Melanin is defined as, “the dark color or pigment of the human body that is found internally as well as externally,” by Dr. T. Owens Moore in his important work, “The Science & Myth of Melanin." This complex substance found in almost every organ of the body is a worthy topic of discussion. I am delighted to share a collection of books on the topic for children. When I was coming up, the term was not as widely used as it is now. It is exciting to imagine what young people will be able to discover about the role and benefits of it when exposed to literature that makes reference to it at an early age. “Melanin, The Chemical key to Black Greatness” by Carol Barnes led the way for adults amongst a handful of other titles. It is good news to be able to share a longer list for children that can counter balance the European standards of beauty that saturate the media and literature.
As a child I am not proud to share that I used to embrace a European beauty standard particularly as it regarded my hair. I remember begging my mother to get a perm somy hair would lay straight down my back. Though my mother held out until I was sixteen years old, I jumped at the first chance to get that white lye drip all over my head and leave it until it burned my scalp. Once the beautician told me the longer the liquid straightening chemical poison stayed on my hair, the longer it would last, I withstood the pain so I would free myself of those African kinks that seemed to stand in my way of true happiness.
As for my skin, I sought to cover it up with make-up for years. Adding lipstick and blush was routine in my early twenties. While everyone has a different reason for using make-up, I later understood that it was part of the hypnotic draw of the most popularly socialized look of success. The saying of the day, “If you’re Black, get back, brown stick around, and if you ‘re white, you’re alright,” was living rent free in my head to fuel my desire to go along to get along. Children pick up on this early as well.
In my early twenties, I used to volunteer as a tutor at Cabrini Green in Chicago. The name of the student I was matched up was Adrina. She was a cute brown-skinned delightful little girl. One day around Christmas time, the tutoring organization decided to bring in Santa to give out gifts to all the children. Adrina and I walked over to stand in the line to pick up the gifts when all of a sudden she darted out of the line and ran underneath a school table. She was curled into a ball and crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she simply said, “That’s not the real Santa, Santa is white.” In other words, the socialization of Santa’s skin color was associated with legitimacy and authenticity.
At the top of the list of books is one that is the newest to the publishing arena called, “The Adventures of Princess Amina The Melanin Mermaid and The Lesson of Magical Melanin,” by Ameika Black. It is about a young Black girl who told about the magical power of her melanin after being bullied about it. The illustrations alone are reason enough to purchase this book especially since it is rare to see a mermaid with Black skin. In my other blog, “Black princess books and other Black fairytales” I go into detail about the importance of seeing positive images in literature for Black children. This book was just published in February 2021 and Ms. Black’s instagram page shows many young girls grinning from ear to ear with pride after reading it. She even has an affirmation challenge on her website to spread the love of melanin around to random strangers on the street.
If you want to start teaching your child using the alphabet, select the book “M is for Melanin.” It was released in 2019, and board book will come out in September 2019. I agree with the author, Tiffany Rose, who says in the back of the book, “For so long black children have been underrepresented in children’s literature. It’s not just important for black children, but for all children to see a shift in proclaiming the worthiness of all chades to be celebrated.”
The book, “Melanin Poppin': Mommy, Why is My Skin Tone Different Than Yours?” squarely addresses what can develop into as “colorism.””Colorism” is the use of skin complexion to assign disparaging labels. As 16 year old Fatma Junet said in her TEDX talk on youtube, “Melanin is your superpower,” and that it’s what is on your inside that really matters. Skin lighteners also exploit the association of lighter skin with “perfection” and have built a billion dollar industry across the world. Hence it is most important to start as early as possible to educate and reprogram our children to feel valued just as they are.
Prior to the use of the term “melanin,” there were books about brown skin that rescued the melanated affirmation starved child. One of the first I recall was, “Bright Eyes, Brown Skin,” published by Just Us Books. It was released in 1990. The illustrations are reflective of its title and it has been a long standing bestseller at Afriware Books, Co.
As a bookseller with twenty five plus years of experience, parents request books the most to address bullying of their child’s skin complexion. They say, “she doesn’t like her color,” or “he comes home sad from school every day because of the name calling.” As the husband and wife team psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s “Doll Test” study ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_and_Mamie_Clark ) revealed in the 1940’s, children are socialized to believe that there is something wrong with their skin color, or that they are “bad.” In that Black Doll study, elementary school children were given 2 dolls, one black, one white. They were asked which child was the “good” doll, and which was “bad.” Sadly then, and in a 2005 repeat of the study by Kiri Davis in “A Girl Like Me” Black children overwhelmingly selected the Black doll as being “bad,” “ugly” or “dumb” though everything else about the dolls were identical except color. In 2020, CNN repeated the experiment and found similar results, unfortunately.
Clearly there’s still work to be done to improve the Black concept of the self. Lupita Nyong’o’s “Sulwe” is a charming story to directly attack this negative programming. It definitively embraces dark skin and creatively associates the main character’s midnight skin singing, “brightness isn’t just for daylight, light comes in all colors, and some light can only be seen in the dark.” This is a deeply moving healing balm for the scars from racism and colorism. Nyong’o also sends a message about the importance of inner beauty. And sometimes, even the parents are moved to tears because they did not receive the loving and kind words when they were children.
As always, I appreciate that you have read through this blog post. I hope that you’ve become curious to read more books about melanin for Black Children. We ask that you consider purchasing your books from our Black owned bookstore, Afriware Books, Co. If there is a title you’d like to purchase that is not mentioned here, or could not be found on the website, feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org