I am now a woman of a certain age. This means I can now employ this phrase with elegance and discretion as I inch closer to 40. With and from that vantage point, I can finally stand with my hand on my hip–not on my ‘imagination’–all while watching my kids play and trying to beat a hard level on Pet Rescue Saga. I am young enough to embrace change, and old enough to remember what it was like to be the age of my oldest child.
So, when my oldest daughter told me she started reading The Baby-Sitters Club, I didn’t believe her. I asked her if it was the same author, Ann M. Martin. My daughter said that it was. She said that she was enjoying the series. Okay, awesome! This is a win! A few months prior to The Baby-Sitters Club, she asked to read the play I was reading for class by August Wilson (The Pittsburgh Cycle-King Hedley II). So, everything in moderation. My daughter told me to tell her about the series I grew up reading, and I told her all I could remember.
I told her that her aunt and I read this books! I told her that her aunt and I raced through these books; stalked them through library stacks; told her the book series was a serial! In order to know what was happening in the current book, you had to have back story! One of the worst things you could have happen is to be lost in a BSC book!
You have to know who the main characters are: Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Mary Anne, Dawn, Mallory, and Jessi.
You have to know that Kristy was a single mom and the BSC was created because her single mom didn’t have a sitter for her little brother, and didn’t think she could watch him. You have to know that Mary Anne is her bestie, and Stacey’s parents are divorced and she’s a Type I diabetic. You have to know that Dawn’s parents are divorced–but her divorced mom married Mary Anne’s widowed father, so they are now step-sisters. You must know that Mallory hates gym, is the oldest of 7 (it’s at least 6 siblings Martin gave her), aspiring writer and is the best friend of Jessi.
You have to know how dope Jessi is! She is brilliant, and pretty, and a Black ballerina! Her parents are married, she’s a good student, and she dances en pointe–like Misty Copeland would years later! She learned ASL for one deaf child, and she was a fully developed Black character. And it was amazing. It IS amazing.
When I look at this picture of these happy, smiling girls–my heart breaks. I don’t see a girl that could even resemble Jessi. I feel heartbroken, livid and unseen! The most dominant feeling I have is unseen. I hate that feeling because it is insidious–it makes me feel like a ghost haunting a house! I know I am there, I know there other people in this space that feel my presence–and ignore me! I am then forced to make my presence known how every I deem necessary!
Since I am a writer, the best way I can make my presence known is to write, analyze, and hold space for writers and reader that look like me. From that space, I can take a deep breathe to scream:
“WHERE IS JESSICA DAVIS RAMSEY!“
Get into this (from Wikipedia):
Jessi moved to Stoneybrook from Oakley, New Jersey at the beginning of the sixth grade; her family moved into Stacey’s old house. She has an eight-year-old sister Rebecca, called “Becca”, and a baby brother named John Phillip Ramsey Jr., whose nickname is “Squirt”. When Jessi and her family first moved to Stoneybrook, some people were racist toward them because they were black, but this improved. In Hello, Mallory, Mallory meets Jessi, and they instantly bond and form their own babysitting club, “Kids Incorporated” before joining The Baby-Sitters Club. In Jessi’s Baby-sitter, Jessi’s Aunt Cecelia moves into Jessi’s house. Jessi calls her “Aunt Dictator” and at first hates her, but at the end of the novel they become friends, and she is part of the family for the rest of the series. Jessi learns American Sign Language in Jessi’s Secret Language, when she babysits for Haley and Matt Braddock, because Matt is deaf. Jessi is a talented ballerina and has had the lead role in several ballets; she takes ballet classes at Stamford Ballet School with Madame Noelle, her ballet teacher.
I could expound on how thankful I am Ann M. Martin had the literary sensitivity to create Jessi. I could go on ad nauseam about how as a White writer, a White female writer could not fully write a Black girl’s experience–but she gets an A for effort! But, here we are now–20 years later, and the revamping of this series for Netflix doesn’t include Jessi. I’m beyond livid. The only way to cure erasure is to write in pen.
I’m a writer, I do life in pen–there is no other way!
As Beyonce says, I was here. Jessi was here–she is here!
The casual erasure of Black girls stops when Black writers continue to their storytelling in pen.
*-I am keeping my eye on this remake. My antennae are up, and I am no here for erasure culture. At all. Not ever.
[image from Entertainment Weekly and Pinterest]