Representation Matters



Reading the children's book Keke Misses Home, written by Lenoir Foundation founder

James Jay Mawaka, you might struggle to immediately see what little Keke's story has

in common with the internationally recognized Marvel superhero movie Black Panther

but both stories, in their way, subtly provide a critical message.

Living in the UK, in day-to-day dialogue, you are unfortunately most likely to hear Africa

referenced in phrases such as "children are starving in Africa, you know" said

almost in jest whenever someone doesn't finish their plate of food or at Christmas time

as everyone sings along to Band-Aid's classic "Do they know it's Christmas time? which

contains lyrics such as:


"And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life

Where nothing ever grows

No rain nor rivers flow

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?"


These phrases are said without a second thought. They are rarely intended to be

insulting or inflammatory. Sadly they are just indicative of the lack of representation of

the African continent across the globe.

Until recently, the first images that would come to mind of Africa for people who have

never been there are of the third-world countries shown in adverts for charities, of the

malnourished children and the dirty water. And whilst those areas of course still exist,

the purpose of this article is not to detract from the fact there is still great poverty across

Africa and help is needed in the forms of charities and foundations to eradicate such

poor living conditions but to help highlight that many of these African countries have

cities and towns that are not so different from the big European cities, that there is also

a wealth of culture and first-rate areas to make a living in Africa.


Whilst there is still a way to go, it is vital to recognize the great strides in modern media

that have been made. We are seeing more and more diverse casts and main characters

of color, but that is only the beginning. This brings us back to what Keke Misses

Home and Black Panther have in common and what makes them so important

regarding representation?


Children at Imani Academy; Nansana pose after receiving their copy of "Keke Misses Home".

They both have persons of color as their main and supporting characters, which

thankfully today is also true of other books and films, but the element that gives them

greater importance is that they both shine a light on Africa being somewhere you can

live a happy life.

Yes, it is important to note that Wakanda is a fictional country, and much of the

technology is not real (well, at least not yet) but what it shows is a world where the most

technologically advanced country in the world is not in America or Europe but Africa.

Young African children who watch this can only be inspired, by seeing it on the big screen

that there are no limits to what can be achieved.




In Keke Misses Home (spoiler alert if you haven't yet read it, you can pick up a copy at

Amazon, Walmart, or Barnes & Noble), Keke and her family move to Uganda; by the end of the book, Keke is happy and excited at the prospect of making Uganda her new

home.


Too often are young African children taught that their only chance at a prosperous life is

to escape Africa; books and movies like these show them that there are amazing people

and places within Africa. It is not a place to escape but a heritage to be proud of and a

place to build a wonderful life.


We need more movies like Black Panther and more books like Keke Misses Home to

make it into the mainstream to help educate the world that the countries in Africa are so

much more than the third world they are all too often portrayed as. That they each have

their own culturally rich histories, amazing people, and each in themselves a land of

opportunity.

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