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!