Maybe we don’t rant enough

I come from a very politically correct family. My father was the Director of Transportation for a small city system for most of my life growing up and he instilled in me that everything is “political.”

So I’m careful what I say. Careful how I say it. It’s not being duplicitous, it’s understanding that anything you say can and will be held against you – so find a way to say it delicately.

Ask my close friends, I’m known to rant and get things off my chest in some of the most un-PC terms ever. But what I put out there in black and white for all to see…that’s a different story.

I think Doret, the Happy Nappy Bookseller blogger, knows where of I speak because a few weeks ago, she posted this “rant” about how often African American children’s lit is left out during mainstream discussions of kiddielit.

The first sentence in the blog summed up how I feel about a lot of things when it comes to blogging: “I wrote this last night. Slept on it and still wanted to post it, so here it is.”

I do that a lot. I think about whether or not I want to argue with faceless commenters. Whether what I’m about to say will impact sales of my books if I make enemies. Whether my opinions are justified because maybe I’m only looking at one side of the story.

I had these same thoughts when I posted the Oprah Book Club picks. But, in the end, decided that it was worth ranting (albeit low key) about.

Truthfully, I think, on the issue of Af-Am children’s books being excluded from so many mainstream conversations, we don’t rant enough.

But those of us who are a part of the larger children’s lit community walk a line. Like any other professional – we risk alienating ourselves from our peers if we vent too much or too vehemently.

Everything is political.

But Doret brings up another issue, that I think we’re not nearly as honest about – the expectation of inclusion on a mainstream level, when even amongst the niche audience of African American readers we’re not consistently supportive.

Or the flip side – feeling that just because we share a race we’re obligated to “read black.”

It gets messy if you let it.

So most of us just say nothing or rant so quietly you can’t tell it’s a rant.

But Doret’s rant is lovely. Eloquent. Poetic. Honest.

I’d rant more often if I could do it that way.

Paula Chase Hyman is the YA author of the Del Rio Bay series. Her latest release, Flipping The Script (Dafina 2009), is the fifth and final book in the series. She considers herself a double-threat because she can rant and rave.

7 thoughts on “Maybe we don’t rant enough

  1. Audre Lorde said and I’m paraphrasing, your silence won’t protect you so it is better to speak up.

    Yes, among ourselves we are not consistent nor supportive enough. We cannot expect more of others than we are willing to do for ourselves. But our failure does not exonerate others. We need to be equally critical. If you want others to know you’re there- SPEAK UP, all ready.

    I believe in being pragmatic and diplomatic. I also believe in speaking truth. Being politically correct often means being complicit as far as I am concerned.

    I am political. And since I have no career at stake (and I have in the past and spoke up which is why I’m nobody’s corporate golden child), no circle to be excluded from (being on the outside has its advantages), I will stir the pot and make noise when silence is choking off the life source.

    I read Doret’s post last week. Commented to it and wrote about it on my own site. Writing is speaking and speaking is action. We need to act more.

    Change requires action.

    I am not advocating that writers of color be reckless, but to borrow a phrase, I’d like to see a few grow a pair. Your silence will not sell your books. Those who don’t take you seriously, who do not respect you, do not acknowledge what you contribute, will not think better of you for being silent. Good behavior will not get you into the club.

    And speaking about how we fail to do all we can to support writers of colors and fellow bloggers, I implore those of you who do not already, to make a concerted effort to stretch a little more. Leave your islands and be visible and active on fellow writers’ and readers’ blogs. Show up on your supporters’ blogs. Because that’s what your peers are doing. And the majority of teen bloggers who are going ga-ga over their favorite authors and blowing up the blogosphere for the writers they love are doing so because those writers are blog-hopping and emailing, and twitting with their readers and reviewers. If you want the writing gig to be the full-time gig, do like the rest of us who schlep two jobs to realize our dreams.

    And share this last suggestion, a few of us AA bloggers have been lamenting about the absence of teens of color bloggers. Maybe woc writers need to cultivate a cheering squad of your own. Let’s talk about how we can encourage and mentor teen readers to promote writers of color.

    I’ll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for the post, Paula.

  2. Either everything is political, or nothing is — and we know that nothing doesn’t necessarily work.

    I didn’t expect anything from Oprah — at all. So I wasn’t disappointed when she didn’t choose any books with African American authors. Amused that her “people” are so not clued-in to the hot-button word that is “multiculturalism,” but not surprised.

    I hear what’s been said on this blog and others, and realize I’m one of the indicted as not being supportive. So. Thinking about that.

  3. Uh-oh we’re having church up in here. Preach, Susan. LOL

    @Tanita – Are you sure that you’re not being supportive or is it just that you don’t speak out? I think there’s a difference. And there are ways to do it (like supporting BBS and spreading the word on the books we highlight) that don’t have to take much time or be divisive.

    I’ve met many Af Am writers over the years – successful, best selling ones – who are not at all active in the blogosphere. Some proud of the fact. They say it takes too much time. Well I wish I were one of them sometimes b/c being an advocate takes major time. I won’t say it takes it away from my writing, because you must prioritize and juggle and balance. I’m not blogging when I should be writing, ever.

    But yes, the mental bandwidth it takes to advocate and support other bloggers etc…it eats into time that perhaps I should spread a little but more into my dream scaping to prep me for writing.

    However, it’s against my nature not to advocate for something I feel strongly. So I make the time.

    @Susan I admire those who are bluntly vocal. But my father’s political job shaped who I am and I respectfully disagree with politcal correctness equaling being complicit.

    There are ways to get your truth and thoughts out in a political way that still impact.

    And when I talk about ranting decreasing sales I’m not speaking about teen readers. God Bless them, I think they ignore much of the hype anyway. I’m talking about the industry. And make no mistake, the industry is as political as they come. In the end, my big mouth or whispered words, won’t make a hill of beans difference to a publisher if my books are selling. But they must sell, first.

    As I said, it’s a very thin line.

    I don’t apologize for getting on the soap box about brown books. It’s shameful that we have to “force” our way into the mainstream beyond the box they’ve given us to live. But there are other industry issues I quietly side step.

    You know, picking my battles as it were.

    Writing is solitary but the industry is a community and I’ve found that I’ve made good connections and friends in the industry with my quiet force.

    But Doret’s post has made me think about being more forthcoming when something bothers me (industry wise). That and the fact that I’m getting older and when something sticks in my craw, putting it out there helps so I can move on.

  4. That’s funny, Susan–Audre’s words were the first thing that came to my mind, too. I feel like we’re revisiting a familiar debate in liberation struggles–and I think it’s interesting that Paula cites her father as the model for her own activism, b/c he’s from another generation–one that also confronted this issue: radical resistance versus reasoned resistance. Same thing ultimately splintered the civil rights movement…older folks wanted to go slow, be steady, but not express rage or impatience; being morally right was enough for some. But for the younger generation, they wanted power–NOW! And they weren’t afraid of expressing rage, they weren’t willing to be patient or turn the other cheek. In the end–which strategy was most successful? I don’t believe in forcing other people onto your bandwagon. In fact, I don’t like bandwagons at all; I’m not a joiner, and yet I’m frustrated by what seems to be the passivity of a lot of black kidlit people. I think in order to avoid essentialist thinking, we have to accept that there will never be consensus among black writers–we aren’t all cut from the same cloth, so even if we all might benefit from increased activism, everyone won’t be willing to stick their neck out. Let’s face it–if some of the established writers had rocked the boat years ago, things might be different today (better or worse?). What worries me most is what I call “the culture of accommodation,” where black folks (and women in particular) simply make space for the unreasonable amount of B.S. we face every day. My writer friend Olympia Vernon once said, “You’ll finish as you start.” I try to keep that in mind–if you stay silent now, it’ll be that much harder to speak up later. I check in with myself every day to make sure I respect the choices I’m making regarding my writing. Whether or not others approve, I need to know I haven’t compromised myself, my writing, or my readers…

  5. Ugh this is a maddening issue. As a bookseller, I am consistently horrified to go to the shelf and see – well, virtually NO ‘brown books’ – I have Paula’s books, and WD Meyers, Coe Booth and Jacqueline Woodson, and Mitali, and you know, a few others, but sprinkled into the vast snowy landscape that is the YA section, it looks pretty bleak.

    So I’ll try and order more to beef it up… but then, they don’t sell. They just don’t. We can’t keep books in stock if they aren’t selling.

    Obviously part of it is, I’ll be frank, I am in an almost-entirely white part of SF. But also… almost ALL bookstores that I know are in relatively affluent and almost-entirely white neighborhoods. Go to BEA, and you’ll see that the number of white-owned bookstores to brown is like 100 to 1.

    I am not suggesting that any of these bookstore owners is being racist, I am just saying, if you have a white-owned bookstore in a affluent whitey-white suburb or wealthy urb, with mostly-white clientele, it is likely that the books the kids and teens go for, and that sell the most, will lean heavily toward popular big-name fantasy and contemporary “aspirational” YA. Which means that is the stuff that gets ordered in again.

    Argh. I don’t know how to break this cycle, I really don’t.

  6. Jenn, thanks for stopping in and adding a new perspective.

    And a cycle it is.

    Your insight adds a new element to the discussion: how brown books are marketed by the publisher.

    I think brown books fall into limbo, of sorts. Take my book, for example. I wanted it to be marketed as a multi-culti read. But without brown characters on my cover, African American readers (apparently) were less prone to buy it. I felt like maybe the dilemma was “how” do we market the story of these books and not the characters/their race.

    And there simply was no way because, at the heart of it, the books were meant to fill a void in the number of books targeting African American readers.

    Race matters. No it doesn’t. Yes it does. No it doesn’t.

    That’s how the cycle feels for me as the author.


  7. Reading Doret’s post and then seeing Oprah’s lily white list is exactly what led me to post to create a summer reading list with only books for teens of color. Fighting racism in America is a tireless fight. Fighting it with books, with literacy seems like such a simple, easy way to do it. We all like to read books about us but most of us also use books to explore the world around us. We expect most literate folk to do the same!

    I can’t point too many more fingers at what others do without worrying about the ones pointing back at me. What am I doing? OK, I blog. A fairly benign, passive activity! I could reach out more to others in the blogosphere in a non-threatening manner to push books of color. Someone (Susan? Claudia?) mentioned getting our students blogging and writing reviews. Those students should be the diverse audience we want to reach! I’ve been planning a wiki to create a platform to bring together writers, bloggers, reviewers and readers. Conference presentations on diverse literature are always popular because many swear they don’t know how to find our books. There’s more, much more we can and should do, some easy, some not so but all worth it!

    Doret’s post has become quite a powerful rant. Now, what are we gonna do?

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