Black Music Month
I’m back in my office on campus and spending even less time online these days so, I’ve not been celebrating the splendor of LGBTQIA+ Month, the sweetness of Black Music Month or the depth of Oceans Month. I am working on a list of 2020/21 BIPOC author LGBTQIA+ books and hope to share that soon.
I wrote that back in 2015 in response to a White person of privilege who wrote “You don’t need to read about a queer black boy to read a book about a marginalised child. The children’s book world is getting far too literal about what “needs” to be represented. You don’t need to read Crime and Punishment to find out about Russian criminals.”
I do need these kinds of windows just as many young people do and young people need mirrors that reflect exactly who they are.
For the 100 years that Black activists have engaged to increase the quantity and quantity of books for Black children, an essential element of that discussion has been the need for more Black authors telling their own stories, something akin to what Corinne Duyvis came to term #ownvoices. The resistance to this has been real and consistent, from claims that ‘they do not read books’ to ‘those books don’t sell’ and ‘they aren’t articulate enough to write their own books’. #WeNeedDiverseBooks revolutionized representation in children’s literature, bringing power to marginalized groups that hadn’t been seen in a very long time. With that power came affirmations for books written by marginalized authors who are also sometimes called ‘diverse’ or ‘#ownvoices’. What we’re seeing here are ways to refer to “other” books, “other” people – those who aren’t White, able-bodied or cis-het. #Ownvoices, despite the intentions of Duyvis, has been problematic for a while. How is speculative fiction #ownvoices? What if a Mexican American author decides to write a story about a Chilean character? Should a lesbian have to out herself so that publishers and reviewers can label her books #ownvoices? This comes so close to Naomi Osaka not wanting to attend press conferences, to have to out her issues with her own mental health for the sake of her career. I wonder how much people of all genders and races in entertainment or adjacent fields should owe the public simply because they’re able to build highly successful careers based on their talent.
Marketing practices for books is a whole other issue, but pertinent here is why the author as an individual is so essential to the marketing of the book? I don’t believe there’s a simply answer to that question.
But, to get back to the problem with #ownvoices, not only trans authors or authors with depression are forced into publicly sharing their identities. You’re very naïve if you think all authors are comfortable sharing their racial or ethnic identity or discussing such matters. When I’m developing my monthly list of book releases, I search to find the racial or ethnic identity of an author and I do this by looking for sources where they self-identify. I don’t rely upon ethnic sounding names or photos. And you know what? It’s not only White authors who can be uncomfortable in stating their identity.
For more specific and threatening situations than these, We Need Diverse Books has decided to stop using #ownvoices in their work. I hope no one confuses this and thinks that having books created by marginalized authors is no longer a priority. It is very much is!!
How will we continue to navigate this? Friends, I think we have to keep talking to each other, continue working together and keep reading to learn our fraught histories to know from where this all comes. I really do think it’s time to break down a wall and actually say that a book is written by a Nigerian American author, a White author or a Puerto Rican author and quite cloaking behind #ownvoices or ‘diverse’.
Be careful with the words you use. I’d like to make the following suggestions.
If you don’t use “Negro” then, don’t use “Caucasian”.
Be careful with umbrella terms. Know that there is no ‘everyone’. When you talk about ‘people’ name which people you mean, tell which people you assume to be in your audience. ‘BIPOC’, ‘IPOC’, ‘marginalized’ and ‘minoritized’ all have very different implications.
Again, I’m not an expert on this. I indulged myself with this space to find a little clarity of my own.
It’s June. I’m so impressed to see books for gay Black boys! Queer Black boys still need books!
Sources to help build a more inclusive vocabulary
The Language of Anti-Racism https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/world-we-want/2020/02/19/antiracism-language
Project Include’s Remote Workplace Report https://medium.com/projectinclude/language-evolves-f343fa1badb4
The Queer Dictionary http://queerdictionary.blogspot.com/