When white writers come to me and ask if it’s OK for them to write about people of color, it seems as if they’re asking for my blessing. I can’t give them my blessing because I don’t speak for other people of color. I only speak for myself, and I have personal stakes in specific kinds of narratives.
Sometimes what I learn about myself in my work as a children’s book editor is downright embarrassing and cringe-worthy: that despite my best intentions, my predominantly white upbringing, educational background, and chosen profession have not adequately prepared me to be as racially and culturally sensitive as I would like.
I don’t want to admit that about myself. And I really don’t want to admit it publicly on a diversity-themed website in front of the children’s literature community.
But I’m never going to make progress if I don’t call myself out and invite others I work with to call me out as well. And more to the point, since it’s not all about my personal development here, the books I help make aren’t going to reflect reality or drive change in our society if this important process doesn’t happen.
So let me share three lessons I’ve learned from working with Mitali Perkins, a writer as talented as she is kind and ebullient. Her books are terrific: vibrant characters, exciting and believable plots, natural pacing, clear themes—the whole literary package. Mitali is also a passionate advocate for inclusive literature, and she’s not afraid to let me know, in the nicest way possible, when I get in the way of that goal.
This utter lack of diversity is gross. It is inexcusable. And it is really, really embarrassing. Book Expo America is the industry’s flagship event, and the statement it is making on the industry’s behalf is that we believe that what readers–the kind of devoted, passionate readers who fork over thirty dollars to spend a summer Saturday in a convention center–want out of a book event is an all-white, heavily celebrity line-up. (See Kelly’s piece for a bunch of terrific links to pieces that address the problem of diversity in publishing with greater depth.)
Readers deserve better than this. It is not hard to do better than this. The wonderful, diverse list of books being given out by volunteers all over the country today for World Book Night is proof.
So what happens now? Book Expo will likely respond with another apology and promise to do better. But it’s too late. The damage is done. “We’re sorry” is no longer acceptable. It is clear that diversity is not a priority for ReedPop and BEA. Either they are not thinking about it at all, or they are actively choosing against diversity because they believe they can make more money with an all-white line-up. These are not our values at Book Riot, and so we will not be supporting, promoting, participating in, covering, or encouraging our community to attend BookCon. We can’t control ReedPop and BEA’s choices, but we can control this. No diversity = no support.
Maya Angelou famously said, “When you know better, you do better.” Book Expo America and ReedPop should know better. It’s time for them to do better, and to do better from the start.
Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities’ being denied access to the political process.
Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter what neighborhood he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’
The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.
For all of those writers out there who worry about writing diversity, this is how it’s done! Ryan Graudin’s THE WALLED CITY is set in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City and has 3 Asian main characters and it is BRILLIANT! It is not out until November but you can start preordering it. This is the way to write diverse characters. This is the way to write a brilliant story! Mark it on your lists and don’t miss it!!There are three rules in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. Right now, my life depends completely on the first. Run, run, run.Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live in the Walled City, a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. Teens there traffic drugs or work in brothels—or, like Jin, hide under the radar. But when Dai offers Jin a chance to find her lost sister, Mei Yee, she begins a breathtaking race against the clock to escape the Walled City itself.- See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/ryan-graudin/the-walled-city/9780316405058/#desc
This utter lack of diversity is gross. It is inexcusable. And it is really, really embarrassing. Book Expo America is the industry’s flagship event, and the statement it is making on the industry’s behalf is that we believe that what readers–the kind of devoted, passionate readers who fork over thirty dollars to spend a summer Saturday in a convention center–want out of a book event is an all-white, heavily celebrity line-up…
#thingswithmorepeopleofcolorthanbookcon on twitter
Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star–in Bollywood! Now she’s traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India’s most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.[Image and summary via Goodreads]
Review: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood is a fun, light-hearted middle grade read. Abby’s upbeat narration, complete with a violin soundtrack in her head, makes the story worth reading. Her adventures travelling to meet her father are richly detailed and entertaining. It would have been nice if the other characters had been more fleshed out, and Abby’s biracial identity expanded upon, but still — definitely worth a read.
Recommendation: Get it soon!
I’m not advocating for silence, but for a restructuring of how we think about those of us underrepresented in the young adult publishing community. Instead of thinking of us as people that need to be lifted up or spoken for, consider us equals and the people who should be driving this conversation, instead of just grateful to sit at the table.