

In high school, I was considered “whitewashed” because I didn’t fit the stereotype given to black girls. I have always been more to myself and quiet. I didn’t play sports, instead I joined clubs like young democrats and poetry club. I put my energy into things going on in my community and tried to uplift the voices of those around me.

I found it hard to not be able to identify with black women, but this all changed on Jan. 20, 2021.

American poet and activist Amanda Gorman spoke at the 2021 inauguration, where President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office. 

To say this moment was incredible is an understatement for me. I was so moved to see a young Black female poet from California exhibit her raw talent for the entire nation to witness and admire. Her words moved mountains that day, and she left a lasting impact on thousands and thousands of Americans. For the first time, I thought to myself, “I could do that. I could be like her.” 

In her poem she says,

 “We, the successors of a country in a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves

And raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, 

Only to find herself reciting for one.”

I loved this line because she described the story of me and so many of my friends and showed herself so eloquently. We have similar stories, and she surpassed the stereotypes. She carries herself professionally and has made a name for herself through her work as a poet, which isn’t easy to do. 

This is why I was left speechless when it was announced she would be performing at the Super Bowl. Words can’t explain how full my heart was. 

When I saw the announcement, I was on the phone with my friends and just kept repeating to them, “Y’all, Amanda Gorman is performing! She’s the first poet!” 

I spread the news like wildfire. I went to my mom and broke into tears of joy. I told her I have never seen someone like me get this much attention and recognition for her talent and life-changing words. She’s a poet like me. I was overwhelmed for the rest of the night. 

The older I get, the more I realize how important that feeling of excitement and admiration is for young Black girls. Before we all had social media and the whole world at our fingertips, we only saw what was on tv, which was hardly strong and impactful Black women advocating to change the world to be more inclusive. We rarely saw Black women in different occupations or from different backgrounds. 

I had a conversation with my friends about representation, and one told me she never knew Black women did things outside of entertainment and sports. She didn’t see us as business owners, entrepreneurs, or even poets. 

The feeling of not being represented is common. A 2020 study titled “Representation Matters” by the National Research Group found that two in three Black Americans — or 66 percent — don’t feel properly represented in film. 

According to an NBC news article about the study, there is a need for Black people in shows to represent black people across the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity. 

Representation of Black people from all walks of life is important because we deserve to have role models and fictional characters that remind us of our potential. It’s important for us to see Black people just having fun and being with families in shows instead of all having a struggle life. 

While I am happy with the fact that we have progressed over time, we have a long way to go. I and other Black women should have role models similar to ourselves way before our 20’s. I hope that over time, there will be more women like Amanda Gorman and myself to give hope to young women.

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Gorman Facebook

JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.