RACE and BOOKS

O.K. so a friend of mine sent me this article, over a month ago stating it was my next blog topic.  My response was not forthcoming simply because I didn’t know how to respond to it or whether or not I would respond to it.  Issues of race and culture and the general lack of diversity can be found within any and all spheres of life.  Racial disparity is obviously prevalent, just step into any public school classroom throughout our great country.  Yet for many, including the ‘powers that be’ there seems to be a pretense that we Americans live in a post-racial society and therefore the need to push the boundaries toward racial equality in all avenues is no longer necessary.

 

Are we doing the right thing in Children’s Publishing?

In steps the journey I traveled that led to this response.  First stop was the New York Times Op-Ed of the prolific and profound Walter Dean Myers, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”  I again was left speechless or wordless.  What could I possibly add to this torrid tale that my all time favorite children’s author and mentor hadn’t already added?

Next, I discovered the Op-Ed of the auspicious Christopher Myers titled, “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.”  This again was a tremendous read that fanned the flames of speaking out even if an insufficient response was produced after greatness had spoken.  However I remained silent.

On a later adventure, I experienced U.S. Poet Natasha Trethewey {see A Lovely, Lovely, Night posting} and was introduced to ‘difficult knowledge’ and the responsibility of sharing truth through literature and poetry.  All of this was good and dandy, but I still couldn’t wrap my words around speaking to the issue found within the articles  including Peter ‘Souleo’ Wright’s “More Than Enough White Children’s Books?” on Huffington Post.com.

I continued on my merry way even after reading, Ashley Strickland’s CNN article, Where’s the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss? I also experienced Deborah Robert’s of ABC News tearful response to

People’s Most Beautiful Person and 12 Years A Slave Academy Award winner, Lupita Nyong’s “dark skin” experience without reply.

 

 

 

 

Finally, I reached an apex with a poignant conversation I had with two twenty somethings.  My daughter was one, and a good family friend was another.   The discussion which included others,  echoed similar experiences surrounding  the issue of feeling “whiteout” in employment opportunities based on societal images of black people. This, I knew I had to respond to in a  posting.

(Can’t mess with a black mama’s baby without getting an earful.)

Therefore, I went about establishing my usual self-imposed deadline and still was unable to find the words.  Until I found myself in the last phase of an extensive and competitive interview process and worried about the images that were in the forefront of pop culture affecting my chances of getting hired.  Speaking specifically of the RHOA beat down and arrest fiasco that had just aired on television.

Although I didn’t watch it, the images were plastered all over a variety of shows including the news. The mugshots followed by the fight were hard to avoid and sickening to watch.

Here comes the boom!

I am not at all  surprised that there are only 93 of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013 representing black people or any persons of color for that matter. We have had these discussions for many years, and still lack long term solutions to the issue of representing  diversity in the aesthetics of life.

I have loved, breathed, slept, and devoured books since I can remember.  They are still to this day the most complex and fascinating relationship I have and I relish them.  Books became my life’s work and my educational track after being my reflection and now my longest pursuits as I aspire to become a published author.  Judy Bloom and Nancy Drew were my best friends through critical middle school years that were laced with not knowing who I was or who my mother was during an “only in the movies” adoption/kidnapping trauma that plagued my life for over nine years.  Books kept me grounded and I’m grateful to the power they have maintained throughout my life.

However, if we fast forward to about eight years ago when I was a fifth grade teacher with a class of 17 boys of color and 6 girls, a new dichotomy formed in my life.  Books had a major role to play in not just developing who I was but in who my students and the next generation were to become.  These students, the young men in particular were experiencing life’s best shot at destroying them before they reached their potential.  One young man in particular was the offspring of a drug kingpin family and watched his father, grandmother, uncles, and more be federally indicted for drug trafficking.  His single mother was doing the best she could to support him with little support herself.  I was a young teacher and perhaps equipped with very few strategies therefore I turned to books to guide me.

The boys were competitive to say the least, all wanting to live out hoop dreams.  So I created a reading challenge that I  just completed over the summer to read over 45 novels/books in one school year.  I promised to keep track of reading lists, supply the books, and provide trophies to all students who achieved the goal.

This became the best teaching moment of my career.

I even wrote Walter Dean Myers to participate in any small way, seeing that I used his books to introduce the kids to their world demonstrated in his novels.  He was gracious and kind and actually emailed the winner of the competition a page long letter.  That winner was the son of the drug kingpin.

DSC01407

This young man read over 80 novels and for that brief time period was able to back down life’s destructive embrace.  On trophy night, similar to Oprah’s epic weight loss moment, I wheeled in on a flatbed the 1500 plus books my students had tackled for their parents to get a visual of their accomplishment.

 

Pride could not begin to express the looks on their faces and emotion that filled their hearts.  I have continued the challenge in various forms each year until this day, and I still purchase trophies each time a young person of color sets aside their time to delve into a good book. And to be perfectly honest, students who are reluctant readers will only delve if they can see themselves and relate to the experiences found between the pages.  There are far too many other pulls from life that lead them in other directions.  So the real question is not the where are, but more why not and how come and what’s the difference?

{To continue this discussion follow me and read Part II of Race & Books}

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s