The Apartheid of Children’s Literature!

Children of Color Books

Dear Commons Community,

Christopher Myers has an opinion piece in today’s New York Times drawing attention to the paucity of books being published that depict people of color.  Appropriately titled, The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, he cites a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, that concluded that  of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people. Myers comments:

“The mission statements of major publishers are littered with intentions, with their commitments to diversity, to imagination, to multiculturalism, ostensibly to create opportunities for children to learn about and understand their importance in their respective worlds. During my years of making children’s books, I’ve heard editors and publishers bemoan the dismal statistics, and promote this or that program that demonstrates their company’s “commitment to diversity.” With so much reassurance, it is hard to point fingers, but there are numbers and truths that stand in stark contrast to the reassurances. ..

[However] …This apartheid of literature — in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth …creates a gap in the much-written-about sense of self-love that comes from recognizing oneself in a text, from the understanding that your life and lives of people like you are worthy of being told, thought about, discussed and even celebrated.

Academics and educators talk about self-esteem and self-worth when they think of books in this way, as mirrors that affirm readers’ own identities. I believe that this is important, but I wonder if this idea is too adult and self-concerned, imagining young readers as legions of wicked queens asking magic mirrors to affirm that they are indeed “the fairest of them all.”

He concludes:

“… the work lies in the imagination of everyone along the way, the publishers, librarians, teachers, parents, and all of us” to put books depicting people of color into the hands of children.

There is much to be done!



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