Some days I feel like the old school griot of The Brown Bookshelf whose only job is to remind folks of the origins. You know? I’m here to remind folks where we started and compare it to where we’ve come. So, in that spirit, I got to thinking that maybe behind-the-scenes publishing is saying of writers of color – look, so what do y’all want anyway?
The question is frustrating at best and insincere at worst because representation is the answer. Always has been the answer. And there are no tricks tied to representation. If I tell you that I want to attend your party, I don’t mean – can I send my neighbor to attend for me? Writers of color want to attend the party AND…now pay close attention, because there is an AND. AND we want to be asked to dance.
Verna Myers, an Inclusion Activist (because we’ve reached a time where such a thing must exist) says that “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” So yes, we want to be invited and we want to dance.
The longer people of color are not partying with everyone else, the more that’s required of representation in literature. In 2007, when we launched BBS, our goal was to highlight our voices in kidlit. We wanted to make sure that the few of us at the party were actually getting to hold the mic now and then to showcase our books. Our hope, was that when readers and gatekeepers realized we were out there, that it would increase our numbers.
Ten years later, that’s barely the case. Worse, ten years later, there’s a new bugaboo – more people wanting to tell our stories and publishing thinking it’s okay. Because, apparently, as long as the story is told through the lens of a Black character well then *dusts off hands* our jobs are done here.
According to Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in 2007, of the 3,000 books they received only 77 were by African Americans while 150 were about us. Ten years later – of 3,400 books received by CCBC- 94 were by African Americans while 287 were about us. Do you see the problem here?
Just barely half of the books about us were written by us (51%) in 2007. And ten years later, though there was a 48% increase in books showcasing African Americans, only 33% were written by us. More books about us, but even less by us. That means the bouncer is stopping us at the club door, in droves, while everybody else is inside partying to OUR stories.
That’s why the question of what we want is insincere. Playing dumb only wastes our time. But, if plain English is in order – We want to tell our stories. All of them. Urban. Rural. Suburban. Historical. Contemporary. Fantastical.
Sorry, but no we don’t want anyone else telling our stories, because they’re OURS. Because we live as Black people everyday. So yeah, we know what it’s like. Why on earth would anyone tell that story? How could they?
And anyone asking – Well why can’t I… – go back to the beginning of the blog post and start over. Read it until you understand why.
We’re having a hard enough time showing African American children in a broad scope of stories. It’s insulting to constantly explain that we want our kids to hear what few stories exist, to come from their mommas, poppas, aunties and uncles.
Spare me any confusion or anger because I want my story told by someone who is familiar with the source material. Ten years ago, I was more willing to engage a discussion about that. So, you’d have to get in your time machine to elicit my empathy.
Meanwhile, I ask you this – how crazy would it sound to you if I went into a party, danced with your shoes on and then came back out and was like- Whew, that was a hell of a party. You should have been there.
NOTE: The representation stats for Native Americans is abysmal, with only 55 total books represented in 2016. While Asian Americans and Latinos aren’t winning this battle, by any means, I want to note that statistics show they’re experiencing slightly more success on being able to represent themselves. In 2016, 90% of books received by CCBC about Asians were written by Asians and 61% for Latinos. Tiny, barely there victory.