The death of George Floyd has sparked many questions from children and all of us. City Kids spoke to children’s author, Mark Lemon, who says conversations about race must continue.
My name is Mark Lemon. I live in Bristol with my wife Simone (personal stylist) and our two children, Otis (9yrs) & Thea (5yrs). I’ve been thinking about how I can contribute to the tragic and senseless murder of, George Floyd – it stopped me in my tracks, and has made me re-evaluate how I view my children’s future in this world.
In 2015, I made the important decision to write stories for my mixed-race children, Otis & Thea. Disillusioned with the lack of diversity in children’s books, I decided to create a series of storybooks with non-white characters.
I wanted to create children’s books with characters that looked like my own children. My first book Otis Lemon & The Spectacular Submarine was awarded the Platinum Junior Design Award 2016 in the Children’s Book of the Year category. I wanted BAME children to feel represented in the mainstream bookstores.
Only a very small percentage of British children’s books feature a main character who is black or minority ethnic. In a research project that was the first of its kind, and funded by Arts Council England, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) asked UK publishers to submit books featuring BAME characters in 2017. Of the 9,115 children’s books published that year, researchers found that only 391 – 4% – featured BAME characters. Just 1% had a BAME main character, and a quarter of the books submitted only featured diversity in their background casts. This compares to the 32.1% of schoolchildren of minority ethnic origins in England identified by the Department of Education in 2016.
Racism comes in many forms, and to still see such a lack of representation in the publishing industry is wrong on so many levels. I was speaking with Otis yesterday about George Floyd and why he died – it’s incredible how children think and their viewpoint of the world – and he was asking me why the police knelt on George Floyd for 9 minutes, and why they didn’t just talk to him about it. As we talked the news came on, and we continued the conversation over breakfast. And this is what we must do to continue the conversation as parents or guardians. Continuing to have these conversations at home is where education starts for all of us. Schools must get better, but as parents, we are obligated to teach our children, and ourselves, at the same time.
I understand that I must do better to educate myself, my children, and my friends & family. I want my children to grow up in a world where they feel equal to their peers. But, the Black Lives Matter movement has taught me that there is still a long way to go before this happens. Businesses and organisations must change at the root and introduce an equal playing field, and we must ensure that diversity is represented across all elements of our lives.
This conversation isn’t just for one day, a week, or more, but it should be a continuous conversation to educate ourselves behind the squares of our social media. I understand that I will never understand. However, I stand. I stand for my children, my wife and my friends of colour across the world.