Want to read something awesome?
Click over to Reflected Faces by Tanita S. Davis at Hunger Mountain, the Vermont College of Fine Arts journal of the arts.
Davis writes about the "very distorted mirror in which I saw myself as a young adult", where African Americans appeared in history books as victim and never in literature.
While noting that today's classroom is (hopefully!) different, "Present day high school students don’t face quite this same disadvantage. The multicultural landscape has flowered, and varicultured characters have flowed into the mainstream. Young adult fiction has benefited from this largess in the form of characters who have charmed, disgusted, amused, and informed us, and widened our reading world. And yet…. Yet, it still seems as if young people with brown skin are acceptable to ignore, at least in the marketing departments where the Powers That Be have determined that Brown doesn’t equal Buy."
And Davis concludes: "We must discard the assumption that the presence of a minority on a book will confront YA’s with “issues” which they find boring, unpleasant and inconvenient. We must abandon the idea of a “minority issue” as something trivial and strange that has nothing to do with them—or us. Worlds overlap; a true mirror reflects a humanity which shares a commonality of experience regardless of color."
I include so much in case, well, you don't click through. But you really should.
I want to shout: brown on the cover does not mean "minority" issue and does not mean "other." A TRUE MIRROR REFLECTS A HUMANITY WHICH SHARES A COMMONALITY OF EXPERIENCE.
For librarians with communities with brown faces, it's easy: have books which offer that mirror.
For librarians with communities that are white faces, it's easy: realizing that books with brown faces on the cover also offer a mirror.
And for readers.... I say the same thing. Do not assume that minority = issue = boring = nothing to do with me. You know what? I say it's OK if you do think that because we are the sum of our lives and I don't think shaming ("you're WRONG") ever works. What I hope is for the reader to catch themselves as they think that ("oh, THAT'S what they meant by assumptions") and pick up the book they almost passed by and read it. What IS wrong is to continue to have that assumption; to read Davis's essay (and other essays) and to not recognize that assumption is being made.
Disclaimer: I've never met Davis in real life; we are friends online. I am thankful for this essay because it's eloquent; but also because it introduced me to Hunger Mountain which I've never read before.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Thank you very much for the shout-out. I was nervous writing this, not wanting it to seem like I was trying to blame anyone for the lopsided representation of our world in YA books - I wanted people to think, not react. Thank you for thinking. I look forward to meeting you sometime at ALA!
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