I loved loved to read books growing up. I was the happiest little thing with my comic books, (Tintin, Asterix) and my pre-teen books, Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High etc. I would get beyond excited, like an unpopular girl finally allowed to the dance if there was a chance that the girl that was just described in my read of the week; brown skin, curly hair, was a girl just like me. I would picture her and think it was me. I loved DC and Marvel comics and obsessed over the X-men series, maybe more than the rest because even though I didn’t have any superpowers, maybe I could, because there was a strong character like Storm- beautiful, warrior, African.
It happened with everything; with books, magazines, movies, TV. Like when Vivica Fox guest starred on Beverly Hills 90210 (some of you might remember that) – I remember how major that was. It’s a little telling, that as a young girl, without even realizing it, I was on this search for validation or inclusion. I had this lovely friend in college, who I don’t think was trying to be offensive, asked why there was a need for Black centric magazines like Essence or Ebony. She felt those magazines were more divisive and unnecessary. She felt we were all so above color but I had to remind her that while I could read all the mainstream magazines in the world (and still do), there’s a lot to being a black girl that Cosmopolitan magazine (as an example of many and not to pick on them specifically) did not care to address. What was the right makeup for my complexion, the best products for my hair, my culture, pictures of women who looked like me as beautiful and not mere tokenism, but that’s besides the point. I guess the problem is, we get older, start to understand more about how the world works, and for many of us, you shrug it off, find your space in this world, you keep it moving. But that shouldn’t be the case, especially not for children.
I applaud all writers who strive to be more inclusive in their storytelling and to see that the world and it’s diversity is probably the most amazing and beautiful thing we’ve got going. I realize that our stories will not come from elsewhere, not because they are not possible, but because so much about writing is personal and that most stories about people of color, will come from people of color.
I feel a particular pressure to say support people of color, and I don’t just mean stories for black people by black people. Exposure to the world, to the experiences of others. I think of my nieces and I want them to read it all- I love that there’s Harry Potter, but what about Unoma (if any other West Africans remember this?) or Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. Everyone’s story is important and all children (Asian, Hispanic, Black, White) more than anyone else need to know this because it’s not just a disservice to one group but to all.
This quote from Wesley Yang:
Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible person, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality. An icon of so much that the culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people “who are good at math” and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, conformist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally.
Do you see how easy it would be to change a few words in there and we could be talking about a black boy or a brown boy or anyone from anywhere that we have not taken the time to think of more than at a stereotypical level. Would it help, if as children we had been exposed to more than just generalizations but actual stories of human beings?
I had no intention when I sat down to write this much. In fact, as you might have already noticed, it’s been a little quiet this week on the blog front, just one of those weeks.
So here’s what – in the comments, please share a book about people of color and while children’s books will be preferred, you can share young adult or any books you think young people should be reading… hey we all read Shakespeare in our teens if not earlier for some of you brainiacs out there. Highlight any authors that you think deserve a nod. I would love to compile a list to share.
So happy I wrote this. Wouldn’t have know that one of my faves, God’SFaveShoes is right now writing a children’s book, I can’t wait to see the outcome and another fave, Sharee Kendall Miller, the amazing illustrator and now storyteller recently released her’s on Amazon, please show your support.