Our hearts are heavy at the Mixed-Up Files and in the kidlit community this week, grieving with the family of George Floyd and the anguish playing out across America.
Kidlit Community Always Calls for Justice
In kidlit, when there is injustice and tragedy, we always want to jump in and help. We create auctions to raise money for causes and struggling authors. We speak out on social media and in our books, create hashtags, and call for justice.
Even when we’re not in crisis, we look ahead; we write books shining a light on inequality and then consider how things could be better. We insist on a vision of the future where all children can live in and create a better world than the one we’re giving them, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality.
When it Feels Hopeless
But this week, that work feels hopeless. Our cities are burning. MY city is burning. I used to live in Minneapolis, and before that, I grew up in a college town 40 minutes south of the Twin Cities. And now I live in the DC area, where my mother grew up, and her city is burning too. Every single state in the country has had a protest in the last 24 hours.
Our hearts are breaking, and they’re also hot with the same fury and frustration that is lighting fires everywhere. My mother desegregated her high school back in 1957. She was the first African American girl to march with the drum corps, withstanding the outcry from White parents who threatened to take out their daughters if the Black girl was allowed to march. She and my step-father moved us to Minnesota in the mid-70’s, hoping to raise their children in a place where the color of our skin wouldn’t put us in danger.
And partly, they were right: we never had a knee to the neck. But is that what success looks like? To still be alive in spite of the color of our skin? Is that the best we can do?
Is Minnesota Racist?
Minnesota has always wanted to believe it didn’t have a problem with racism, not with its overall high quality of life and rich cultural arts scene in the Twin Cities. But it did. Covered up under the “we don’t see color” mantra, Minnesota’s racism is insidious and at times, aggressively ignorant.
That said, I want to be clear: my siblings and I have been fortunate to be lifelong friends with groups of White allies. While we did struggle with microaggressions and some outright uglinesses during our years there, we also rejoiced in the support of an educated community that did the work to understand what this is all about and what they can do to help. Our experience with racism has reflected the complexities and nuance embedded in this issue.
Half a century after the Civil Rights Act was signed, this country as a whole still hasn’t done the work. Black people still aren’t safe; we are still taking a knee, we are still asking for equal justice, we are still shouting into the wilderness that #BlackLivesMatter. And now, because no one listened, we are lighting cities on fire.
But I can’t believe that’s going to work either. We can’t keep torching our community, and we can’t let outsiders come in and do it either. They’re taking advantage of the chaos to destroy businesses built over a lifetime, businesses started with life savings, businesses that provide food, medicine, and essentials to people who have made homes in these neighborhoods.
Barack Obama said today: If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.
What Can Kidlit Do Now?
Many of us have felt helpless as we watch endless streams of protest video. But we’re not helpless. Because we at MUF are writers, teachers, parents, and librarians, there is something kidlit can do now. In fact, we are on the front lines of that mission. More than ever now, we must promote books that investigate and envision that higher ethical code. We must support books written by Black authors and encourage others to do the same. We must use our voices every day to insist on more diverse representation in the publishing world: more Black editors and agents. More #ownvoices rather than BIPOC characters written by White people. We must refuse to work with people who do not support this mission.
((For more on the numbers in publishing, see this archived MUF post.))
We Need Diverse Books
Finally, we must get more diverse books in our children’s hands and on library shelves. If we have any hope of their being able to do what we couldn’t: dismantle systemic racism and bring about meaningful change, we must start the conversation now.
Here are some ideas for places to look for diverse books to read with your children, to start conversations, and to use your voice to help all of us emerge from this crucible with a way forward:
- Embrace Race: 31 Books to Support Conversations about Race
- We Need Diverse Books: Where to Find Diverse Books
- Anti-Defamation League: Books Matter
- From the Mixed-Up Files: Diversity in MG Lit (regular blog series)
- African American Literature Book Club: A List of Black-Owned Bookstores
- Kidlit Rally 4 Black Lives: Anti-Racist Resources for Children, Families, and Educators
- Lee and Low Books: Summer Diverse Book List