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Racism? You Don’t Say?

A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.

Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.

Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is  half-Black and half-Hispanic.

spider-man-miles-morales-peter-parker

I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)

Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.

Two main “no-no’s” are:

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.

My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”

I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year.  Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!

A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”

we need diverse books3

BINGO!

And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.

Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. 🙂

The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.

Now, back to the main topic.

In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes.  A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.

Uh, no. Just no.

weneeddiversebooksbecause

Yes, indeed. 🙂

When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)

We Need Diverse Authors

About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:

monk-logo

Back then, there were no cross-genres.

mixedupauthor

Dear heart, weep not. Tis 2017 and we live and breathe for literary mashups such as yours. 🙂

No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.

So books like this:

black romance

 

 

 

or this . . . romance_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.

A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!

libraryintegration

A Japanese author, a Black author, a White author, and even a Native American author all on one shelf! 😀 And all different genres! Ha! Impressive. 

Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.

In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:

  • Executive Level
  • Editorial Dept.
  • Sales Dept.
  • Marketing & Publicity Dept.
  • Book Reviewers

Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?

While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American — experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:

  • Mira Jacob, young author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, shared a powerful speech about her struggles as an (East) Indian woman dealing with ignorance and prejudice in the publishing industry. A MUST READ!
  • Jenny Zhang shares how a white poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, used a Chinese pen name, Yi Fen Chou.
  • Paul Langan, a white novelist writes popular series about Black students growing up in an Urban setting.
  • Brandon Tensley discusses America’s Problem With Writers of Color.
  • PP Wong, author and editor shares how many times her novel was rejected. One of the reasons is really, really, really stupid. And clandestinely racist.
  • Phenderson Clark, speculative fiction writer of Afro-Caribbean descent draws back the curtain regarding racism against fellow Black authors (and the lack of characters) in the science fiction and fantasy community.

To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?

Like I said before, I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.

I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves.  In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.

This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:

So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is “always trying to diversify our staff,” he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were “excellent” in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”

Dude, there’s no need for tokenism! What a cop out!

There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.

It only takes one to turn the tide.

The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.

I'mnotatrend

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

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Quotes to Write By – Day 11

Today’s quote comes from Mildred D. Taylor, author of award-winning middle-grade titles such as, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”, “The Gold Cadillac” (which I need to read), and “The Road to Memphis”, which is one of my own personal top ten coming of age books. 🙂

The following quote is not my way of criticizing anyone who takes pride in their skin color and I hope anyone that does that considers if that pride is something that they had control or a choice over. And if the answer is “no”, then what’s there to be proud about? In other words, I know about the Black Pride movement and that it was an answer to Blacks celebrating their achievements in spite of  and not because of an imperfect, ignorant, and young country that they lived in, but weren’t treated as members of.

I’m not ashamed of being Black. I wasn’t able to choose my skin color while I counted my toes and fingers in my mother’s womb, waiting to be born. However, I did accomplish a lot as a single mother, a teacher, and so much more. And for those achievements, I am proud of them because it’s what I chose to do with the life that God has given me. 🙂

Quote #11

mildreddtaylor

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quotes to Write By – Day 8

Today’s quote comes from my most recent accomplishment.

I wrote my second picture book. My first picture book was called “Abigail and the Butterfly Masquerade.” I’ve never submitted it and may self-publish it someday or submit it to a publishing house.

This most recent attempt at writing a picture book was a lot of fun and really hard. Why? Because the word count limit is 1500 words. It took me three days to complete the first draft. 🙂 The first day I did a lot of research learning about the Japanese tea ceremony since the narrator is an eleven-year-old half-Japanese girl. I think that diverse books are important and that we need more of them and that’s why a lot of my books will include more and more authentic and multicultural characters. Day two, I gave the first half of the draft to three readers. Two are adults (one is Japanese) and the third person is a student who could relate to the story.

For this first draft, I’m torn between two title ideas: “Love Song” or “Ichi-go Ichi-e“. As I revise this draft and make it stronger, leaner, and sweeter I hope that I can settle on the best one. 🙂

Will Shetterly

Will Shetterly

Quote #8

“It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.”

Will Shetterly

Cultural Appreciation, Please?

 

Cultural appropriation_disturbing

Dear America (not just white people), can we appreciate and respect each other in a genuine manner? Can we learn what other people’s cultures consists of and not do “our own thing?”

Some time ago another blogger, the talented and charming, Jess of Daring to Jess invited me to write a post about cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation. I was more than happy to do it. But, I wanted to get it right. I wanted to give this important and provocative subject justice.

So, here we go.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. … Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating culture, or even as a form of desecration.

Desecration. A word like that made me think of one of my favorite RPGs, Dragon Age where mages (magic users for the uninitiated) can enter unholy covenants with demons and transform into tainted, demonic abominations.

morrigan.

Obviously, the word desecration let’s you know, dear reader, that cultural appropriation has a negative connotation and for good reason.

Cultural appropriation is like treating other people’s cultures like an all-you-can eat and not all-you-can stay buffet, picking and choosing which parts of a culture you want to take part in. It’s superficial. It’s shallow. It’s not a good look.

Why? Because you cheat yourself into not getting to know the people of said culture; being ignorant of who they are as individuals; lacking the culture’s history; its struggles, its beauty; its mistakes; its successes; etc.

Likewise, cultural appropriation isn’t looking at a culture’s multifaceted parts. Instead, it’s a practice of using bits and pieces of that culture as a fashion statement. Which is just plain tacky . . . or plain creepy like a study in the twisted doctor Frankenstein stitching the pieces of dead body parts to create his “masterpiece” or monster.

frankenstein

Oooh. Who does your hair? It’s electrifying!

But I have digressed . . .

Some examples of cultural appropriation are:

kat

Pop singer Katy Perry dressed as a geisha.

Oh yes. I went there. Popular singers and actresses like Katy Perry and even Destiny’s Child (before Beyonce went solo) have sported kimonos and fetishized the geisha of Japan. Have these women — especially Katy Perry — considered how harmful it is for Asian women to fetishize the stereotype of the submissive and sexually exploit them for entertainment?

destinygeishacrap

*Face palm. どうして?(Japanese for “Why”?)

The question is, do these women even know what purpose the clothing and hairstyles serve? Do they care? Do they even know what the heck a geisha is? And is knowing important? Damn straight it is! Ask G.I. Joe.

the_battle-

G.I. Joe: Knowing is half the battle.

 

 

 

 

Other cultural appropriation examples are wearing a hijab or cornrows in a selfie and posting these egocentric and annoying photos on Instagram because you think it’s cute or cool or whatever. However, people who naturally wear this attire aren’t immune to micro-aggressions that the “fashionistas” get praised for whilst sitting at home taking more selfies in the safety of their bedroom or bathroom.

jennerisannoying

Uh. No.

 

 

Basically, a Muslim woman may face or have to deal with dirty looks as she shops for groceries or a Black woman who rocks cornrows will be sent home from work because her hairstyle isn’t considered “professional”. Even worse and more annoying is that people who play dress up with another person’s culture don’t even know why the culture they’re imitating has these types of hairstyles or clothes. Nor do they care to know! It’s arrogance in ignorance and I don’t understand why people love it so much! With search engines like Google at their fingertips, they couldn’t think to look up why people dress the way they do and why? Sheesh. I think maybe I’m asking too much . . .

For example, Black women have been rocking cornrows for decades. Historically, cornrows or braids, also called cane rows in the Caribbean, are an ancient traditional African style of hair grooming, in which the hair is braided very close to the scalp, using an underhand, upward motion to produce a continuous, raised row.

However, when white women like Bo Derek, Kylie Jenner, et al come along – then suddenly everyone loses their effing minds! Headlines declare, “Blah-blah or so-and-so has broken the Internet after doing such-and-such!” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/9-times-white-people-have-appropriated-black-hairstyles-since-2014_us_55a81211e4b0896514d0c3ca). Commenting viewers think it’s stylish, they think it’s beautiful, they think it’s oh-so effing amazing.

How often are Black women mentioned for the beauty of their hairstyles, the versatility of their hair by non-Black people? We’re often our own cheerleaders.

#FACT, motherduckers!

Cultural appropriation  FLASH-ATTACK! (HADOUKEN):

In some predominantly white-audience magazines, Bantu knots are ignorantly called minibuns.

No minibuns

Hmmm. Just tell the truth. Bantu Knots came from south Africa’s Zulu tribe and God forbid if Whites knew that they’d refuse the hair-do, right? (#sarcasm)

Uh, no. Just no.

 

bantuknots

Black women often wear Bantu knots as a protective style. Click and learn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about the culture the hairstyle came from? Anybody heard of Africa? You know, the continent with over 50 countries and such diversity and history that its beauty could fill scores and scores of books? The hairstyle is also popular in Jamaica where my mum is from. After you wash your hair, you part your hair and then simply twist the hair (two parts — not three) and then knot it around to lock it in place. It can stay in place for days or more and when you untwist the knot, the hair falls in a lovely manner!

bantuknotsout

Bantu knots undone. Beautiful!

 

 

getoutThe social thriller movie, “Get Out”, written by Peele (the other half of the dynamic comedy duo, Key and Peele) is a perfect example of cultural appropriation on steroids. I’ll discuss those juicy tidbits either on another blog post or on my Youtube channel, Monique Monique, Quite Unique. 🙂 *rubs hands and giggles mischievously*.

Now, for the sake of argument, I shall play Devil’s advocate.

devils-advocate

Sometimes our own perception of potential problems does not connect with reality due to a gap.

While browsing the Internet and all of its many wormholes, I noticed a comment by a White woman who pointed out that it’s not fair that Whites are often criticized for being cultural appropriation villains when non-Whites (particularly Black women) have committed crimes by appropriating White women’s hair. I considered responding to her lament, but fortunately another commentator, Tamika Mustipher, beat me to it. And I’m so glad she did because she was more patient than I would have been and I don’t think my response would have been as clear as Tamika’s.

Below is her explanation in all of its absolutely fabulous glory:

“Agreed! Overuse of heat appliances on hair does cause damage, regardless of ethnicity. I have to disagree with your idea “that cultural appropriation is what they call it when White girls wear cornrows” though. The problem with that statement is that it is far too broad and insinuates that every Black woman is concerned with the ways in which White women style themselves. Let me tell you, that couldn’t be further from the truth because I do not care what you or any other woman does with her hair. Yes, there are some who gripe about cultural appropriation, because it is a very real thing but in my opinion the insult of it is far more profound than hair. A Black woman wearing straightened hair or extensions is not necessarily trying to “be White”, just as a White woman wearing cornrows is necessarily trying to “be Black.” Riddle me this; was Bo Derek trying to be Black when she wore cornrows? No. She was a woman, working. Was Nicole Kidman, who admitted that she “ruined” her curls by heat straightening trying to be “more White” by straightening her locks? No. She simply preferred straighter hair. As I said above, and I’ll say again, we as women should be able to style our hair as we wish without negative commentary and attacks from anyone, ESPECIALLY other women.
As for your statement regarding Black women walking around with beautiful jet Black hair straighter than yours, and demanding that they stop trying to be White, have you taken the time to consider that perhaps your look may not be the look they are going for at all? In all my years, I haven’t seen very many White women with naturally, jet black, straight hair. In fact, it’s actually a look that is more specific to the Natives. Another fact is that African and Native Americans have shared a rich history, as many runaway slaves were harbored by Natives and intermarried, etc. With that said, consider the idea that many Black women are not thinking about trying to emulate White women at all, and simply find indigenous beauty admirable.

Thank you, Tamika, for letting me use your words! 🙂

Dear America, cultural appreciation is a beautiful thing to experience!

When I traveled to Japan as a Sister Cities International ambassador, I made sure that I was respectful to the native family I lived with; the native students I taught; and the people I encountered by:

  • Slurping my ramen noodles (real ramen – not that packaged crap)
  • Bathing in a public bath. I embraced Japanese culture even though I was freaked out about bathing where other people could see me! Eeeek!
  • Wearing a kimono for parties/celebrations (not pretending to be a geisha)
  • Taking my shoes off and slipping my feet into uwabaki (上履き)
  • Whatever the family ate that day, I did too. Why? Because I appreciated their culture! I had traveled to the other side of the planet and I wasn’t going to waste my time eating McDonald’s when I could feast on delicacies like okonomiyaki, tempura (which is actually from Portugal, but Japan adopted it to their list of yummy foods). 🙂
  • Speaking the language! If I didn’t know how to say something in Japanese, I asked in Japanese, “Nanto ii masuka?” __ にほんご なん いいます か。
    __ wa nihongo de nan to iimasu ka? How do I say __ in Japanese? Why? Because I appreciate the culture! I said that phrase so many times, I still remember it to this day.
  • I’m still friends with the Japanese couple I lived with!

And that finally bullet is key. I love building connections, cultivating relationships, and making friendships that can last a lifetime. I’m also a xenophile and I love learning about different cultures, languages, and people!

moi_kimono

Yours truly wearing a kimono (a gift from my family in Nagano).

 

Isn’t that one of the reasons we’re on this Earth?

So, don’t be ignorant! I challenge you to connect with new people on individual levels and learn something!

Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s plain tacky and tasteless!

#FACT, motherduckers!