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…