Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The "White Mind"

ETA: the link to O'brien's article should work now - sorry about that.

Here's an interesting post on the concept of "White Mind" (as relates to children's writing/publishing) by Anne Sibley O'brien. The article is in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Here's a quote:
"We belong to a field full of well-meaning people who care about children. If asked, most would surely agree with poet Lucille Clifton (Some of the Days of Everett Anderson) that “the literature of America should reflect the children of America.” I have never met an aficionado of children’s books who I can imagine wanting those books to misrepresent, marginalize or render invisible whole groups of our nation’s children.
So how can it be that in 2010, this is where we find ourselves:
  • The percentage of published children’s books featuring characters of color is far smaller than - perhaps less than half - the percentage of people of color in the U.S. population, and the majority of these books are still created by white writers and illustrators.
  • Many of the most popular book series, particularly in fantasy, have no significant characters of color at all.
  • Cases of “whitewashing” book jackets, of editors requesting that an author erase a character’s ethnicity so that a book “can reach a larger audience,” of booksellers or librarians passing on certain titles because “our community doesn’t respond to those kinds of books,” suggest an assumption that white readers won’t respond to characters of color."
 And then this:
"[White Mind is] part of the explanation for how scores of thoughtful white writers could create so many books with no significant characters of color, or how so few manuscripts by and about people of color get accepted. It’s one of the reasons why our children’s book conferences and conventions are overwhelmingly white, and why I might walk out of a bookstore or library with a stack of picture books, not even noticing that not a single one of them starred children of color.
From writing and illustrating to hiring publishing staff, editing and marketing to selling, buying and reviewing, White Mind affects children’s books today. Unless we become aware of and develop strategies to directly challenge these patterns, white norms will continue to prevail." [Emphasis hers.]
The article reminds me just a bit of Peggy McIntosh's brilliant essay, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" but is specific to children's publishing. Worth a read.