blog
Comments 21

I’m not Racist, but…

A few months ago, after my four thousandth reading of Pinkalicious, I closed the book, and thought, “Man. If I were an African-American father I would be disgusted by our book selection.”

Pinkalicious. Vanilla Icing Icing Baby.

Fancy Nancy. Frilly whitey.

Biscuit Goes to the Farm (or does whatever). Yellow lab, white identity.

Curious George. A monkey living in a white world. Ergo: white monkey.

Hungry Little Caterpillar – a little white boy with an eating disorder.

Clifford. Big red dog, little white girl.

Where the Wild Things Are. White monsters.

Dr. Seuss One fish, two fish, white kid, white kid.

Goodnight Moon. Little white bunny and his old white granny whispering “hush”

Harry Potter Even the “dark arts” wizards are white. (Thank goodness. Because awkward.)

Lego’s are all white people, My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake couldn’t possibly be whiter. Sofia the First has a white character…once every 8 episodes when they’re running out of story lines for princess entitlement. And let’s not even touch the main Disney princesses (pre-Tiana, I suppose).

(Alright, alright – you get Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day. Congratulations. One color-blind book with a protagonist of color.)

Etc. etc. etc. whitecetera.

Not one week after my racial realization, I learned of a conversation going on at my son’s school’s PTA regarding diversity. A super-academic committee discussed diversity with NYU sociology professors and posed the question: when did you last read a book with a protagonist of color when that protagonist wasn’t 1) overcoming racial adversity, 2) a slave story.

When did you read a book about a kid who’s going about everyday activities and just happens to be non-WASP?

(Not that I need to pat myself on the back, but…I had this realization before hearing of the PTA discussion. Just saying. I’m color blind. Was. Wait. That wasn’t a good thing.)

So, now our PTA is tasking the school with constructive steps toward literary diversity…expanding our library with books where diversity is a non-issue.

When certain (white) Americans dispute that “the system” is set up against children of color, I invite anyone to look through the vast majority of children’s books, including mine.
Imagine being a little black boy or black girl in America and be surrounded by the super popular books (see above) and never seeing themselves reflected. Ever.

You think that wouldn’t set you up for inferiority complexes or a sense of never being able to relate to popular culture?

I’m not sure what the solution is. Could publishing companies publish alternative illustrated books? White not an African American-centric Cat in the Hat? An Asian Pinkalicious? A gender non-conforming Fancy Nancy(Nathan?)

I’m sure this doesn’t make financial sense for the literary corporations just selling books.

But perhaps it would make financial sense?

OMG, are they already doing this and I live so deep in my white bubble that I’m not even aware?

Welp. There’s my confession du jour. Let the twitter trolling commence. (I won’t even see it. I barely know how to tweet.)

 

 

Advertisements

21 Comments

  1. Don’t be so hard on Harry Potter. There is a fair amount of diversity among the secondary characters and many black and mixed girls identified with Hermione. My daughter assumed she was brown.
    Also, I would love to see Fancy Nathan. I think your son would be the protagonist.

    Like

    • Hm. Maybe I need to get on that one! Thanks for commenting. And don’t worry – I’ll always be a huge Harry Potter fan. Some color-blind casting in the movies wouldn’t have been a bad notion, but still… 🙂

      Like

  2. Great post. I struggle with this when developing characters to the point I resist describing them. Glad your PTA is thinking about it. PS Tiana was a frog for most of the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true! I once attended a friend’s musical cabaret when the (African-American) singer said, “I was so thrilled when Disney finally created a Black princess, but then she ended up being a maid for one half of the movie, and a damn frog for the other half!” Ugh. Thank you for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: I’m not Racist, but… — Daddy Coping in Style – opss3.com 오피쓰 천안건마 천안오피

  4. I can connect to this is on a personal level. My biracial son has commented before on this topic. I also ask myself “Why are many African Americans portrayed as rappers, athletes? Why not doctors, engineers etc? It can be frustrating at moments. Thank you.

    Like

    • THanks for writing! I know! – why can’t there just be simple stories that “happen” to be different skin colors? I suppose we can thank Doc McStuffins for waging that battle, a little bit. Thank you for commenting.

      Like

  5. My wife and I are both preschool educators, and have both dedicated a solid four years to trying to develop a library of books that highlight diversity. We just had our first baby, a little girl, and we wanted to make sure she had some books that depicted little boys and girls who didn’t look like her.

    Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s daughter, wrote a children’s book titled “One Love” (based on her father’s song). I highly recommend it if you haven’t run across it yet.

    Also Spike Lee and his wife wrote a book called “Please, Baby, Please” that my wife recommends.

    Good luck! PTA conversations can be tough, but good on you for putting some serious thought into it. This stuff really matters to students, parents, and their teachers.

    Like

  6. Great post! Yes, there is a “grassroots” movement with a TON of books for people of all colors. As an author myself, with a female protagonist who isn’t a slave lol, I thoroughly enjoyed this!

    Like

    • Thanks for commenting and keep writing, Ladyreedmore! (Love that handle.) It’s definitely true that we “write what we know”, and if the marketplace is dominated by white authors, the protagonists will reflect that. So thank goodness for you!

      Like

  7. sas78h says

    I wonder if all the authors you’re reading for your children are also ‘white’ ? Just a thought… we write what we know…

    Like

    • I couldn’t agree more. We write what we know and is it pandering to stretch beyond it? I dunno – kids’ stories can be universal if we aren’t necessarily addressing an agenda. Why not have simple stories be printed with different skin tones? Regardless, thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • sas78h says

        I agree 100% not all characters have to be ‘white’

        Like

  8. Hi there, This is a great post! I have had the same insights myself! Have you ever watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk video about The Danger of a Single Story? I think you might like it.

    Like

  9. Kara Post-Kennedy says

    I am older than you are, but two books I read over and over as a child that were not whitey-white were “Corduroy” and “The Snowy Day”–I think they are still very popular. I think as writers we tend to write from our own perspective, because doing otherwise (an Asian Pinkalicious) seems condescending and pandering. I’m really never sure, though. Even as a woman I struggle with the idea of making characters women to be politically correct. But will anything ever change if we don’t push that envelope?

    Like

    • Good questions, Kara. Envelopes need to be pushed, but you’re exactly right – we writers have to write what we know. Would it be pandering for the big publishing companies to just “print different skin toned editions”? Heck, SOMEONE will be offended, undoubtedly. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. You bring up a good point. While I agree to some extent, being an African American male with a bi-racial child. We have all the same books truth is it doesn’t matter. If you don’t make a big deal about it then your child learns that there is not a difference. At least not one that matters. I also like to get books like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is one example. It helps with giving a more holistic picture.

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing. I admit, we have the Ezra Jack Keats books, as well, and they’re wonderful. Glad to have your perspective. My kid is lucky to grow up in a very diverse neighborhood and, I think, sees differences in skin tone but certainly has no preconceived notions of the colors. Still – I’d like to see more diversity in these “uber-popular” books. Heck, I’M tired of the white-skinned little princesses!

      Liked by 1 person

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