Children’s and young adult literature is overwrought with who gets to tell The Story.
The story is as personal as it is profound.
The Story is a colonized script we dictate to our children.
The Story, the body of work we call children’s literature, is in a messy, disrupted state that I can’t help but believe will eventually lead it to being filled with stories that are profoundly inclusive and as erudite as they are imaginative. #WeNeedDiverseBooks has become a game changer. But, this change can’t happen as long as Whiteness dominates, controls and colonizes literature.
Whiteness ≠ white people.
Indications that whiteness persists in children’s literature
- Ill-conceived “professional reviews” that praise problematic books as well as those that go beyond the scope of reviewing.
- The results of the Lee & Low Baseline Survey
- Publishing statistics on Children’s Books about People of Color and Native Nations and by People of Color and Native American Authors and Illustrators from the University of Wisconson-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center
- Problematic books that have appeared in just the past year such as Ghost, When We Was Fierce, There Was A Tribe of Kids and The Continent.
- A lack of response from publishers that indicates how they will move forward with regards to the systematic racism that persists in children’s literature.
- A lack of response from booksellers that indicates how they will move forward with regards to systematic racism that persists in children’s literature.
- A lack of response from MFA programs, writer groups or highly visible authors, agents and publishers that indicates how they will move forward with regards to systematic racism that persists in children’s literature.
To want to find someone to tell the stories of marginalized people is not enough. It is in fact a rather clueless response.
I get that the thing in publishing is to not want to work with people who seem to be difficult to work with and right now, it may seem that many of us who are advocating for paradigm shifts in the crap that’s fed to our children are difficult to work with, but we’re not. Make no mistake that some of us are angry and I think being a #nastyWoman is the moniker de jour for being a force. Yes, we’ve been getting angry for a long, long time but this anger and this passion is fueling the fires of change. I know that in The Academy, anger is detested and we much face every dilemma with ‘civility’. Our anger is not rage, not hostile and it is not brutal.
Our anger consists of exerting the necessary amount of force to ladder up to #ownvoices in children’s literature. We are angry it has taken so long. We are angry that we have to get angry to get a response. We are angry that there are those who want to tell us we have no right to be angry, that we must remain docile and fragile creatures.
And yet, in our anger we are wise, poised, adamant, dynamic, forward-thinking, intent and purposeful. And, we are listening.
I listen because I really want to hear that story that explores our humanity and all its –isms in ways that confound all of us; in ways that weave stories beyond stereotypes and misrepresentations of cultures. I want to see a book with a black male child who never touches a basketball and makes me LMBAO. I want to find a book with a Native American girl who solves a 21st century mystery without have to rely on the spirits of her ancestors. How about a queer Latinx protag who is a space pirate?
Yet, I listen and I hear about The Continent by Kiera Drake. While I haven’t been active on Twitter or in conversations about this book, I hear troubling things. I applaud those who have reached out to Harlequin TEEN to say ‘hey, can you fix this before you release it’? There is anger at having to do this again, but respect and wisdom for the author, the story and the process.
Who gets to tell the story? Whiteness lets profit margins rule; lets whatever will sell be written and denies any sense of integrity. Creativity honors the sacred, knows and understands the present while bending the possibilities. Decolonization removes the restraints and the Whiteness and lets books be windows, mirrors and sliding doors. I love that imagery from Rudine Sims Bishop. It fits so well with what I believe about books: that they help us find where we belong in the world.
It all starts with The Story.
Update 7 Nov., 7:40pm: Harlequin TEEN has issued a statement in which they have listened, they have heard and they have decided to push back the release date. The complete statement is here http://www.harlequinteen.com/image/152874005241