“People want to read about themselves. But if you never see yourself in a book, what does that tell you about how you are valued? You’re not,” Koss says. “We still have a long way to go. Seeing diverse populations in children’s literature needs to become the norm, not the exception.”That seems straightforward enough. It's possible, however, to over-analyze.
Thirty-two percent of primary cultures and 27 percent of secondary cultures depicted were “culturally neutral,” portraying multicultural faces or characters from minority groups without offering insights about those cultures or their traditions. Many of those characters are kept in the background or only to support the white characters.Yes, if you walk into a store and you find something that interests you, that's privilege.
While the numbers came as no surprise to Koss, her research confirms that “children’s literature is not authentically portraying our multiethnic world” and that “white privilege is apparent in the creation of publication of contemporary picture books.”
Let's take that seriously. Walk into your local HObbyshop and look at the model trains. You're likely to find Athearn products, or whatever else sells in HO these days. Ask about O Scale, and you might be directed to a few boxes of Lionel, or informed that nobody makes it any more. I suppose if I had the right culture-studies chops, I could put together an ethnography of HO Hegemony, and even offer an argument that HObby begins with HO is part of the system of oppression.
Unlike the model railroad world, however, there are Influential People who would like to diversify the picture books. And we have market tests for that.
[W]e know the difference we all can make in purchasing and sharing books by people of color in our professional and personal lives. Sales matter to publishing. The books themselves matter to children and teens, who deserve to see the rich diversity of their lives and the world in which they live reflected in the books around them each and every day.Would that Professor Koss grasped the point.
Because publishers don’t expect big profits from diverse books, few are made available. And because few are for sale, few are sold, creating an endless supply-and-demand conundrum. “If the books aren’t out there, no one can buy them,” Koss says.That's the same supply-and-demand conundrum that there are no internal combustion automobiles because there are no fuelling points. Oh, wait....
Ninety percent of the 2012 authors and 83 percent of the illustrators were white; blacks accounted for only 5 percent and 6 percent respectively. As a result, “counter-stories” – telling stories that challenge myths or illuminate rarely told stories of non-white populations – are “largely absent, excluding the voices and viewpoints of diverse people.”Write the best books they can. What a concept. But that's not how the Perpetually Aggrieved roll. Check out the Teaching for Change 2015 Summer Reading List. Guaranteed to turn your kid into Mattress Girl, or to have her downloading Ann Coulter to sneak a peek at after lights-out. But inevitably, that's how the Perpetually Aggrieved roll. There has to be something oppressive about the hues of steam and diesel locomotives in the Thomas the Tank Engine series: never mind that the British railways painted steamers green and red and blue and purple(!) and the diesels black.
Publishing house executives are beginning to look more closely at the diversity within their administrative and production ranks, she says.
Meanwhile, the themes of many culturally diverse children’s books fall into expected categories: African-American plots about the civil rights movement, for example, or Hispanic stories about migrant farm workers.
“All books should be multicultural and diverse. We need to have books that are good books that just happen to have diverse characters,” Koss says, adding that authors should “write the best books they can for the reasons they need to write them.”
So mote it be with good stories for children. Write a good yarn, about whatever, and take advantage of the marketing opportunities virtual space offers. (If the story isn't overtly preachy, it's likely to sell to parents. School districts will snap up the preachy stuff.)