I 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…
5 responses to “What About White Boys? (All Children’s Lives Matter)”
This post sounds a lot like the things written and said in Arizona, Roxanne, when a law was written to shut down the Mexican American Studies program. People there said that #OwnVoices books and materials were teaching kids how to hate White people. Matt de la Pena’s MEXICAN WHITE BOY became an exhibit in that case. At this moment, it feels to me like you’re doing that to MILES MORALES and HELLO, UNIVERSE. Do you really think those two books and others like them are going to teach kids to hate white people?
I think it will be great to make sure that there are positive role models for children to emulate. If we believe that books matter, that book characters matter, and that children need to see themselves in positive ways in books, then I think we need to consider such matters. No, I do not think that one or two popular books will make children hate white people. I don’t believe that is written or said here. However, I think if in our eagerness in righting the very historically tilted scale, we put much weight on the side of those traditionally oppressed and tilt the scale heavily to the other side, we are doing a disservice to all young readers and their future.
This is why when I see expressions like “The Future Belongs to Women” from those who want to strongly support girls and their education and opportunities, I worry. Because, Debbie, the future I’d like to see is balanced and equal. The future I want to have is for my mix-raced daughter to be able to work and live and love side by side with men and women of all creeds and colors without her having to suffer oppression but also without her being the dominant gender or race. Actually, the future that I’d like to see for her is the one that she has already experienced and still seeking out in her schooling: where she has strong conviction of equality and greatly values diversity; where she is close friends with young people from a huge range of socioeconomic backgrounds, who are white, black, brown, and off-white, and sometimes with different political views; where she DOES judge people by the content of their character but never by the color of their skin or their sexual orientations or their gender identities (or simply their gender) or their wealth meters.
What do you wish for, if not this, Debbie?
I know you don’t mean to suggest that I want those who have histories of oppression to take over and crush those who oppressed them. That is what your question implies, but I think you know otherwise.
Setting that aside, ever since I started speaking up against the racist mascot at Illinois, I was met with statements like “you will want to change the name of the state, next!” In other words, the people in power say “if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile” and they ask “where will it stop.” Such statements strike me as efforts to keep the status quo in place. That’s how I’m reading your post. You are making assumptions about the future of how people are going to write, based on what two writers have done in their books.
Implied in what they say is an assumption that once the scales tip, oppressors will become the oppressed. Do you really think that will happen? And when?
Thank you for your question, Debbie. I will definitely start thinking hard on this: am I too much of a worrier, then, to want to stop a potential trend before it becomes a dominant direction? Perhaps. I do worry a lot.
As to your other question about the oppressed becoming the oppressor: look at modern Chinese history and how the dissatisfaction of the poor and how the naivete of the young were harnessed by just a few in power and with the power of words (propaganda and the Little Red Book) that first established the communist regime and subsequently prosecuted all those formerly in the power position during the Cultural Revolution. I guess I worry because WORDS and STORIES are powerful and young minds are so easily swayed and molded.
Very well said.