Saturday, April 12, 2014

We Are Still Not Doing Enough for Diversity in Kid lit

I’ve written about Why Being a POC Author Sucks Sometimes. I’ve written about the importance of Diversity and Diverse Reading Lists. And I’ve even written about Diversity in Writing. The discussion about why diversity in children’s literature is continuing because POC are still greatly underrepresented at less than 10%. (see this fantastic post by Malinda Lo at Diversity in YA.) There’s even an article in CNN about “Where’s the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?" There’s a lot of good talk but there’s still no action. And furthermore, there’s a lot of lashing out that somehow when we ask for diversity, we are somehow anti-white. If we talk about our need for representation, our articles are just "race-baiting" and discriminatory toward whites. How can asking for more authors of color and characters of color in children’s literature mean we are anti-white? I will never understand this thinking and I have no use for it. Kelly Jensen, a librarian and true supporter of diversity, said in her excellent post “When you support one group of people, it is in not denigrating another group of people. Instead, it’s doing your part to raise everyone up.” And this is what we are fighting for. Raising us all up because diversity is good for everyone.

How bad is the problem?

Of the 3,600 books the Cooperative Children’s Book Center reviewed in 2012:
  • 3% were about Africans/African Americans; 1.8% were written by Africans/African Americans
  • 1.5% were about Latinos; 1.6% were written by Latinos
  • Less than 1% were about American Indians; less than 1% were written by American Indians
  • 2% were about Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans; 2.3% were written by Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans
Click here for a fantastic illustration by Tina Kugler that really highlights the problem based on statistics released by the CCBC.

There are a lot of good people out there fighting for more diversity in publishing. But it’s not enough. There’s even more people who nod their head and agree whole-heartedly that we need more representation. But it’s definitely not enough.

Today I’m pointing fingers. At publishers, librarians, teachers, booksellers, publicists, conference and festival organizers, reviewers, journalists, in fact our entire media. You are all not doing enough. There are some wonderful children’s books authors of colors out there publishing amazing books that are just not getting the attention they deserve. They are ignored. Where is their media coverage? Where are their book tours? Why isn’t their more diversity at book festivals and conferences? Why is it that any promotional materials talking about ALA award winning books don’t also highlight the Coretta Scott King or the Pura Belpré, etc? (See Meg Medina’s post on this.)

Publishing and promoting books that include diversity by white authors is a good start for diversity. But that is not enough. Publishing and promoting authors of color so that we break the arbitrary 10% cap is what is really needed. We need more published authors of color. But if current authors of color are not promoted, then it hurts the chances for all other potential POC writers. It becomes a vicious circle. A self-fulfilling prophecy that continues the belief that books by and about POC don’t sell. We are not doing enough to break this prophecy.

Recently there was a big controversy over the fact that BookCon was featuring an all white male power panel at BEA. Lerner Publishing Group editorial director Andrew Karre said in the PW article, “If they really want to put their money where their mouth is, they should have a panel on this topic, the issue of diversity in children’s books.” I want to put a rallying call out for this to happen. Meg Medina, the fabulous author of the award winning Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, and I were recently talking about how we wanted every conference and every festival in the country to have a diversity panel until the day comes when we don’t need to do it anymore. So yes, ReedPOP, please include a diversity panel to make up for your world class blunder. And please don’t fill it up with white people. We authors of color are here yelling into the crowd. We are writing our books and fighting to promote them in an ocean filled with white capped waves that wash over us. But we are here because there is a need for us. And we won’t stop fighting or raising our voices.

Several months ago, I was at a school event where a very young black girl was standing shyly off to the side as I was chatting with some 6th grade students after my presentation. She gave me her notebook and asked me to sign it, which I was glad to do. It was a book of her own poetry and short stories. I smiled and said “I’m so glad to meet a young writer!” She beamed at me and said “I love writing and I want to be a writer but I didn’t think I could because I’m not white.” I was surprised and asked her if she’d read any books by Walter Dean Myers, Angela Johnson, or Linda Sue Park. She nodded and shrugged her shoulder and said, “But I’ve never seen them in person.” To this young teen, an author of color was a mythical creature, not to be believed, until she’d seen one in person. She couldn’t believe in her dream to become a writer until she saw for herself that a real life POC had done it. This is why we must continue to fight for diversity in children’s literature. For all of our children, so that they can see that we exist and that they can believe that their dreams of becoming whatever they want, can come true.


Angie said...

I think part of the problem is that when someone's used to being a member of an overwhelmingly privileged group -- and hasn't examined or even acknowledged their privilege -- other people trying for parity reads like other people trying to push them (the privileged group) down.

John Scalzi recently posted about an e-mail he got from a reader who asked him why "all the supporting characters" in a recent book of his were women. The implication was that he was sucking up to the feminists or something. In fact, he said, only about 50% of the supporting characters in that book were women, which he thinks is just about right. But to this reader, that 50% was perceived as 100% and felt like some kind of attack.

I've heard of stuff like this before, and I think this perceptual problem is unfortunately common. :/

As a white writer, all I can do is write about characters of color -- protags as well as supporting characters -- at times. But I've read some awesome books by writers of color, and agree that the publishers and reviewers and booksellers and conference organizers need to make a conscious effort to look around and include writers who aren't straight, white, able-bodied, Christian dudes.


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