What About White Boys? (All Children’s Lives Matter)

milesI haven’t posted for a long time — but I have been thinking about both our society and the children’s books that reflect (and hopefully help shape) our society and its future.

E-V-E-R-Y  S-I-N-G-L-E  D-A-Y!

Here’s what I posted on Facebook this morning:

As we teach girls to say NO, we must also teach boys to RESPECT. As we teach girls to be STRONG, we must also teach boys to be KIND. As we teach black children to EXCEL, we must also teach white children to REFLECT. As we teach black children to have more self CONFIDENCE, we must also teach white children to have more INFORMED EMPATHY.

Instead of judging and blaming each other, we must teach POSITIVE INTERACTIONS AND ACTIONS between groups of people.

Heck, this is not just about children. This is about all of us.

And promptly a white male relative (in his 50s) who is informed, kind, and loving, posted that he agrees with my basic principles, but it seems so “one-sided” and that it sounds like I am blaming and judging white males.

Here’s what my response to him:

Actually, I think of it as helping white males to adjust better in a world where their past and complacent modes might no longer serve them well and let them be equal partners of a future, equal world.

If you truly examine our history and society and systems, you would see that pretty much all other groups: women, non straight, and non white people have been on the receiving end of systemic oppression: less paid for equal work, fewer rights for the same human beings, etc. I actually want Educators who have been advocating one sided to educate girls and people of color but having largely ignored giving the tools and skills to handle an increasingly demanding (and rightfully so) world.

So yes, it is one sided: for the benefit of our children and ourselves. Instead of just blaming people like Trump or Sessions or Weinstein, I want to figure out how we can successfully educate the white/male of the future to thrive and to not thrive by stepping on others’ heads. Does this make sense to you?

Indeed, I have been wondering and hoping for more books by White and Non-White authors that feature good, kind, fair, courageous, moral, wonderful WHITE male and female characters — who do not just show up as white saviors or antagonists but act like so many of my real life white friends do — stand up for what’s wrong, fight for justice, and are self-reflecting and always want to be better humans.

I often hear that children need mirrors to reflect themselves and their experiences — I say that they also need a crystal ball that can show them what they COULD become.  I am worried when I started noticing that authors of children’s books seem to think that when they create wonderful children of color protagonists, they are then obligated to create white antagonists (bullies, uncaring teachers, etc.)  I wonder about the image that a white young reader sees in such books — are these the only roles they can assume now?  Are they being delegated to the dark side without redemption?  How hopeless is that? And how dangerous!

I wish to caution writers and editors: in our zealous (much needed) pursuit to include positive characters from marginalized groups, please do not make the dangerous mistake in creating a host of negative characters from the majority group, or excluding them from positively interacting with characters from the marginalized groups.

Case in point: Miles Morales features a black/hispanic hero with an Asian side-kick and a racist white teacher — is there no possibility for Miles to have close and allying white peers, friends, and mentors?  Another case in point: Hello, Universe features wonderful, quirky, and ultimately lovable Filipino, Hispanic, and Asian main characters.  And there is ONE white family/white child — and that ONE white family/child are bullies whose actions are most aptly described as despicable.  Of course, these are but two books from thousands of children’s books published in 2017 — but they are highly touted, much recommended books, featured in Best Of the Year lists, for middle grade students.  What is the telegraphed message here — and if there are more books like this frequently consumed by young readers — how would they view each other and each other’s group?

This is why I say, “Thank Goodness for Magnus Chase,” a white boy, created by a white male author, who encounters an assorted group of friends and foes — from different cultures, with different sexual orientations/gender identities, and religious beliefs. And they are judged not by the color of their skin or identity traits — but by their inner convictions.  Because, let’s not forget that when Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he never meant that he wished his children to grow up “judgment free.”  As citizens of the world and members of our own community, we must understand that the content of our character is to be examined, held accountable, and, yes, “judged” by our peers and our society.  Being part of a particular culture, whether marginalized or main-stream, does not exempt anyone from having a moral conscience.

While I am completely opposing the sentiment behind the “All Lives Matter” slogan (which is a detraction and distraction from the urgent “Black Lives Matter” movement,) I must advocate that ALL CHILDREN’S LIVES MATTER.

Please look at the big picture.

Please look toward a long-term future.

Please mind the GOAL — which is to respect and treasure everyone equally, regardless of skin colors, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, genders, etc. etc. etc. In order to actually achieve this goal, we cannot trample on ANY child and their potential, positive future.  We must make it possible that the children of today will become fair and compassionate adults – so we must hold up that crystal ball and motivate them with positive imageries of their potential selves.*

* Of course, I am not advocating of having no villains in books or no conflicts in stories!  Just please be mindful of the trend…

 

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Kirkus Collections – Diversity in Children’s Books: A Searchable Database

Children’s book review editor at the Kirkus Review wrote an introduction to its ambitious, and hopefully highly functioning and useful database.  Please read!  The Collections will only grow as more books are published and added to the Database.

Public Librarians and Booksellers with Baker & Taylor accounts will be able to access the full Database.  Alas, it is not available to me (school librarian using Follett, even though it owns Baker & Taylor.)  *sigh*

They are also going to publish, one article a day, in October, a series of essays by authors, librarians, and scholars, expressing diverse viewpoints on the Diversity landscape of children’s literature.  Can’t wait to read them all!

 

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Dear White People: It Is Up to You to Undo Racism (with help and guidance from People of Color)

In early July, I attended a week-long educators workshop offered by the National Museum of African American History & Culture.  (With daily access to the museum’s collections before it opened to the public!)

There were more than 30 attendees and five master teachers, with 2-3 guest speakers a day.  We unpacked many topics, from the dehumanization of the African American slaves to self-reflection of what is Whiteness in the 21st century America and how as educators we must examine and incorporate true history and social justices into our curriculum.

After a particularly impactful day, with one of my New York City Independent School colleagues, Erica Corbin Rodriguez leading the workshop, I went back to the hotel and texted with a friend who was a former student and also a fellow-teacher at Dalton.  He is a 24 year old white male and I have his permission to post our conversation here: I’m the white text with blue background and he’s black text with gray background.

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As the 2017-18 school year starts tomorrow for all our students, I am constantly reminding myself that it is my responsibility to keep social justices front and center in my curriculum and my interaction with students. This one former student is not a unique or singular case: he is one of many responsible, compassionate, and self-reflective white men and women that we hope to “unleash into the society” and make the world a more just and loving place.  And just as he said, he is responsible to undo racism, more so than any person of color.  He and many others will need constant dialogue and guidance — let’s work side by side to achieve our common goal: equality for all.

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Farewell Child_lit – You’re No One’s Baby

Over at SLJ’s Blogsphere, Betsy Bird (Fuse#8 Production) documented the pending demise of Child_lit Listserv, hosted at the Rutgers Email server and has been “owned” and run by Rutgers Rare Books librarian Michael Joseph for more than 20 years.

I was among the earliest subscribers to child_lit (mid-1990s) and served as its occasional archivist in those days, publishing (with permission) discussion threads on various Children’s Lit topics from “Love You Forever: Funny or Repulsive?” to “Tikki Tikki Tembo and Cultural Accuracy in Folktales” — those were the “good old days” when fewer people found their way to online discussion boards and no pervasive social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter or even many personal websites/blogs.

Children’s Literature lovers, authors, publishing folks, and scholars found each other and we built a communal Home on child_lit.  Michael Joseph took on the responsibility of hosting and running the listserv and as Child_lit neared its end, many many subscribers expressed their gratitude to him in having maintained such a wonderful place for all of us through these many years.  I am among the grateful list members!  Michael and I have known each other through Child_lit (as many others, like Monica Edinger, Cheryl Klein, Patrice Kindl, Jane Yolen, Philip Pullman, Linnea Hendrickson, and Pooja Makhijani, and so on…) for more than two decades and I have so much respect for him as a scholar and friend.  However, as Michael pointed out in his “decision paper” on August 21st to the list members, with conversations about children’s and YA books being all over the internet and Child_lit (in his view) has lost its scholarly/academic luster, Michael decided that it’s time to shutter the windows and lock the doors.

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Screen shot of child_lit About Page

This decision greatly saddened me.  Child_lit is not a collection of lifeless pixels housed on cold and heartless email servers.  It is a community and a place of connection of people who are interested in exploring the world through children’s literature — even if perhaps the style of the discussion has evolved and changed.  I did not want this place to disappear.  So I took action.

In the past week, I contacted various folks at Rutgers, posted a Survey on child_lit to gauge members’ interest (which is high) in maintaining this virtual Home.  Finally, I found a professor at Rutgers who graciously agreed to help maintain the listserv for a while until we can find a new Owner of the listserv.  However, when I brought this solution to Michael, I discovered that Michael’s mind was firmly made up and he will not allow for the transferring of the “virtual deed” (which could be easily accomplished.)

I wrote this on Child_lit today and would continue pondering on “who owns what we collectively build” in the online/virtual world.

Farewell Child_lit – You’re No One’s Baby

A list member said to me that she has no problem with Michael terminating Child_lit because, after all, it is His Baby, and he has every right to do whatever he wishes with it.

Although I am in no way angry at Michael for not wanting to continue “owning” child_lit because it no longer matches his original vision of the discourse, I found this notion of child_lit, which belongs, in my view, to the entire child_lit community and even to the entire children’s literature community because we often take what we learn from here to our daily children’s lit. practices.

The analogy of “the baby” makes me wonder about how we view intellectual products in the age of online engagement and how we treat “virtual real estate” and “virtual ownership.” It also makes me chuckle: I have a real life human daughter who is younger than Child_lit (18) and by now, I no longer think of her as My Baby, and can no longer dictate how she manages and conducts her life. I’m giving advice, yes. I’m helping her out when she needs, yes. But, I will never tell her that I’m pulling every support away from her because she has irked me or not being a replica of myself. (She just started college and is making course choices that surprise me!) So the idea that because we, collectively, have disappointed Michael and he has tired of the ownership of the list, we, collectively, will lose our virtual community (home/real estate) still does not sit squarely with me.

That said, if this is indeed the FINAL DAY OF CHILD_LIT — farewell, friends old and new. We shall meet and find each other somewhere else :)

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Book Critic AND Book Champion

There was a discussion last year about how some of us are “book champions” and others are “book critics.” The implied conceit is that somehow, these two roles or temperaments are mutually exclusive.  A great summary with her views and links was published on Monica Edinger’s “Educating Alice” blog: The Championship Season.

After much self-examination, I know that, I too, would like to maintain both traits – not as if they’re the two ends on a continuum: if I move toward one end, I’m leaving the other end behind.  I’d rather imagine them as baking ingredients which must work together well with just the right amount of each.  I hold that it is imperative to examine all aspects of any book I encounter and critically evaluate them: pointing out what works really well and what has perhaps fallen short when engaging in discussion of a book: whether in person with a friend, online on a blog, in print for a magazine, or as a member of an award selection committee.  However, it is equally important to have a lot of passion and love and express such support vocally and often, especially when working with the target readership.  I often joke with my students that I’m just a paid book pusher: starry-eyed and eager when recommending titles.  I will never shy away from praising a good book and champion for great themes, outstanding literary styles, convincing world-building, and layered character development.

That’s why I point out inaccurate racial representations; that’s why I discuss whether the use of certain narrative devices supports the plot or the theme; that’s why I talk and write about books I’m crazy in love with but also about books that raise questions and concerns.  I’m not going to choose between the two:

I consider myself a Critical Book Champion!

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My Appreciation for Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang

emperor's riddleThis is a brief note to say that Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang (Aladdin, May 2017) fits the bill of my continuing search for fun stories set in contemporary China that features Asian American children and authentically captures both the modern day life familiar to western readers and the cultural flavor unique to China.  Definitely a book that I will introduce to the Chinese American mother and child who came seeking books featuring characters that “look more like her.”

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Musing While (Off)White

Readers of this blog and friends & colleagues might have known that I am originally from Taiwan, growing up as a racial majority, upper socio-(but-not-economical) class, and never having to figure out my racial identity as a marginalized child, teen, or young adult.

When you grow up occupying only a small slice of the population pie (less than 1/16 for Asian Americans of varied country origins,) your self-image and self-worth must rely not only on your family’s heritage and conviction, but also on your school environment, your neighborhood, and media representation.

For the last few years, I have identified myself as a Person of Color so I could unite with my Asian American, Brown American, and Black American brothers and sisters to raise awareness of the institutionalized racism they (we) must confront and rectify together. However, I must confess the hesitation, the discomfort, and the sense of being an “imposter” in many of such groups that I insert myself in at work, at professional settings, and social gatherings.  I attend the monthly Faculty of Color meetings to discuss and strategize how to make my school a more inclusive and just environment for everyone.  I go to the annual People of Color Conference for educators to glean and share new knowledge and lesson plans.  I read books and articles and discuss about all sorts of sub-topics related to the systemic oppression so many of my colleagues, friends, and students have to contend with on a daily basis.

Every so often, I say to myself, “But you have never personally experienced any of these, except for perhaps once in a while someone jokingly (or seriously) thinks that you can do math a little better or that you are probably quite docile.”  The last point could be exasperating since I am so far from being docile or gentle but the misconception or stereotype never gives me an iota of emotional stress.  My racial identity could be easily just part of my whole being: like that I’m short or I am near-sighted and that I am a mother and a librarian.  I am more and more aware of how much a luxury it is that I can go about my day, moving in all sorts of spaces to not be keenly aware of my racial identity.

This is the kind of luxury (privilege?) that I imagine many of my white friends, colleagues, and students have.  And I also imagine that this is why so many of them are still struggling to figure out why their brown/black/Asian counterparts cannot simply “let this racial identity thing” go, or cannot simply train themselves to not allow racial identity to dominate one’s self-image or as the main influence of one’s notion of self-worth.

The more I think about my own identity, the more I know that I cannot claim to be a Person of Color in 2017 America. Instead, I feel like I need a different category — a different label, perhaps. My socio-economic status, my immigration status (naturalized citizen by marriage,) my work stability, and my lack of external threats from law enforcement, etc., makes me, if not 100% equal to most upper-middle class white Americans, close enough to Being White.  This explains why I often do not have the “ouch” reaction that many people of color have when encountering media misrepresentations, lack of representations, or grossly inaccurate stereotypical expectations — all because I have not experienced years of being misunderstood or being reduced to a “type” and not being seen and valued as a unique individual.  If there is some sort of continuum of Racial Identities — then I would drop my pin (when it comes to how privileged and how socially resourced I am) somewhere in the “White” section. Since I cannot claim to be actually White, I will from now on think of myself as Off-White and hopefully can use this identity to help my White colleagues, friends, and students to figure out how we can help advance the anti-racist and social justice causes.

I welcome comments and thoughts — am I being completely off here?  Am I usurping anyone’s identity to claim myself as Off White or is it somehow accurate and perhaps even rings a bell for other Asian Americans?

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