I usually love Monday mornings. They are my favorite part of the week because they offer a fresh new day and new week filled with possibilities. I’m not feeling the love today. My sinuses are continuing to throb and 20 minutes with Deepak Chopra wasn’t enough to lift be out of my slump. And, there’s all that’s happening around me.
Wading in the blues amplifies my solitude. I’ve had my moments where I’ve pulled up a protective blanket and withdrawn even further from the world. I say that not to build concern. I’m blessed in many ways including being able to know when I need to step back and in being able to quickly recover. I can catch my breath and move on. I know there are so many others who are in much worse shape and with no blanket to pull up, an no breath to catch.
As many places of employment are doing, mine is also planning a come to Black Jesus moment of open conversations around race. It’s not much of a moment, however when all people of color are called together with no White people in positions of power present. We black and brown people already know!!
I think about the state of children’s literature right now.
There are all these requests for lists of books by and about African Americans. People want lists given to them of titles they could easily find in bookstores and libraries. People are looking for books that have always been available for years. How deep is the commitment to anti-racism when someone wants a list of books someone else curated for them? Of course there are times when lists shorten our search for just the right book, but we’re at a point where we have to realize the importance of getting up and doing some work and particularly not relying on Black people to do it. With so many White women gleefully sharing the list I created specifically for Black children, it seems people are snatching up lists and spreading them around to show how connected they are. I didn’t create a list for that to happen. Black children don’t need what Latino, Asian American or White children need right now. How can literacy leaders work with so little empathy?
Anti-racism, after all, is a verb. It’s the action of doing the work of finding, reading and sharing anti-racist books. You may not consider yourself a racist. You may have friends or co-workers who are… you may have grandchildren who are… you may have read… and you may even donate to… But, anti-racists did the work to understand systemic racism. They can name it and call it out. Anti-racists aren’t afraid to give up an opportunity to a Black or Brown person. Anti-racists will talk about racial issues with their White friends. Anti-racists will work for change.
People and industries who are not racist have been issuing statements declaring that Black lives matter. Come Monday morning, if they’re anit-racist they’re re-examining the policies and procedures by which they operate. They’re making sure they’re listening to Black people around them and determining which policies are oppressive and unjust. How will they enact anti-racism? For years we’ve asked for increased representation in children’s books, for more marginalized people as authors, illustrators, editors, agents and art directors. The numbers barely increased.
What is being done to sustain the careers of authors and illustrators of color?
Where’s the pay equity?
What inroads have been created to move marginalized people into decision make positions in publishing house and journals?
How are Indigenous people and People of Color being nurtured to work as reviewers?
COVID-19 has emphasized the need for improved access to ebooks. Educators at all levels are struggling to find ways to make books available to students who will again be confined to working at home. What access to books will there be for these students as well as those with no internet access? What will be available for them to read?
I’m sure publishers are already racing to develop projects about all the issues of the day that are facing Black people in particular. I sincerely hope they’re developing projects to memorialize Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd as well as projects that delve into imperialism, economic inequity, policing in the United States and systematic racism. But, they should not profit from these stories. Publishers who have done such a poor job of listening to marginalized voices should not profit from these particular stories that exist because of an unjust system in which they are complicit. Let’s call it reparations.
Black librarians, educators and authors have actively worked for better representation in books and in publishing for over 100 years. If you do the work, if you find and read the articles, you’ll find that the stated demands have not changed in those 100 years. We talked about dehumanized images of young Black children in picture books while young boys in times when Black boys and girls were hunted down for not moving off the sidewalk, failing to say “sir”, swimming in the wrong corner of the lake or looking at a white woman.
Children’s books are steeped with implicit messages of power and race. I write about the ways they equate Blacks with monkeys. But messages about racism abound. Just last week, I received a cute little book, My Best Friend by Rob Hodgson. (Frances Lincoln Books, 2020) in it, a little mouse shares how much it likes being friends with an owl. Being such a cute, trusting, naive little white mouse, it doesn’t realize that this large, dangerous and conniving black owl is a threat to its existence. Even this cute story embeds racist lessons with the purity of the white character threatened by the dangerous of black one. This may seem innocuous, but when white as ‘good’ and black as ‘bad’ continues across media in the US, we realize this is the colorism that endangers Black lives. This colorism bleeds into the adoration of Kerry Washington and Kamala Harris over Stacy Abrams and Viola Davis.
Children’s publishing has got to recognize how it uses unconscious bias to perpetuate systems of racism through its policies and practices as well as in the content it produces. It’s not the only industry that embeds racism in its practices; libraries and universities do it, too. Each of these institutions reaches into tomorrow and each needs to be held accountable today. And, each needs to be human, to reach out to its employees and take a temperature check. Enact a little humanity and just listen. Hear Blacks who are trying to breathe and hear Whites who are trying to wake up. There’s a lot of pain out here. We’re severely lacking in leadership and we really need to know someone cares.
It’s Monday morning and we’re facing a new day, a new week of possibilities. My sinuses are still throbbing, but now, my bathroom is clean and this post is done. Forward motion is my only option.
Provided this Monday, and everyday, with no profit.