More than Beyonce: Finding Role Models for Daughters of Color

April 8, 2013  |  

My 3-year caught only glances of Beyonce’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl. But with the little she did see, she thought she had gone to heaven. While performing some of Beyonce’s dance moves and gestures, she would tell me, “Mommy! She’s amazing!” “What’s her name?” And, “Mommy, look at me!”

Beyonce is an impressive woman, even if her outfits are a little risque for my tastes. But, in the seeming absence of others, the power she yields as the most attractive role model for my daughters is a bit scary. And my sentiments are shared by many moms of color I know, moms who cringe at what seems to be the most readily available “role models” in the media for their daughters.

The power of the media as a source for role models for young girls has been well documented.  And it’s generally acknowledged that while parents can aim to shield their children from the parts that they dislike about the media, total denial of its relevance and power is not possible. So, where does this leave parents?

I asked myself this question and was left with only one alternative: If I can’t reject all of what my daughters see and interpret as being role model material in the media, I can ensure that I provide an alternative voice for them to see the kinds of role models that I would hope they aspire to become someday. I can’t control everything, but I can:

1. Limit screen time. As a parent, I can be sure to monitor and, in some cases, limit what my daughters see on TV. In place of the screen, I can be sure that we spend more time doing other things in our local community that will enable my daughters to see women of color doing fabulous things like being florists, doctors, congresswomen, business owners, scientists, or dance teachers.

2. Use some innocent propaganda. Propaganda isn’t always a bad thing, right? That’s what I thought and that’s why I’ve been spending time online and in my community finding great videos, shows, songs, and children’s books showing women and girls of color in a variety of roles. We love Doc McStuffins and Lil’ Bill on Nick Jr. and use YouTube to find clips of singers like Alicia Keys and India.Arie spending time with Elmo. My daughters and I read Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen and The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Cole for bedtime.

3. Be sure to seek out and verbally recognize more “unconventional” beautiful women of color  who are doing amazing things. Women like  Michelle Obama, Melissa Harris-Perry, Regina Cater, Esperanza Spalding, Susan Rice, and Bibi McGill, are what I’ll call my “counter” role models. These are women (most of whom are accessible through the media) who appear and are just as fabulous as the Beyonces of the world. But they are different because their work speaks of more of the kinds the possibilities that are available to girls of color.

The day before yesterday, my oldest toddler told me she wanted to be a princess when she grew up, but today she said she’d like to instead be a princess violin player. Is this evidence that my “master plan” is working? Only time can tell. But that she knows that she could, if she wanted, play the violin and be fabulous, now that’s what I’m celebrating today.

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