Each of us is unique in our own ways, but we also share countless similarities with the people around us. We can explore how we see ourselves and how to recognize those like us and different from us in books, media, and the communities around us. When we expand our world view through diverse media, we come to understand ourselves more deeply, build connections, and may even feel more empowered. This blog explores a few concepts around identity and how they relate to children’s media.
Windows and Mirrors
Through reading, we often enter worlds that transform the human experience in some way, showing us stories we empathize with or illustrating experiences different from our own. Sims Bishop defines these narratives as mirrors and windows, emphasizing that children can be taught empathy and affirmation through reading. In the case of mirror books, we engage in narratives that we relate to and that affirm our identities. Through window books, we look through the perspectives of those that are different from us and learn about their identities, building empathy and understanding.
It is also important to recognize how positive representation in children’s media matters. It matters because it helps our children see people like them, especially when they have valued and meaningful roles and lives. Reading stories that depict varied human experiences and perspectives also helps us learn about our multicultural society and build connections to others that differ from us in their identities, building acceptance and joy in diversity.
Thinking about how different aspects of identity intersect with one another offers a great deal of insight about others’ cultures. Factors like race, ethnicity, gender, and sociocultural background determine part of what we look like to others and how we interact with the world around us. Other factors that impact our identity are not so visible, such as socioeconomic status, family history, and experiences with privilege and oppression. Some things, like ability and educational background, can be apparent or invisible. These categories all play a part in constructing how we see ourselves and how we see others. It is through this lens of intersecting identities that we read narratives and compare them to our own.
By thinking about our identity and the identities of others, we can determine what elements of our lives and our cultural background impact us every day. Misawa defines positionality as an introspective look at our social position and the dynamics of power and privilege around us, thinking about how it impacts our identities and access to resources in society. By reading books that offer us the opportunity to reflect on our positionality and contemplate the positionality of others, we can foster empathy and recognize the impact of equity for all people.
When we engage in window narratives, whether that is in media or in our interactions with others, we are invited to experience and think about the complexity of how their identity is demonstrated. Our intersecting identities help us recognize that the aspects of our identity can be thought of as layers that provide different dimensions to our identities.
Consider the Culture Tree by Hammond, which breaks down the features of surface, shallow, and deep culture. Surface culture encapsulates observable characteristics. Shallow culture goes a little further to involve the unspoken rules about how we interact and communicate with others. Lastly, deep culture describes our unconscious assumptions about the environment, society, and the way we see the world overall. With this in mind, we can see the value in diversity, inclusion, and acceptance of those different from us.
One way to find books or media that display windows and mirrors is to engage in some of the resources around Tacoma and surrounding areas. The Tacoma Public Library is a great resource to access and read books and has locations all around Tacoma! Additionally, The Rainbow Center in Tacoma is a great resource for learning more about how gender, family structure, and observing the diversity of structures around us impact identity. Another fantastic resource is the children’s show Look, Listen, & Learn, which offers culturally relevant lessons in socio-emotional skills and much more. For youth, School’s Out Washington provides afterschool and youth development programs that support and advocate for the success of low-income youth and youth of color.
Another way to get involved is at the Children’s Museums of Tacoma and at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where there are spaces to read and reflect on books that showcase a range of identities. We aim to offer mirrors into stories of characters like us and windows into learning what it means to understand diversity and acceptance.