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Books Transmit Values

Books transmit valuesI just learned about this event today and wish I could have attended.

The above quote by Walter Dean Myers, a children’s book author and best known for young adult literature reveals a lot about the way I started to feel when I realized that a lot of the books I read didn’t reflect me in a society that claimed to be diverse and tolerant. Myers died on July 1, 2014. And his books are still relevant to the lives of African-Americans. In fact, his YA book, “Monster” is being made into a movie.

xenophile

As you may already know, I’m a xenophile. I absolutely love learning about different cultures, languages, and people! So, it’s no mystery that I grew up loving to read. Reading was (and still is) my gateway to other worlds and food for my ravenously curious mind. One series in particular that I enjoyed reading during my preteen years was “Sweet Valley High”, which focused on two blonde hair and blue-eyed twins named Jessica and Elizabeth. Sweet Valley HighI don’t recall encountering any girls or boys of color within those pages. Besides, the main focal point was on those two twins who were as different as night and day. I loved the often good plotlines. Looking back, some were silly and over-the-top dramatic!

But, come on. It was high school, right?

Yeah, I really did love reading. And when my mother noticed that there weren’t a lot of books that featured characters that looked like we did (dark brown skin) or even came from cultures like ours – (Caribbean/West Indies) she got worried. My mom’s a wise lady. She started giving me books by Mildred D. Taylor. When I got older, she moved onto introducing books with more complex issues. I cried while reading both Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye”. In my high school’s Honors Reading classes, we were assigned to read “Beloved” and to analyze the characters’ motivations. I had no problem realizing that Sethe couldn’t simply be written off as a villainous character. I was hooked! I continued reading the remainder of Mildred D. Taylor’s series about the Logan family’s struggles and accomplishments. beloved2Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Now, back to Myers’ quote. My mother saw a voracious need in me that I couldn’t see. She saw that I needed characters to relate to. Characters that I COULD relate to. Sure, following the antics between twin sisters is entertaining, but the world of Jessica and Elizabeth from Sweet Valley High was as real to me as Barbie in her Malibu home.

Cast so white -- wait, there's a few token nonwhites for good measure

Sweet Valley High cast so white — no, wait! There’s a few token nonwhites thrown in for good measure. 😉

A lot of my students, Latinos and African-Americans are turned off to reading at a young age, and who can blame them? When you analyze the fact and consider that there aren’t many books that reflect their people in a realistic and beautiful way the reasons aren’t so hidden or hard to understand. And let’s not forget authentic as one of the necessary characteristics for diverse books.

The publishing industry knows that people want more diverse books. The rise in Indie authors who circumnavigated the gatekeepers is testimony to that. However, these gatekeepers choose to give us these “gifts” in a manner that cheats us of good, authentic tales. For example, most diverse books that I’ve encountered and enjoyed reading are written by non-POC people (“Full Cicada Moon” and “Seraphina’s Promise”). Regarding “Seraphina’s Promise”, I wondered how different the story would have unfolded if it had come from a Haitian person’s point of view?

Also, both of these books are written in prose. I love poetry. I truly do. But why do these authors have to resort to writing such deliciously complex stories in prose? Did the editors or publishers think that boxing the story within the often pedantic poetic style  would somehow give the illusion that the stories were more . . . dare I use the word — authentic? Soulful? Real? Organic? That prose would magically inject these stories with a je ne sais quoi that often only people who have experienced can personally write. Think of “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. I find it hard to believe that a non-Black person could write that book with the same results. the color purplefull cicada moonSeraphina's Promise

Now, don’t get it twisted (as my students sometimes say). As a Black woman who has written about a 19th century, peach-skinned (well, when he’s been fed the right amount of blood) British vampire and aristocrat I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say that white women or men can’t write from the POV’s of nonwhite characters.

However, if the publishing industry thinks that this practice of exclusively having white people tell the stories of nonwhite characters is okay or is an answer to the desire for diverse books, then that’s ridiculous and needs to change.

Interesting quote

Revealing facts about the lack of diversity in literature.

 

 

It’s almost as if the publishing industry (which is a part of the “media“) want to keep the White Savior myth alive. For example, in the movie Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of three brilliant Black women who were the brains behind one of the greatest NASA operations in history, the director Theodore Melfi fabricated a scene for emotional effect that perpetuates the white savior myth perfectly. You can read more about it here.

White Savior

White Savior complex. Africa today. Asia tomorrow!

Readdressing Myers’ thought-provoking question: What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?

 

pecola breedlove.jpg

Pecola Breedlove of “The Bluest Eye” Learn more here.

The message isn’t a good one and any answers I have will most likely become another blog post. I live in a country that seems to embrace the message of diversity and inclusion when it suits itself.  I’m glad that there has been a rise in diverse books. I’m glad that untold stories and histories of all peoples are being shared. Now I have a question:

What took so damn long?

 

You Might Be Sexist If . . .

dark-girls

According to the documentary Dark Girls: The Story of Color, Gender, and Race (which everyone should watch no matter how much melanin their skin possesses) deep-seated biases and attitudes about skin color – particularly dark skinned women, exist outside of and within the Black American culture. And based on my own experience growing up as a little black girl in the United States of America, I can attest that this phenomenon is shamefully and painfully true.

The reality of this secret (which is no longer much of a secret) and the disgust and anger that I feel about color and race in this country didn’t arise within me until a conversation came up at work in the teacher’s lounge.

I know. I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering what the hell I was doing in the teacher’s lounge, which is often called a cess pool of negativity and where teachers congregate to eat, complain, and vent their unhappiness about school board policy, students, parents, and anything else that pops up. And I ask myself, “Monique, what the hell were you thinking?” Well, I’m trying to be more sociable and when you’re an introvert that often appears to be an extrovert, you have to swallow your fears, your shyness, and grin pretending that you enjoy being amongst people that sometimes make you feel uncomfortable. Besides, when you’re told that you’re as sociable as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, and you don’t realize that the comment is actually an insult, your efforts at “fitting in” increase exponentially.

Basically, the conversation came up when another teacher shared the horrible news that a 14 year old girl had been raped by a 16 year old boy in one of the local middle schools. Another teacher had the audacity to express that some girls this happens to aren’t “completely innocent” of being assaulted and that their behavior had something to do with the assault. In other words, he blamed them for being raped.

doctor_who___dafuq

Dr. Who, would you kindly give us the use of your Tardis so we can manipulate time. You know, so that way readers who didn’t see the offense in the above remark can reread it. The rest of us who realized this utter stupidity the first time have bloody eyes.bloody-eyes

 

 

Well, I’m done with trying to “fit in”.

I’ve been mocked as a “defender of justice”. I’ve been stupidly and unfairly asked to explain WHY things happen in Black society or culture as if I’m the spokesperson for said culture. And politely, I’ve told these people where to take themselves. I’ve been downright PC.

Well, I’m done with being politically correct, damn it!

medea_fed-up

I’m going to tell it plain in this  “rant/epiphany”.

  1. You’re a Racist if you Entertain the Fallacy of Race just like a sadist enjoys inflicting pain, if you even entertain the idea of different races as if human beings are boxed in separate species like dogs and cats!  There are too many people in this country – in this world – that believe they are not racist. However, even individuals who claim not to be racist often possess racist attitudes on an unconscious level. Race is a social construct. There is NO scientific fact that supports it. So, if you’re one of those people that check off what race you are, then yes, you are a racist and need to stop sippin’ the damn Kool-aid. (More on that later in a soon-to-come blog post).
  2. Black Women and Latinas are more than a Big Butt and a Smile. We’re not hypersexual, exotic toys. We’re just like any other women who deserve and demand respect.
  3. Silence=Agreement During the teacher’s lounge discussion that made me lose my appetite, I learned that these men (particularly white men) think that teenage Black and Latina females (ages 14 and younger) are tempting older men with sex. “Come on, these girls DON’T LOOK like kids. They look so much older – 18 or 19 at least. And the way they act makes men want to engage them. So, it’s their fault if anything happens. They’re not COMPLETELY innocent.” And no one, other than myself, countered this “man’s” disgusting opinion. No one. Perhaps, they were shocked. Perhaps, in their disgust they couldn’t speak. Or worse, perhaps they agreed with him because he spoke expressly about Black and Latina girls and not the white girls who they represent. If someone speaks about these kinds of things and you don’t speak up against it, then you’re implying that you agree! Don’t be afraid to speak up because often no one else will!

ALSO, just because these young girls LOOK mature on the outside does NOT MEAN THEY ARE developmentally ready FOR SEX! The phrase “if there’s grass on the field means play ball” is the outcome of a twisted and perverted mindset. The appearance of sexual maturity does NOT give a man (or woman) the right to even entertain the idea of having sex with children. Do I really live in a nation of damned perverts!? If this person had the sense to think about what’s going on inside the minds of these brown-skinned girls (which is also happening now to peach-skinned white girls) then he’d realize that the media has not only oversexualized children, but also brainwashed girls into thinking that their only worth is in their bodies. There is MORE GLORY in these beautiful children than spreading their legs for some f-ing pervert! And how can it be clear that he’s not bringing this destructive mindset into his classroom to the students he teaches on a day-to-day basis. It makes me sick!

I need to take a breather.

pause-button

*Drops the microphone*