As the dust settles from ALAMW and the Youth Media Awards it continues to rage around sexual exploitation and shootings. I can’t help but include along with the acts perpetrated by authors, editor, publishers and artists in power those materials those materials that are created for our children.
Books and movies give others access to our minds and imaginations. That’s why African Americans have question representation in children’s books for the past century.
Speaking of Hogan’s Nicodemus and the Little Black Pig (Dutton, 1934), already in its 7th printing by 1936, the New Haven Journal-Courier praised the “pickaninnies” as “altogether delightful,” and The Philadelphia Inquirer declared the books “very good for little readers.” Not everyone, of course, was really taken in. Members of the black community certainly were not. (Mikkelsen p. 118)
What are the messages regarding sexual exploitation in children’s books? If a cishet male feels empowered to verbally or physically violate a colleague, then what ideas are they expressing in their writings?
No, I am not calling for the banning of any media created by anyone accused of inappropriate acts. Their work is probably no more foul than any other on our shelves. As Laura Jimenez stated recently on Twitter “We marinate in “White, straight, able, middle class is normal”! Why wouldn’t we simply reconstruct it?” All of us.
Since these allegations have come to light, I’ve been reading and reviewing material in a new light, haven’t you? Go back to the early years of NCIS, or to the recent Netflix series, Episodes. It will disgust you. I was reading Pointe (Brandi Colbert; Speak, 2015) a YA novel about an African American teen girl whose dear friend, an African American male teen, went missing. He was found six years later and returned home. Throughout the story, the young woman unwittingly drifts from one abusive relationship to another. The signs of disrespect are there in the nicknames she’s given, the suggestive glances and casual innuendos, but she accepts it. She feels as though she’s in control, particularly when she stops eating.
Three weeks ago, I may have read this book differently. In questioning who is empowered in this text, I may have missed the many ways this young girl is disempowered. It’s easy to miss such oppressive acts when neither the reader nor the writer brings an awareness to the text. Perhaps Colbert does bring an awareness, perhaps her writing is intentional. I have not finished the book, nor have I read any interviews with her discussing it. What I have read so far illustrates the point that we’ve all been caught up in this.
This jolt of #metoo has changed the world on a dime, but that change is about more than what occurs in professional work spaces. As we mouth ‘equity’ ‘diversion’ ‘inclusion’ and ‘social justice’, these ideals have to become part of who we are, not just concepts isolated to face to face encounters between oppressed and oppressors. Sorry, my feminist friends, but it’s not just about “men” and “women” but it’s about colonized spaces throughout the landscape.
If we are persistent, if we continue to rebuke the colonizer, we can create a better world for our children. Not only will we provide ALL young people with media that allows them to imagine their place in the world, but they’ll ALL have free and equal access to those spaces. We owe a lot to the women who have spoken out. They did that for themselves as much as for us and for our children and as much for African Americans as for women. I’m a womanist: none of us is free until all of us are free.