I’m currently reading Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel. “Half fairy. Half human.Half Black When Jazz ruled Chicago.” This is the third book in the American Fairy trilogy and easily stands alone. I should finish soon!
Endings. ALAN just ended as did Grand Jury deliberations in Ferguson.
I’m here in this resort setting in Maryland (no! this is not DC) with an evening to quietly relax with my books. ALAN was low key and quiet this year. I met people I’ve known and supported for years, heard new and different ideas and got a few (47!) new books. Walter Mays did a fabulous job of bringing in a very diverse crew of writers and incorporating authors of various ethnicities, genders, and abilities into panels relevant to every aspect of being a teen.
I think the message I heard most often was that writers must honor the story, not forcing causes or gender or race get into the way and I can buy that. When you’re writing from who you are or more precisely, who your character is, their Blackness or their queerness will be so much a part of them that it will just be there.
Why was it that only Coe Booth, Christopher Paul Curtis and Walter dared mention Ferguson? How can we teach children how to cuss, ignite their sexual curiosity and show them how to come of age while ignoring issues of justice and equality? This is the meat of the call for diversity, and it’s more substantive that simply asking you to see our differences when at the same time I want you to understand our commonalities.
If you’ve heard me present lately, you’ve heard these stories. They’re important.
I have a co-worker who was complaining that her niece is afraid of black men. She wondered what schools are teaching. I suppose we could blame schools who don’t include images of black men in books and in posters in classrooms. But real blame goes to the continued negative way black men are portrayed on the news and in TV shows and movies. Look how often the criminals are Black or Latino. Look how often the military shows have Middle Eastern or Chinese bad guys.
As I was putting together a list of children’s books that had black men as fathers or teachers or other positive role models, it suddenly hit me that this little girl would be afraid of my sons. My kind, wonderful, silly, smart sons. And think of all the other white girls who would be afraid of my sons, and all the boys who would be too. Think of all the police officers who would be afraid of my sons, like Darren Wilson, simply because they don’t know any.
I also think about the social studies teacher from Indiana who had no idea what to do with the kid who was racist to his core and who is learning this hatred from his parents while growing up in an all white town and all white school. Do you think he’s the only little racist growing up there? How does the school teach him any different? Books? It’s kinda like Christopher Paul Curtis said, “books are a start. If we see them as more than that, we’re over reaching.” Coe Booth then talked about her brother who stopped reading in the 5th grade. She writes want he might have read and wonders how different his life would be if he kept reading.
So many others over the course of the workshop– African Americans, Egyptian Americans, transsexuals, those with mental disabilities– all wondered how different their lives might be if they had met themselves in the books they read. Would they have better understood their own struggles? Felt validated? Not lived so much inside their own mind/fears/confusion?
White reads don’t wonder that.
The Furgeson Library is being filled with book donations as they remain a safe haven for the city’s children. Filling it with books about children of color won’t solve all their problems, there is no one solution to societal problems, but finding commonalities in our stories where characters look like the real world and understanding good stories will give us just a little more hope. I have no faith a room of books that is not a world of books. My responsibility is weighing heavy. To look at these things like Ferguson, to be aware of and know about these things and to do nothing? I’ve heard that called ’emotional entertainment’.