CALawMama's Blog

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Experiences at the interface of life, law, and motherhood in Cali

Time in Slow Motion

Baby #4 joined our family at the end of last month, and ever since, it seems as though everything moves in slow motion, except for his growth, which is too quickly!

It seriously takes forever to get anything done or go anywhere. The upside is that it requires all of us to be a little more patient, but the down side is I don’t anticipate ever being on time anywhere ever again.

In the vein of posting smaller topics that are piquing my interest, this morning I came across this article by the New York Times. Essentially, it expands on this fact:

Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.

Although I had the pleasure of taking a Multicultural Literature class as an undergraduate (offered through CSUMB–which I highly recommend, great prof and great selections), these days, perhaps obviously, more than a substantial proportion of my time is spent in reading (or being read to by my 6 year old) children’s books.

We do make an effort to check out a wide variety of books, in fact our amazing library system allows each cardholder to check out a total of 50 materials per visit. Due to the insanity that is a trip to the library, I try to stock up, so to speak.

That being said, unless we deliberately check out materials on particular holidays, celebrations, cultural events, or historical events, the cultural monotony is blatantly obvious. We have the blessing of being a part of the PJ Library, so that our children each receive a free Jewish themed book, or occasional CD/DVD every month, otherwise even Jewish characters are noticeably absent. Although, I suppose one could argue that absent a Jewish themed storyline, Jewish characters don’t necessarily have an obvious outward appearance to suggest that they are not merely Caucasian. I will say, Abuelo y Los Tres Osos is one of my kids favorites, but I’d venture to guess that it’s a rare non-Hispanic family that owns or checks out from the library Spanish language children’s books–Huevos Verdes con Jamon non withstanding.

My guess as to why there are so few characters of color, and I am assuming that this study means not only African Americans, but also Latinos, Asians, Middle Easterners, etc., is that the authors and publishers are most likely predominantly white. I have zero evidence to back up this guess, but it is my gut feeling. It would make sense, from a self identification perspective, that authors and illustrators draw the characters that they most closely identify with. I would also venture to guess that those types of authors may be accused of lacking the cultural sensitivities necessary to convey stories representing a particular group with which they are unfamiliar with. I believe this is one of the criticisms regarding cross racial adoption. Speaking honestly, the issues that families and individuals face ARE different, and I don’t claim to dispute that.

So what is the solution to this pandemic lack of diverse characters? I suppose it is like any other shortage, we need a more diverse audience producing the books themselves. That sounds naive, even as I type it. I know the publishing industry is a corporate stronghold, and probably incredibly difficult to get a publishing deal– I would further guess that unless you are Mo Willems or Eric Litwin, children’s books aren’t incredibly lucrative.

However, it does matter. This particular article reminds me incredibly of the argument in NurtureShock, of attempting to “insulate” our children from racism by completely neglecting to recognize differences in appearance, in the hopes of making them more culturally sensitive. The problem is that this method typically backfires because kids DO see the difference, and based on their developmental stage may automatically assume that that those who don’t look like them MUST be different, because they have not been told that appearance is not an indicator of really anything other than outward anatomy.

WDYT?

Filed under: Children's Books, Parenting, , , , , , ,

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