Thursday, November 09, 2006

I'm On Roll

Someone mentioned to me last week that they are enjoying all the African American books I am writing about lately. She added that she also like to read books that have brown-skinned characters as part of the story, but aren’t particularly about African American history or experience. Books that just make being black a normal part of everyday life. I agree with that, I like to read those books myself and I have always looked for books with brown-skinned characters. But actually the more I have thought about that lately the more uncomfortable with the idea I have become.

As I read these books with an African American historic or cultural emphasis I am realizing all over again that being black is more than just having brown skin. If you are a Black child the world presents in a different way than it does for a White child. You can’t separate the experiences of discrimination and racism from normal, everyday life. So to read my son’s books where the normal little doggy stories and lessons in sharing are the same except for the darker skin of the cute little boys and girls would be missing out on something huge. I am even wondering if it might be glossing over the very real experience of living as an African American.

It is not enough to just try to be “multicultural” and present a diverse playgroup in the story. The Black experience has to be portrayed honestly and that takes a range of literature. I like the baby board books we have that include babies of every skin tone and ethnicity. I like the stories of children like Sam by Ann Herbert Scott and Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, where the children just happen to be Black. But that is not enough. We need to dig deeper and learn a wider view of the world. We all need to know that Black history, because it is our American history. We need the stories that reflect the Black experience in cultural contexts, with all the diversity within those experiences of Blackness (because you know, there isn’t just one way to be Black or one Black experience…). And then of course we need the Asian stories, the Latino stories, the Indian stories…. And on and on.

I want to read books with characters of all colors/races doing their thing, living their lives, being friends or whatever. I also want to read the biographies and poetry and history and fiction that directly confront and name the racism in our lives. Happily that is getting easier. The more I search my library for books on these themes the more I am finding. Yesterday I started pulling more African folktales and I quickly realized that I need to hold off on checking those out because there are too many and my desk is already covered with books I haven’t written up yet. Then there will be the fiction for middle grades and young adult, and then biography and poetry… I think I can be on this theme for the next few months, at least. I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am.

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1 comment:

Amanda/MayhemMama said...

You're right. I need to do a better job with this. Thanks for the reminder.