Creating resources about Black Wales for young children – Emily Pemberton
I believe that a number of children in Wales who are Black, Asian or of an Ethnic Minority have experienced shelves full of books depicting characters who don’t resemble them, have sat through lessons about heroes and role models who don’t look like them, and have sat in classrooms with teachers who don’t look like them either. Should there be a lesson or a book about a notable Black person, they are American, and are usually fighting racism. These stories are necessary, but at the same time we can also celebrate the people who’ve been here in Wales for hundreds of years.
As part of my work for the Mudiad I am developing a project for younger children, celebrating the presence of Black individuals and communities here in Wales. It is not possible to entirely ignore racism when developing a project such as this one, but racism will not be the focus of every resource. The project is currently in its early days, but we are keen to ensure that the tone and content of the resources are suitable, although perhaps some of the themes will be new to the children.
The project will take the form of five short stories, short as they are meant for young children, each one focussing on a person, group or influential event. As I mentioned, we will discuss racism and inequality to some extent, but our aim from the start was to create something positive and inspiring, as we are dealing with individuals who are creative, strong and brave. They stand out as special because they are special, for a number of reasons, and I believe that is what is often missing from the stories for children about the contributions of Black people. Much is communicated through the lens of oppression, as though this is the only thing worth noting in the lives of a number of people. After discussing the subject with a number of my colleagues I thought, why not do the opposite? Let’s celebrate the stories we have chosen, and talk about challenges and tough subjects as a part of the story.
I believe that it’s important for us, as an organisation, to look to fill in blanks, and in doing so, create resources that may give others the confidence to develop their own ideas on how to plan a curriculum or beneficial sessions for young children. We do not have a long list of things to include, or a strict set of rules about how we will go about creating final versions of the resources; rather we believe that it is important to ensure that the children get the message relatively quickly, and in a way free from any heavy pressure. Of course, we are keen to see the project as an ambitious one, but at the same time I sometimes feel that there is much more pressure when developing a project about Black people if you yourself are a Black person.
I always feel the expectation to discuss the history of Black people in a way that is perfect and final, rather than seeing the process as a step in our discussions enriching the narrative available. That is, it’s fine to change things or to build on what you already have, and improve it for next time. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, to an extent, developing things and creating something new within a month or two. That is our intent as we introduce resources one at a time. Rather than launch everything at once, we believe that it is a good thing to allow momentum and interest to develop amongst parents who will be using the resources.
This may bring about increasing feelings of responsibility, but I would like to see our project, and our wider work within the Mudiad, as something that can grow, evolve, absorb different ideas and change as we move through the years. Black lives matter, black children’s lives matter, and one thing we can do as the Mudiad is discuss these stories in a way that empowers them to think that they are valuable and special, in a way that changes the negative narrative that so many are experiencing at present.