On July 17th, I posted “A Tribe of Kind Souls: a closer look at a double spread in Lane Smith’s There Is a TRIBE of KIDS,” offering my views on a particular spread of illustration after a couple of days engaging on Reading While White, and other online interaction places (email listservs and twitter.)
During those days and ever since, I have not stopped thinking about the many different reactions I received both publicly and privately (via emails and in person.) I also have not stopped thinking about Debbie Reese’s public declaration of how, for a couple of decades, her impression of me has been that I am on the opposing side of her convictions — which is, simply put, to have accurate, and dignified, representation of American Indian content, and a lot more of it, in Children’s Literature.
This revelation both shocked me and saddened me. It is also a prime example of how I did not follow my own advice — to acknowledge that this could have been a case of I “Don’t Know That I Don’t Know” and to spend more time listening and considering others’ views than defending my own. I don’t mean that I should not have expressed my views, but I think I could have done better in the “listening” and “considering” department, and less on the “defending” my views department.
So, here are some things I have been thinking about for the last ten days:
I Failed at Being A Visible and Vocal Ally
First and foremost, I realized that I have not been a vocal enough ally to Debbie. When I agree with her views and her tireless work as an advocate, I usually sit back and agree in silence. I pretty much only speak up when I have questions about how she interprets something, and wants her to either defend further or clarify more. I also want her to see how I come to have my opposing views. (An example was over The Hired Girl on Heavy Medal blog.) These disagreements occupy a very small percentage of how I normally react to Debbie’s views: I fundamentally agree with everything she stands for and have always benefited much from her sharing of her thoughts and feelings (yes, Debbie can be very emotional when she writes about the hurt and injustices she sees in books for children). I have based my collection development for my library on many of her recommendations. However, since I have not been actively and visibly expressing my support, it is of course impossible for Debbie to know.
This has been a wake-up call for me to be a better ally and supporter – not just to Debbie Reese, but to others who have been taking up the banner for a better, more equitable, and authentic children’s publishing world.
Online Discourse Is Real Life, Too!
A second thing that I learned is how even when I started off trying to simply parse out a thorny issue intellectually, social media and online engagement could easily bring in emotional responses, mostly due to the quick turn around back-and-forth and the misinterpretations of tones due to the lack of physical and tonal cues.
I need to adhere to the Real Life practices that have served me well:
1. Take time to cool off and consider the others’ views and feelings before shooting off an email to express dismay or outrage.
2. Go directly to the person who I feel that has “wronged me” and find out the reasons behind any public (or private) outburst, in a way that is genuinely to solve the issue and not to express my own displeasure.
3. Do not engage emotional discourses between publicly: especially between friends and friendly colleagues.
What Should Drive Children’s Publishing?
The DESIRE to Do It Right and not the FEAR of Doing it Wrong!
A third thing that I have been considering has more to do with an aspiration for my publishing colleagues and it will be in a separate post. Just to forecast here: I yearn for the day when the driving force of publishers, editors, authors, and illustrators to create powerful and accurate books that are accepted readily and praised by outsiders and insiders alike is a strong and genuine desire to DO IT RIGHT after lots of soul searching and professional training, and not the fear of DOING IT WRONG and being called out after the fact!
13 responses to “My DKDK (Don’t Know Don’t Know) Moments – Or What I Learned From My Online Discussion Mistakes”
Thank you for this thoughtful post! Being an ally is a process (not just saying you’re an ally) and your piece shows what that process means, with valuable advice for all of us.
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So true! Being an ally is a process that should be accompanied by actions, too!
Roxanne, I adore you. You are thoughtful, smart and really good at expressing your ideas. Thanks for being engaged and learning. We are all learning all the time. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your very earnest endeavors to make better connections between kids and books. And to help us all find those books that kids need. I too often don’t express myself when I agree, and this comment is intended to remind me that doing so, is valuable and needed. Carol
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It is definitely important to connect young readers with the books we highly recommend! That’s why the many lists and awards presented by professional organizations that went through rigorous and careful selection processes should be promoted with even more rigor! And also that we need to continuously examine and re-examine our selection processes and criteria to make sure that we can accomplish two seemingly opposite goals: to include as many diverse views and voices AND to uphold important communally agreed upon values. Now — that’s another blog post some day :)
I disagree about promoting lists of books that win awards. Too many bks with problems. Like A HIRED GIRL. And LOCOMOTIVE.
I know I have gotten titles due to your recommendations and promotions of titles on the American Indian Youth Literature Award.
Thanks Roxanne. I hope, too, that book creators and publishers work from a desire to “do it right,” and believe that they do. I know that a normal defensive human reaction to some of these discussions is a “fear of doing it wrong,” and I don’t discount the effect this has on book creators. However, I hope that beyond the fear they can find the offering in the criticism, and the opportunity to listen. Before the soul searching, before the training… listening. I know it’s something that book creators and publishers are experts in.
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I am quite sure that many people are listening carefully — and thinking very hard. Today’s article at Reading While White – “The Rocky Unpaved Roads of Good Intentions” tells us that everyone makes mistakes, and we are all searching for the path to reach the common goal – so listening and learning is crucial. But I think it is also superbly important that we are not complacent with a little bit of upswing in having POC book creators. We’re so far from full representation and so far from true diversity of varied voices and views from both with-in and with-out each group that we must keep on educating ourselves: especially when we encounter viewpoints that shock us or seemingly at such opposition to our own.
Thanks, Roxanne. I respect your willingness to reflect and learn. I feel humbled at how much I have to learn myself. Sincerely, Carol
I think many quiet/silent readers of these blog posts or other online exchanges are very receptive and most are reflecting and learning as well. When I talk with editors, publishers, marketing folks, reviewers, and book creators themselves — the overwhelming sense I receive is the eagerness to “do it right” — it is really a matter of educating ourselves, especially formally — by taking workshops, by reading revelatory scholarly texts, and by examining the entire children’s literature field.
But also to not discount the informal “trainings” by knowing and listening to more people who actually live the experiences and can share their thoughts directly.
Fascinating reading Roxanne, and a timely reminder or how to use social media. Do you mind if i put it in the ‘professional reading’ section of my monthly e-bulletin? i’m going to put in your story of the little girl wiht the Trump sticker, and giving her the book, too, if i can find it among the plethora of emails…Best, Virginia
Do with the post and the blog any way you see fit!
On Thu, Nov 10, 2016, 6:18 PM Fairrosa Cyber Library wrote: