I’m thankful for many things this evening. I’m thankful for the medication that relieved my 4am migraine. And I’m so glad I dragged myself to work today because my students really lifted my spirits. We were discussing colorism and we took turns acting out Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith. We shared stories of our own experiences with privilege and prejudice; we reflected on the messages we get from the media and from our families. We talked about body image and eating disorders, and the impulse too many black women have to diminish ourselves in order to please or placate others. Why do so many of us fear that we “take up too much space?” I’m so thankful for the opportunity to teach and learn from my students—and I truly needed to be in the classroom this week because things got a little heated on the blog. When I posted the publishers responsible for the 47 black-authored books that came out in 2011, one editor left an anonymous comment that rubbed me the wrong way. In part because it was the same old, same old (“I don’t consider race when judging a manuscript”) and in part because s/he claimed my methodology was flawed. I responded to her comment and then rallied the troops (thanks to everyone who shared their opinion!), and my good friend Laura Atkins wrote a brilliant response that she has since posted on her own blog. Laura was much more diplomatic than I was and asked the anonymous editor to consider a few things:
…have you considered how you respond to manuscripts based on your own background (not knowing what that background is)? And if this idea is extended, considering that the publishing industry is dominated by people from a white middle-class background (and generally female), then isn’t this going to shape the reactions editors and sales people are having to submissions? Again, Neesha’s post on aesthetics is helpful to read here. As is Cynthia Leitich Smiths’ article, “A Different Drum: Native American Writing” (“Field Notes,” The Horn Book Magazine, July 2002, p. 407). She gives examples of responses she had to her writing, including the use of humor which non-native readers didn’t get, and how she was told that repeating four times was incorrect – it should be three (drawing on fairy tale tropes rather than Cynthia’s cultural traditions). This is a lot of what I wrote about in my essay, “White Privilege in Children’s Publishing,” and I think gets to the heart of the issues with the publishing industry. As long as the people working there don’t reflect the people who live in the country (demographics are shifting, ethnic minorities becoming majorities in some places) – then how can the books published really reflect and speak to children from truly diverse backgrounds?
Laura also posted links to my stats and her response on the Child_Lit list, and one member (thank you, Melynda Huskey) shared a link to an interesting Implicit Association Test that YOU can take to reveal your unconscious assumptions about groups of people who are different than you (race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc.). Academics certainly have their issues, but maybe we need more professors in publishing! I withdrew from the Child_Lit list after hearing crickets whenever I broached the subject of racism in publishing, but I’m grateful that at least some people on the list were willing to respond so thoughtfully to Laura’s post.
I will be grading over Thanksgiving, but I have vowed *not* to grumble as I grade. There’s way too much to be thankful for…