Where’s the diversity in children’s coloring books?

written by Love Isn’t Enough columnist Liz Dwyer; originally published at Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

One of the most inspiring stops during my whirlwind trip to New York City was the Studio Museum in Harlem. Located on bustling 125th Street, the museum features an amazing array of work by a diverse spectrum of African American artists.

A $7 donation gives you the chance to absorb pieces by Romare Bearden and photographer James Van Der Zee. However, I really loved seeing Elizabeth Catlett-Mora’s 1954 linocut on paper piece titled “Separation” and Ellen Gallager’s 2004-05 series of 60 etchings called “DeLuxe“, a thought-provoking commentary on standards of beauty, particularly the pursuit of light skin and long hair.

Of course, before leaving the museum, I headed over to the museum store to pick up some gifts for my sons. I decided toafam.boy.coloring buy the museum’s Coloring Book For Little Artists. Retailing for $7, the coloring book features about a dozen images created exclusively for the museum, like this 2006 drawing by Kadir Nelson titled “Cookieman”.

When my six year-old saw this image of a little boy eating a gigantic cookie, he immediately said, “I wanna eat that cookie!” and then, as he examined the picture more closely, he squealed, “Does he have an afro??? COOL!”

It got me thinking, not for the first time, how my boys love to color but it’s rare that they have the opportunity to color images of people of African descent – or for that matter, Asian or Latino folks. I’ve always bemoaned the lack of people of color in fashion magazines, but today’s coloring books are less diverse than an issue of Vogue.

My boys love superhero coloring books, but chances are slim that the images contained in one will be males of color – after all, most superheroes are white males (or white male mutants). Not that there isn’t diversity in the superhero universe, but it’s difficult to find it and not every superhero gets the attention that Superman, Batman and Iron Man do.

My two son’s self-esteem isn’t reliant on their being able to color images that look like them, but it means something for them to be able to do so. It would actually be a good thing for children of all backgrounds to be able to color diverse images. I just wish it was easier for parents to purchase coloring books -and really all media- with diverse images of adults, children, superheroes or cartoon characters.

In the meantime, I’ll be photocopying the pages from the Coloring Book for Little Artists. At $7 a pop, this coloring book isn’t cheap, and I want my sons coloring those pictures over and over.


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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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