Thursday, August 20, 2020

Black Stories Matter

Thought it was time for an update seeing as we are in the midst of a civil rights revolution and a definite shift in thinking. The short of it is that
surpriseI am white. I grew up in a very progressive house in the south in the 1970s, with a mother born in the 1940s who was a civil rights activist from very early on. I grew up in South Carolina, and I don’t think I need to tell anyone what sort of racial climate that time and place was to spend a childhood in. My mother was very socially aware and active. She once made a cheerleader walk a mile beside the car at an away game for using a racial slur. She taught African American history in public schools. She worked with Black women who made baskets and quilts and taught them they were not just home goods but art and helped them begin to get their work displayed in museums. My mother constantly used her voice to uplift her Black friends, many who consider us family. My sisters and I might have been the only kids we knew who actively told kids at school not to use the N word when so many still used language like that, openly, in the day to day. 

Fast forward to today. I now live in Texas in a predominantly white neighborhood. I have exactly one Black person in my life who I can honestly call a best friend. I live inside a liberal white bubble in a neighborhood inside of another white bubble, and because I am surrounded by an amazing group of women who do speak out about human rights and gun laws and women’s rights, it often feels like that’s enough. But during this time I’ve become keenly aware that it isn’t. I started asking myself what this community can do to be better? What conversations do white people need to be having with our kids now to help them understand why it is important to support Black Lives Matter not just in words but in actions? All I knew was that it’s important to keep talking. 

As a white person from a progressive background living in a progressive white bubble, I was lulled into thinking I was not a racist, but as I’ve read more and more about microaggressions and the racial history of America and what it means to be not just racist but antiracist, I realized I have fallen drastically short. During the first few weeks after George Floyd was murdered, I was afraid to use my voice. I’m just a white lady, what do I know? If I stand up, what if I don’t know what I’m talking about? But it is important to stand up and speak up even if you sound stupid and don’t fully know what you’re talking about. It is important for white people to keep having these conversations with our friends and family even if they are uncomfortable. It is important for white people to take a hard look at themselves and see the parts of their own lives and histories that they want to pretend don’t exist. I know change only happens when we listen and educate, so I started reading and asking, what as a community can we do to actively do better? Barring forcing everyone to take Sociology 101 and watch every relevant movie on Netflix, what could we do collectively to help move the needle? This was a genuine ask on my part and I started asking everyone I knew. At this point you might be asking, what the hell does any of this has to do with vintage kid’s books? 

The answer is, a lot. 

Books might not be the strong hold they one were, but for all of us of a certain age, they were the window into the world. And when I look back at all these books I’ve loved, I see a lot of white faces. I see lots of stories rooted in colonial ideas. I see a childhood spent not seeing Black people or indigenous people in books, or if I did, they were gross stereotypes that even as an adult with a child and a blog about children’s books I did not fully recognize or understand. I remember a post on this blog a millions years ago that featured a stereotyped American Indian child and a weird outfit swap with a small cowboy, and getting blasted about featuring the book. At the time I didn’t fully understand the issue with it but respected the comment enough to take the post down, but in retrospect, I was naive not to fully get the offense.

Now, I am not here to write about the lack of diversity in children’s books as there are lots of people and scholars way more knowledgeable on the subject and whole organizations devoted to this cause. But in 2007, I created a blog that I know thousands and thousands of people looked to for inspiration without ever, specifically, seeking out the BIPOC POV. And sadly, in the world of books, that is what you have to do to help children form a realistic and unbiased view of the world. And even though I had the best intentions at heart and tried to be respectful, just by the nature that old + American often = racist, there are probably some vintage books that are better left forgetting. Honestly, I am loath to look back too deep for fear of what cringe worthy, offensive things I might have said and the subtly (or not-so-subtly) racist books I might have unknowingly loved or condoned. 

So last night, I took a little time and pulled together an Amazon list of childrens and young adult books from a BIPOC POV. Even though this blog is largely stagnant, I do still make a small amount being an Amazon affiliate (usually enough to pay to keep my domain name active), but I pledge to donate the full proceeds (and match them if I can) of what I make off the purchase of these books for the foreseeable future to We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit, grassroots organization of children's book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. If I am missing something on the list, let me know and I will add. If something on this list is inappropriate and I should delete, let me know that, too. If there are organizations or articles I should be researching and reading, drop those in the comments as well. And if you are looking for more resources to find more diverse books, try the Diverse Book Findermore than just avoiding stereotypical portrayals, they are focused on helping find great picture books featuring BIPOC. So order from my Amazon link to see donations kicked back to We Need Diverse Books or skip the middleman/conglomerate and order directly from one of these Black-owned bookshops here in the U.S. 

And if you ever come across an old post of mine that highlights a book that should be canceled, I am A-OK with blowing some shit up, even if it is a beloved children’s book classic. There might not be anything us Generation X kids and the millennials that followed can do to undo the mistakes our parents made, but maybe the children born from now until forever can grow up in a better world than ours being accustomed to seeing faces of all shades and sizes looking out at them from the pages of a book.

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