Queer black boys need books.
Queer black boys matter.
They exist at the intersections of hope, uncertainty, potential and intolerance with a pin of hatred marking the meeting point.
I was so excited yesterday when my daughter informed me about Large Fears, a new inde book by Myles E. Johnson. Large Fears is the Story of Jeremiah Nebula, a boy whose favorite color is pink. Boys aren’t supposed to like pink, so Jeremiah is not treated well by his classmates. Daydream believer that he is, Jeremiah believes that if he could go to Mars he would be accepted there.
This unique story is filled with attractive graphics and vivid colors. When the Huffington Post asked him about his overarching vision for the project, author Myles E. Johnson stated
The overarching concept and vision for the project is a philosophical one, I suppose. I played with the idea of what is fear. Where does fear come from? What makes fear intensify and what makes fear alleviate? With those questions in my mind, I began to study how the body reacts to fear. Physically, we feel less pain, our eyesight gets sharper, our hearing gets better, and in some cases we can even display almost superhuman strength. The concept of Large Fears is to introduce what I discovered about fear and how the body reacts to it for children, and adults that need the reminder, on a more emotional level. I wanted to suggest that when life gets scary, that is when you get stronger, and more times than not, that’s when you know that what is around the corner is something worthwhile.
I immediately began sharing this book on social media and was pleased with the reception this new author was receiving.
Until Meg Rosoff chimed in.
As stated on her website, “Meg Rosoff is the multi-award winning author of How I Live Now, Just In Case, What I Was, The Bride’s Farewell, There Is No Dog, Moose Baby and Picture Me Gone.” Let me add that she’s White.
“That’s not what books are for.” Queer black boys are not what books are for, says she.
I do need to read about a queer black boy. I do need the children’s book world to be much more literal about what, about who needs to be represented and I need that more than I need to read about self absorbed middle class white kids in apocalyptic England.
I need mirrors like Jeremiah Nebula to remind me that I can face my fears. I need him to remind me how fearfully white the world is and if I need this book as my mirror, then my queer little black boys need books to prop themselves on it like a crutch.
As Debbie Reese responded to Rosoff, “all books have agendas.”
The only agenda queer black boys have is to breathe.
Meg Rosoff’s agenda? To be white. White is a social construct defined “as
a dominant cultural space with enormous political significance, with the purpose to keep others on the margin….white people are not required to explain to others how ‘white’ culture works, because ‘white’ culture is the dominant culture that sets the norms. Everybody else is then compared to that norm….In times of perceived threat, the normative group may well attempt to reassert its normativity by asserting elements of its cultural practice more explicitly and exclusively.”
Whiteness is the intersection of oblivion, power, oppression and advantage with a pin of privilege marking the meeting point. It’s denying queer black boys a space, a breath.
In the same interview, HuffPo asked Johnson
“Why is it important for children to have access to stories like these? What do you want children to take away from Large Fears?”
I think stories of bravery and exploration, especially ones that center on someone we’re not constantly seeing saving the day, is extremely important for children to consume. For children that are less socially privileged and visible, they are given new possibilities for their future. They aren’t just handed a story, but a certain soulfulness is given to disenfranchised people when we are represented.
Unfortunately, none of this is new. Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks of it in Between the World and Me
There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in this moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. This legacy aspires to the shackling of black bodies. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing—race relations,racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling,white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body. And should one live in such a body? What should be our aim beyond meager survival of constant, generational, ongoing battery and assault? I have asked this question all my life. I have sought the answer through my reading and writings, through the music of my youth, through arguments with your grandfather, with your mother. I have searched for answers in nationalist myth, in classrooms, out on the streets, and on other continents. The question is unanswerable, which is not to say futile. The greatest reward of this constant interrogation, of confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from ghosts and myths. And yet I am still afraid.
Young people lack the tools to sustain themselves through this brutality. Jeremiah’s fears and longings made him want to live on Mars. The same fears and longings took my daughter to Atlanta, a larger city with more safe havens. These children, these young people struggle for human dignity, respect and security and she says they don’t need to be in a damn book. Hell yeah, I just bought two more copies.