Monday, October 17, 2016

Currently Watching 10.17.16

Like any good college student trying to simultaneously walk both roads of productivity and procrastination, I am currently watching TED talks. Lots of them.

If anyone knows which Ted this is, I'll love you forever
A majority of the educational speeches given by amazing individuals from across the country (I'm a big fan, these videos are amazing) that I have been watching are about children's literature. Long time knowers of Mike Hidalgo, or perhaps even those who have known me a short while, know that I am a avid fan and reader of children's literature. Like many of you all who come across on this blog, I grew up with reading books as my sanctuary, escape and pastime. And though I quickly outgrew the spectrum of what is considered a "child" I always came back to books that were meant for them, as after all, there is a gold mine of information in them. The ethical guidance, inspiration, beauty and social deconstruction that can be found in them resonates well with me, so much so that I am doing a thesis on familial structures in children's literature this semester. It has been a daunting task (mostly due to balancing the rest of my life with it), but fun and it is what led me to watch a TED talk given by Dr. Brynn Welch, an ethicist who researches and teaches social/political philosophy and ethics. is the link, please watch when you have seventeen minutes to spare.

In it, she discusses the large and often depressing topic of racial diversity in children's books. This topic is near to my heart, and what my thesis was originally intended to be about. Since then it has changed to familial structures and the social reconstruction of family that I believe children's books can provide, but I think that Dr. Welch blends the two topics quite well, as she discusses being the adoptive mother of a three year old son who is black.

She talks about how since his birth (and adoption shortly after) she has hunted tirelessly for literature that she can read with him that features children that look like him. Her search has been borderline futile, which a few works graciously published here and there, though this shouldn't even be a search that is needed at all. Growing up and seldom seeing pictures of themselves in literature or other forms of media can have a truly negative effect of a child's self-image and self-worth. If one type of person is seen as the default person/character, someone who does not look this default person, especially one who is young and impressionable, can grow up believing themselves to be inferior.

I remember even as a young child feeling like my skin color somehow held me back, like I was naturally uglier because I was a displeasing shade of brown. I remember blaming my Hispanic heritage on why my family grew up in a small, one bedroom apartment with no cable or computer, while my white, best friend four blocks away lived in a house with a backyard, pool and all the technology he could ungratefully ask for. Now, there is the whole issue of classism, and many other factors that could lead to racist tendencies in our society and a negative self-image of one's own skin color, but media plays such a huge part. It is both a cause, and an effect, adding to the self-fulfilling prophecy that some people are naturally better than other people. And for a child, the literature that they read - the literature that was made for them - can be wildly influential.
Apparently a car is 12 times more likely to be in a children's book in this country than a person of indigenous decent
Please take a moment to let the above graphic resonate with you. How does this really make you feel? And this isn't even the worse part, in my opinion.

In can be chalked up to many things, including a lack of people of color given publishing opportunities, as to why there are so few children's books about minorities. That being said, the ones that are have a high chance of being misrepresentative of a race or stereotyped. 

PLEASE watch the video from the 7:20 mark - 10:10 mark. Please. In it, Dr. Welch discusses how she went to purchase a book from a series called "Ordinary People Changed the World." At first delighted by the prospect of buying the first book she saw, a book about Jackie Robinson, she hesitated when seeing that the book next to it from the series was about Albert Einstein. 

Upon further research, she learned that the only three books this series had about black people were the ones on Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. Meanwhile, the books on white people included doctors, pilots, scientists and many other influential people of various occupations. As she puts it, according to this series, and the general narrative that is all too often accepted, the only time we tell the story about a person of color, is when that story is about their color. And that, is powerful. Powerful, and sad. 

Dr. Welch suggests helping fight against this by buying children's literature that is about people of color depicted as they should be - in beautiful stories doing a host of different things - and there is this type of literature out there though scarce. And I agree to this, but I would take it a step further and say we must fight to have more people of color be able to publish and given these opportunities to share many different stories. As the Sliding Door Theory, a theory perpetuated and taught by self-published author Zetta Eliot amongst others, suggests - we can not just have a window in our literature that only shows other worlds but never our own. Neither can we have only a mirror in our literature where we see ourselves, but never others. Our literature, especially the literature of our children, should be a sliding door. One that allows us to travel to the many worlds that exist. One that allows us to learn about all peoples, and not consider the people that we belong to as inferior or superior. We need diversity in children's literature. Because as I will be arguing in my thesis, I believe children's literature can deconstruct many things about our society. And the more diversity, racial acceptance and social equity is taught to our children, the better I believe they will be in the long run for the future, no matter what color, race, sexual orientation or class they are. 

As I always say, from the pages of a children's book, stay golden.


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