SundayMorningReads

Queer black boys need books.

Queer black boys matter.

They exist at the intersection 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.

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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.

full interview http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/large-fears-childrens-book_560ea3b3e4b0dd85030bae51?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices

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.

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“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 chasmracial justiceracial 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.

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40 thoughts on “SundayMorningReads

  1. I am glad to see this Edi. Shining a bright light on White Arse’s (that’s what the Brits say) in the US and elsewhere, is necessary. It shows what we are up against in getting the industry to change.

    It is 5:30 AM on Sunday morning. There were a lot of tweets about Rosoff during the night.

    Social media, I think, prompted CBC Diversity to remove ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS from their post about strong women on Friday. I wonder if discussion of Rosoff will prompt her to respond?

    I suspect that Rosoff”s words are being much-discussed with her and in her circles. Some will rush to defend her. Some will struggle with the words to tell her she screwed up.

    We need more people to shine bright lights on this resistance, and, we need more people to read carefully through classic, popular, and award-winning children’s and young adult books, shining lights on problems in those books.

    • Edi beautifully diagnoses the need to defend the important work of books that make visible all kinds of lives and hearts and desires, that feed a vision of many possibilities for thriving. Many, many of us believe in this work with our hearts and minds and are pursuing it aggressively with our pens and paper. I think that Meg Rosoff, because she does not feel the same urgency, assumes that this work is somehow facile or superficial when it is, as Edi points out, right at the heart of real lives.

      And Debbie, you highlight the real question: can Meg–and the many others who share her views–change? This does not necessarily require that their work be different, only that they expand understanding of others, THEIR world, and THEIR work.

      Make no mistake: white privilege needs to be surfaced and marked as pernicious. But I hope that Meg can hear beyond the frustration and anger in the backlash to recognize the truth she’s being called to contend with. I hope that, in my son Liam Miguel’s language, today will be the day that Meg “grows her heart” through generosity and empathy.

  2. This is an excellent response.
    One of the great things about social media is that it’s a tool for regulation. Our world is changing and its hard to keep up because everything happens so fast and because change is hard, but responses like this educate–if you are interested at all in the natural evolution of a society. And should children’s literature be conservative? Really? How dull.

    • Social Media is a tool for regulation? I was under the impression it was a way for people who would otherwise never meet to get to expand their circle of friends and acquaintances! Me thinks you have an over inflated opinion of yourself if you think you can regulate anything I think, say, or do. As far as demanding every author or artist only works for your approval or having no opinion that descents with yours, you need a reality check. Try telling this to ISIL in person!

  3. Thanks, Ladies. I saw about an hour’s worth of conversation on Twitter. It was filled with anger and dismay. A few voices were trying to rally us forward because this isn’t new. FB still has only a few responses to the original comments and that’s fine. This pointless one on one conversation? battle? knocks the wind out of your sails. I suppose it won’ t be long before the trolls arrive to fight a good fight for bad reasons. She did chime in one last time of FB in such a determined, privileged voice. Bless her heart. What do I want from her? Certainly not a forced apology. To be heard would be nice. But, I think her words have been enough. I want nothing from her.

  4. Only white people (like me) have the luxury of thinking our stories don’t reflect an agenda. Everyone ELSE has an agenda… white people are just DEFAULT. That’s the thing about the perpetual motion machine that is white privilege… it requires tremendous energy to interrupt, and no energy at all to keep on chugging.
    Thank you for lifting this book, Edi, (it’s going right on my wishlist) and to everyone who is naming Meg Rosoff’s white dominance for what it is.

  5. Excellent post here. Rosoff saying “that’s not what books are for” just shows how high of a horse she is on. Books are for whatever the author wants to write between the front and back cover. If I want to write about gay rainbow colored unicorns then guess what I’m going to write about?

    If what you write gives you enjoyment in writing it then someone out there will enjoy reading it and possibly relate to the characters in some way. Everything else is background noise.

  6. I just…I have NO words for the WTFery of Rosoff’s views. And she even contradicts her own words. She says that “Books do not have a ‘job.'” THEN in the next sentence she says, “Books are to teach kids about the world, about being different or being brave.”

    Well, which IS it? It certainly sounds like that IS a job.

    Why is she so against a book about a queer black boy? It is teaching kids about being different and brave, according to her the definition of what a book IS.

    I’m putting Large Fears on my buy list, and adding Rosoff to my DNB list. Rosoff isn’t just wrong, she’s DANGEROUSLY wrong. Kids NEED books that reflect THEM and their situations.

  7. Huh. I just Googled “Meg Rosoff diversity” to find this bc I’d only seen allusions on Twitter. But actually the first result was a 2014 post from the WNDB Tumblr with this quote from her:

    “Kids need to be able to see themselves. For kids to feel a part of society, they need to feel they have a place.”

    I’d like to ask her what’s changed!

  8. I’m late to the discussion and appalled by Meg Rosoff’s comments on so many levels. She’s like a noblewoman on her high horse aiming gratuitous kicks at the peasants. I think she’s perfectly aware of her privilege and position and has gone out of her way to bludgeon a fellow writer whose work and life she does not respect. I would have ordered Myles Johnson’s book anyway because I would like to understand the experiences of boys like Jeremiah and so would my daughter, who’s a teacher apprentice in a diverse second grade classroom. Now I will buy it and make sure other people I know buy it is well. As far as Rosoff, it will be hard for me to appreciate her work in the same way, knowing how little respect she has for those outside her privileged world.

  9. What an ugly thing for Meg Rosoff to say. Classic privilege to assume that everyone has the luck to see their identity validated all the time, everywhere. On whose Facebook did that conversation take place? Whitesplaining makes me so sad and so frustrated.

  10. Ugh and ugh. Thanks for this post, Edi, and for highlight the book in your first one. What a storm from her incomprehensible response. Sometimes I feel like you can speak the same language (English) but really NOT speak the same language. A big hug chasm of a divide…

    • The conversation continues today. i’m glad it is a conversation. Yes, there is a huge chasm in the language! And the book continues to sell. The only other win would be if someone else who ignores these conversations has been pulled in.

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