Annette Bazira-Okafor couldn't find a magazine that accurately represented her or her two daughters. So they created one of their own.
Annette Bazira-Okafor, a mom of three and University of Toronto doctoral student from Maple, Ont., was at the library with her two young daughters when she noticed that the books and magazines on offer didn't represent her family—there weren't many people who looked like them on the pages of the publications she was flipping through, and the stories being told didn't necessarily reflect them, either. So she took it upon herself to fill the gap by creating Black Girl's Magazine, a magazine for and, even more importantly, by black girls.
Acting as editor and financer, Bazira-Okafor oversees each issue from conception to print. For content, she lets the audience speak for themselves—real Black girls contribute to the magazine, exercising their creativity by writing stories about travel, sports, DIYs and recipes, plus topics such as people in Black history and "weird things people ask about my hair." There are two issues a year, in June and December; the next one will include a new comic strip about a black girl superhero.
We spoke with Bazira-Okafor about Black Girl's Magazine and the importance of diverse representation in magazines and media.
When did you first realize media was overwhelmingly white?
When I had my kids, especially my second child, I became more conscious about that fact that not many books we picked up at the public library represented her. But I [noticed even more] when she became interested in online dress-up and makeover apps. The images were overwhelmingly white. There were no people of colour.
What are the ways in which black girls and women are poorly represented in today's media?
Black girls are barely represented in children's shows or books and black women don't see themselves represented much in mainstream films or television either. When magazines do include black girls or women, it's by casting those who are mixed and look almost white. The black girls chosen are often the 'token black,' and dark skinned girls still remain invisible.
Since young girls are some of the biggest consumers of media today, how does a lack of representation affect black girls?
It makes them believe that white is the norm, and that their dark skin and black features do not fit the norm, and therefore, it is OK to be invisible.
When did you get the idea of creating Black Girl's Magazine?
When my daughter started having slumber parties, they spent a great deal of time on online dress-up and makeover apps. But what got me going was the research I was doing at the time in my doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, on youth and popular culture. I came across the work of Professor Craig Watkins at the University of Texas, Austin, who studies young people's social digital media behaviours. In one of his books, Watkins talks about the fact that black girls are the most underserved and indiscernible demographic in popular culture.
What has been the most rewarding feedback you've received?
From the girls, confidence in knowing that it is OK to represent themselves. These girls want to be heard. As editor, I have learned to speak less, interfere less, and let them run the show. From the public and the media, I'm happy to see the positive response and reception of Black Girl's Magazine.
What do you hope Black Girl's Magazine achieves?
I hope that more Black girls write and contribute their stories and other features they would love to see in BGM, so as to have more diverse voices in the magazine. Also, that we can attract corporate sponsors, since I fund the project out of pocket. If young Black girls would like to contribute to the next issue they can email their submissions to email@example.com.