From erasure to recategorizing: What we should do with Dr. Seuss books


In our current context of rapidly improving technology, archives and museums must constantly make tough decisions about what to keep, what to refuse or even remove.
(Shutterstock)

Monica Eileen Patterson, Carleton University

Was the decision to stop publishing six obscure Dr. Seuss titles containing racist imagery and messaging an erasure of history?

Media coverage of the controversy has presented it as an example of censorship, an attack on free speech and yet another example of cancel culture. These reactions are rooted in both a lack of awareness of the challenges and realities of maintaining collections and a false understanding of history.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a children’s entertainment company that functions as both a business and a family estate dedicated to preserving and promoting Theodor Seuss Geisel’s legacy. After consulting with educators and other experts, they decided to halt publication of six books because, in their words, they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” An examination of many of the images and text in question confirmed the use of racist tropes in depicting Asian and Black characters.

This decision reflects norms in publishing, archiving and collecting.

Making space for new materials

Publishing companies regularly review their titles and sales to determine and reassess print runs. This is a necessary part of making space for new publications, and maintaining desirable profit margins.

In this context, thinking about museums and archives is helpful.

For cultural institutions tasked with collecting, preserving, ordering and exhibiting, utility is derived from selectivity: not everything can be saved, or it would prove so overwhelming as to render everything inaccessible. That is why galleries, libraries, archives and museums don’t only collect new materials, but also regularly remove them.

The role of curating is key: as both a form of care taking and as a selection process that chooses specific works. Exhibits can serve a variety of roles: they can educate, inspire, call to action, memorialize, entertain. And as new works are being produced at unprecedented rates, space must be made for new material.

A child approaches a Dr. Seuss BookBench sculpture
A child approaches a Dr. Seuss BookBench sculpture in London, U.K.
(Shutterstock)

History is not neutral

Even in our current context of rapidly improving technology, archives and museums must constantly make tough decisions about what to keep, what to refuse or even remove — this often causes controversy.

Whether focused on removing confederate and colonial statues, or retiring a small handful of Dr. Seuss books, these moral panics and culture wars are often rooted in a false premise; that anything from the past comes from a pure and total point of origin, in other words, that representations of confederate soldiers tell a “true,” authentic and complete story that is neutral and objective.

“Don’t erase history!” people often cry, as if history itself wasn’t full of erasures from the beginning.

In historian and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s foundational book Silencing the Past, he examines the relationship between history, power and silence to explore the ways that certain experiences, historical actors and events are kept out of archival collections and the historical knowledge they help construct.

Trouillot illustrates this through highlighting the Haitian revolution: the possibility of Black slaves successfully revolting against their white colonizers was so inconceivable within the western ideology of white supremacy that it was effectively written out of history.

Recategorizing remnants of racism

The racist pages of Dr. Seuss books are not in danger of being lost forever, but recategorized as evidence of outdated attitudes grounded in racial denigration and stereotyping that no longer have a place in popular culture.

Scholars of racism, like myself, can draw on these images and use them to better understand the past.

Some of Geisel’s earlier work was even more explicitly racist than the titles in question, but hasn’t been erased or destroyed and can be found in museums around the world. His earlier work also appears in scholarship on histories of racism, the Second World War and children’s literature, which would be a great place for the images and text from these six books as well.

There are many ways that racism can and should be tackled that don’t result in the erasure of history. But it shouldn’t be shrugged off — especially by white people who are not in a position to make such determinations.

Nowadays, parents and students object to racist texts used in class, people contact the media, political leaders, HR departments and investigatory commissions to report incidents of racism. Companies are boycotted. Protests are organized, movements are mobilized. And organizations like Dr. Seuss Enterprises revisit their policies to ensure they are not perpetuating old-fashioned or harmful practices.

A teacher reads to a group of students
It is time to retire racist representations.
(Shutterstock)

Not without value

I regularly take racist materials out of general circulation — through yard sales, used book stores, discount stores like Dollarama and in tourist shops — so they might be used in research and teaching. I have made many donations to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, including some family heirloom photographs of one of my ancestors performing in vaudeville in blackface. In my classes on African history, I carefully use racist objects and texts to help teach students about histories of anti-Black racism.

While abhorrent, these texts, memorabilia and objects can be useful.

No children should see racism as something that is normal or funny. There is a lot of research that has examined the impact of the overwhelmingly negative representations of racialized people in popular culture. The research shows that images hurt people. That they contribute to assumptions that translate into discrimination in hiring, renting, selling, lending, treating, teaching and policing in ways that are hugely consequential for all of us.




Read more:
Caillou cancelled by PBS: Kids’ TV is now more diverse, but must do better


These realities accumulate across people’s lifetimes in ways that devalue us all because they perpetuate unconscious and conscious racism and inequality.

Retiring racist texts from children’s literature is a crucial step in interrupting the racist legacies that continue to hurt and divide us. With careful contextualization, these historical materials can help document and teach people about the realities of racism that are so often belittled or denied. It also makes space, literally and figuratively, for new texts by diverse authors featuring diverse characters that provide a fuller picture of the world that better reflects the rich variety of people, experiences and perspectives it has to offer.

This is especially important considering how much work still needs to be done in galleries, museums, libraries and archives. These institutions are still overwhelmingly white and male.

It is past time we reach social consensus that racist caricatures should be obsolete. Not everything from the past should be kept alive through republication. Move this content to museums and books on racism where it belongs, but don’t keep it circulating among children.The Conversation

Monica Eileen Patterson, Assistant Director, Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art, and Culture (Curatorial Studies) and Associate Professor, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From erasure to recategorizing: What we should do with Dr. Seuss books


In our current context of rapidly improving technology, archives and museums must constantly make tough decisions about what to keep, what to refuse or even remove.
(Shutterstock)

Monica Eileen Patterson, Carleton University

Was the decision to stop publishing six obscure Dr. Seuss titles containing racist imagery and messaging an erasure of history?

Media coverage of the controversy has presented it as an example of censorship, an attack on free speech and yet another example of cancel culture. These reactions are rooted in both a lack of awareness of the challenges and realities of maintaining collections and a false understanding of history.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a children’s entertainment company that functions as both a business and a family estate dedicated to preserving and promoting Theodor Seuss Geisel’s legacy. After consulting with educators and other experts, they decided to halt publication of six books because, in their words, they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” An examination of many of the images and text in question confirmed the use of racist tropes in depicting Asian and Black characters.

This decision reflects norms in publishing, archiving and collecting.

Making space for new materials

Publishing companies regularly review their titles and sales to determine and reassess print runs. This is a necessary part of making space for new publications, and maintaining desirable profit margins.

In this context, thinking about museums and archives is helpful.

For cultural institutions tasked with collecting, preserving, ordering and exhibiting, utility is derived from selectivity: not everything can be saved, or it would prove so overwhelming as to render everything inaccessible. That is why galleries, libraries, archives and museums don’t only collect new materials, but also regularly remove them.

The role of curating is key: as both a form of care taking and as a selection process that chooses specific works. Exhibits can serve a variety of roles: they can educate, inspire, call to action, memorialize, entertain. And as new works are being produced at unprecedented rates, space must be made for new material.

A child approaches a Dr. Seuss BookBench sculpture
A child approaches a Dr. Seuss BookBench sculpture in London, U.K.
(Shutterstock)

History is not neutral

Even in our current context of rapidly improving technology, archives and museums must constantly make tough decisions about what to keep, what to refuse or even remove — this often causes controversy.

Whether focused on removing confederate and colonial statues, or retiring a small handful of Dr. Seuss books, these moral panics and culture wars are often rooted in a false premise; that anything from the past comes from a pure and total point of origin, in other words, that representations of confederate soldiers tell a “true,” authentic and complete story that is neutral and objective.

“Don’t erase history!” people often cry, as if history itself wasn’t full of erasures from the beginning.

In historian and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s foundational book Silencing the Past, he examines the relationship between history, power and silence to explore the ways that certain experiences, historical actors and events are kept out of archival collections and the historical knowledge they help construct.

Trouillot illustrates this through highlighting the Haitian revolution: the possibility of Black slaves successfully revolting against their white colonizers was so inconceivable within the western ideology of white supremacy that it was effectively written out of history.

Recategorizing remnants of racism

The racist pages of Dr. Seuss books are not in danger of being lost forever, but recategorized as evidence of outdated attitudes grounded in racial denigration and stereotyping that no longer have a place in popular culture.

Scholars of racism, like myself, can draw on these images and use them to better understand the past.

Some of Geisel’s earlier work was even more explicitly racist than the titles in question, but hasn’t been erased or destroyed and can be found in museums around the world. His earlier work also appears in scholarship on histories of racism, the Second World War and children’s literature, which would be a great place for the images and text from these six books as well.

There are many ways that racism can and should be tackled that don’t result in the erasure of history. But it shouldn’t be shrugged off — especially by white people who are not in a position to make such determinations.

Nowadays, parents and students object to racist texts used in class, people contact the media, political leaders, HR departments and investigatory commissions to report incidents of racism. Companies are boycotted. Protests are organized, movements are mobilized. And organizations like Dr. Seuss Enterprises revisit their policies to ensure they are not perpetuating old-fashioned or harmful practices.

A teacher reads to a group of students
It is time to retire racist representations.
(Shutterstock)

Not without value

I regularly take racist materials out of general circulation — through yard sales, used book stores, discount stores like Dollarama and in tourist shops — so they might be used in research and teaching. I have made many donations to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, including some family heirloom photographs of one of my ancestors performing in vaudeville in blackface. In my classes on African history, I carefully use racist objects and texts to help teach students about histories of anti-Black racism.

While abhorrent, these texts, memorabilia and objects can be useful.

No children should see racism as something that is normal or funny. There is a lot of research that has examined the impact of the overwhelmingly negative representations of racialized people in popular culture. The research shows that images hurt people. That they contribute to assumptions that translate into discrimination in hiring, renting, selling, lending, treating, teaching and policing in ways that are hugely consequential for all of us.




Read more:
Caillou cancelled by PBS: Kids’ TV is now more diverse, but must do better


These realities accumulate across people’s lifetimes in ways that devalue us all because they perpetuate unconscious and conscious racism and inequality.

Retiring racist texts from children’s literature is a crucial step in interrupting the racist legacies that continue to hurt and divide us. With careful contextualization, these historical materials can help document and teach people about the realities of racism that are so often belittled or denied. It also makes space, literally and figuratively, for new texts by diverse authors featuring diverse characters that provide a fuller picture of the world that better reflects the rich variety of people, experiences and perspectives it has to offer.

This is especially important considering how much work still needs to be done in galleries, museums, libraries and archives. These institutions are still overwhelmingly white and male.

It is past time we reach social consensus that racist caricatures should be obsolete. Not everything from the past should be kept alive through republication. Move this content to museums and books on racism where it belongs, but don’t keep it circulating among children.The Conversation

Monica Eileen Patterson, Assistant Director, Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art, and Culture (Curatorial Studies) and Associate Professor, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From erasure to recategorizing: What we should do with Dr. Seuss books


In our current context of rapidly improving technology, archives and museums must constantly make tough decisions about what to keep, what to refuse or even remove.
(Shutterstock)

Monica Eileen Patterson, Carleton University

Was the decision to stop publishing six obscure Dr. Seuss titles containing racist imagery and messaging an erasure of history?

Media coverage of the controversy has presented it as an example of censorship, an attack on free speech and yet another example of cancel culture. These reactions are rooted in both a lack of awareness of the challenges and realities of maintaining collections and a false understanding of history.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a children’s entertainment company that functions as both a business and a family estate dedicated to preserving and promoting Theodor Seuss Geisel’s legacy. After consulting with educators and other experts, they decided to halt publication of six books because, in their words, they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” An examination of many of the images and text in question confirmed the use of racist tropes in depicting Asian and Black characters.

This decision reflects norms in publishing, archiving and collecting.

Making space for new materials

Publishing companies regularly review their titles and sales to determine and reassess print runs. This is a necessary part of making space for new publications, and maintaining desirable profit margins.

In this context, thinking about museums and archives is helpful.

For cultural institutions tasked with collecting, preserving, ordering and exhibiting, utility is derived from selectivity: not everything can be saved, or it would prove so overwhelming as to render everything inaccessible. That is why galleries, libraries, archives and museums don’t only collect new materials, but also regularly remove them.

The role of curating is key: as both a form of care taking and as a selection process that chooses specific works. Exhibits can serve a variety of roles: they can educate, inspire, call to action, memorialize, entertain. And as new works are being produced at unprecedented rates, space must be made for new material.

A child approaches a Dr. Seuss BookBench sculpture
A child approaches a Dr. Seuss BookBench sculpture in London, U.K.
(Shutterstock)

History is not neutral

Even in our current context of rapidly improving technology, archives and museums must constantly make tough decisions about what to keep, what to refuse or even remove — this often causes controversy.

Whether focused on removing confederate and colonial statues, or retiring a small handful of Dr. Seuss books, these moral panics and culture wars are often rooted in a false premise; that anything from the past comes from a pure and total point of origin, in other words, that representations of confederate soldiers tell a “true,” authentic and complete story that is neutral and objective.

“Don’t erase history!” people often cry, as if history itself wasn’t full of erasures from the beginning.

In historian and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s foundational book Silencing the Past, he examines the relationship between history, power and silence to explore the ways that certain experiences, historical actors and events are kept out of archival collections and the historical knowledge they help construct.

Trouillot illustrates this through highlighting the Haitian revolution: the possibility of Black slaves successfully revolting against their white colonizers was so inconceivable within the western ideology of white supremacy that it was effectively written out of history.

Recategorizing remnants of racism

The racist pages of Dr. Seuss books are not in danger of being lost forever, but recategorized as evidence of outdated attitudes grounded in racial denigration and stereotyping that no longer have a place in popular culture.

Scholars of racism, like myself, can draw on these images and use them to better understand the past.

Some of Geisel’s earlier work was even more explicitly racist than the titles in question, but hasn’t been erased or destroyed and can be found in museums around the world. His earlier work also appears in scholarship on histories of racism, the Second World War and children’s literature, which would be a great place for the images and text from these six books as well.

There are many ways that racism can and should be tackled that don’t result in the erasure of history. But it shouldn’t be shrugged off — especially by white people who are not in a position to make such determinations.

Nowadays, parents and students object to racist texts used in class, people contact the media, political leaders, HR departments and investigatory commissions to report incidents of racism. Companies are boycotted. Protests are organized, movements are mobilized. And organizations like Dr. Seuss Enterprises revisit their policies to ensure they are not perpetuating old-fashioned or harmful practices.

A teacher reads to a group of students
It is time to retire racist representations.
(Shutterstock)

Not without value

I regularly take racist materials out of general circulation — through yard sales, used book stores, discount stores like Dollarama and in tourist shops — so they might be used in research and teaching. I have made many donations to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, including some family heirloom photographs of one of my ancestors performing in vaudeville in blackface. In my classes on African history, I carefully use racist objects and texts to help teach students about histories of anti-Black racism.

While abhorrent, these texts, memorabilia and objects can be useful.

No children should see racism as something that is normal or funny. There is a lot of research that has examined the impact of the overwhelmingly negative representations of racialized people in popular culture. The research shows that images hurt people. That they contribute to assumptions that translate into discrimination in hiring, renting, selling, lending, treating, teaching and policing in ways that are hugely consequential for all of us.




Read more:
Caillou cancelled by PBS: Kids’ TV is now more diverse, but must do better


These realities accumulate across people’s lifetimes in ways that devalue us all because they perpetuate unconscious and conscious racism and inequality.

Retiring racist texts from children’s literature is a crucial step in interrupting the racist legacies that continue to hurt and divide us. With careful contextualization, these historical materials can help document and teach people about the realities of racism that are so often belittled or denied. It also makes space, literally and figuratively, for new texts by diverse authors featuring diverse characters that provide a fuller picture of the world that better reflects the rich variety of people, experiences and perspectives it has to offer.

This is especially important considering how much work still needs to be done in galleries, museums, libraries and archives. These institutions are still overwhelmingly white and male.

It is past time we reach social consensus that racist caricatures should be obsolete. Not everything from the past should be kept alive through republication. Move this content to museums and books on racism where it belongs, but don’t keep it circulating among children.The Conversation

Monica Eileen Patterson, Assistant Director, Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art, and Culture (Curatorial Studies) and Associate Professor, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cat in a spat: scrapping Dr Seuss books is not cancel culture



Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP

Kate Cantrell, University of Southern Queensland and Sharon Bickle, University of Southern Queensland

Let’s start by putting aside the bugbear that it is even possible to “cancel” children’s author Dr Seuss.

As Philip Bump wrote yesterday in The Washington Post,

No one is ‘cancelling’ Dr Seuss. The author, himself, is dead for one thing, which is about as cancelled as a person can get.

Laying aside a multimillion-dollar publishing business, tattered copies of Dr Seuss books clutter children’s bedrooms around the globe. Parents still grapple nightly with the tongue-twisters of Fox in Socks, Horton Hears a Who! or Hop on Pop, and try their best to keep their eyes open through a 20th reading of Green Eggs and Ham.

However, on Tuesday (what would have been Dr Seuss’s 117th birthday), the company that protects the late author’s legacy announced its plan to halt publishing and licensing six (out of more than 60) Dr Seuss books.

Few would know some of the discontinued titles, like McElligot’s Pool and The Cat’s Quizzer. However, many will recognise If I Ran the Zoo and And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, which have been criticised for racist caricatures and themes of cultural dominance and dehumanisation.

In If I Ran the Zoo, young Gerald McGrew builds a “Bad-Animal Catching Machine” to capture a turbaned Arab for his exhibit of “unusual beasts”.

“People will stare,” Gerald marvels, “And they’ll say, ‘What a sight!’”. Chinese “helpers” with “eyes at a slant” hunt exotic creatures in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant.

A reading recorded for Dr Seuss Day in 2019, removes the racist taunt. Instead of helpers who “wear their eyes at a slant”, the helpers “all wear such very cool pants”.

Nevertheless, pervasive racial imagery and subservient typecasting remain. That doesn’t mean Dr Seuss books should — or can — be scrapped altogether. Instead, these books present an opportunity to build awareness and teach young readers about history and context.

Portrait of man on colourful wall
The visage of Theodor Seuss Geisel, known as Dr Seuss, at the Massachusetts museum that honours his legacy.
AP Photo/Steven Senne, File



Read more:
In Dr Seuss’ children’s books, a commitment to social justice that remains relevant today


Censorship in children’s titles

Children’s books are among those most often banned or censored. In this case, removing the Dr Seuss titles recognises that he was writing in a time and place when racial stereotyping was commonplace and frequently the focus of humour.

Elsewhere, controversy over golliwogs as racist caricatures was confrontingly played out in Enid Blyton’s Noddy stories. In her original telling of In the Dark, Dark Wood, Noddy is carjacked by three golliwogs who trap him, strip him naked, and leave him crying. “You bad, wicked golliwogs!” Noddy says. “How dare you steal my things!”

Similarly, in the first edition of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa-Loompas are African pygmies who have been “rescued” by Willy Wonka and enslaved in his factory. When Charlie says, “But there must be people working there,” Grandpa Joe responds, “Not people, Charlie. Not ordinary people, anyway.”




Read more:
Abused, neglected, abandoned — did Roald Dahl hate children as much as the witches did?


In his political cartoons, which appeared in a New York newspaper in the early 1940s, Dr Seuss ran the gamut of racist depictions, from African-American people as monkeys to Japanese characters with yellow faces and “rice paddy” hats.

In the now-suspended The Cat’s Quizzer, there is “a Japanese” depicted in conical hat and stereotypical dress. On Mulberry Street, a Chinese man with bright yellow skin wears geta shoes and carries a bowl of rice.

In early editions, the caption underneath reads “A Chinaman who eats with sticks”. In 1978, over 40 years after the book was first published, the character’s skin tone and braid were changed. The caption was changed from “Chinaman” to “Chinese man”.

Pages from a children's book
An earlier 1964 edition of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street features a character described as ‘a Chinese boy’ with yellow skin and a long ponytail, while a 1984 edition changes the character to ‘a Chinese man’ and alters his appearance.
Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP

If I ran the library … by today’s standards

Dr Seuss’s work contains racism and xenophobia, but should we judge him by today’s standards?

Children’s literature has always been subject to socio-historical shifts. It is a product of its time and the context in which it is created. Viewed through the changing lens of history, childhood itself is an unstable concept.

In other words, it is impossible to separate children’s literature from the ideological structure of our world, and from the particular historical moment in which it is produced.

While Dr Seuss’s best-loved characters — the Cat in the Hat, Horton the elephant, the Grinch — have earned their place in the canon, what we should be concerned about is the question of diversity in children’s literature.

We know from numerous studies that white children dominate children’s books, with talking animals and trains outnumbering the representations of First Nations, Asian, African and other minority groups.




Read more:
Empathy starts early: 5 Australian picture books that celebrate diversity


No quick fixes

Although never perfect, other beloved children’s literature series have sought solutions to similar dilemmas.

Enid Blyton’s stories have been continuously revised since the 1990s. Noddy is now carjacked by goblins, and, in the Faraway Tree series, Dame Snap replaces Dame Slap, with Fanny and Dick getting a makeover as Frannie and Rick.

More recently, Richard Scarry’s books were updated to depict Daddies cooking and Mummies going to work, while the latest film adaptation of The Witches cast actor of colour Jahzir Bruno as the boy protagonist.

Not surprisingly, queer representation in young adult fiction is still problematic, with most queer stories authored by writers who do not identify as queer.

On one level, the decision to discontinue half a dozen Dr Seuss books because “they are hurtful and wrong” seems a simple gesture (and one with relatively small financial impact). Racism permeates the Dr Seuss catalogue, including The Cat in the Hat’s origins in blackface minstrel performances. Like Dr Seuss’s Yertle, it’s turtles all the way down.

Instead, finding meaningful ways to contextualise these historical aspects for young readers today might be a better focus, rather than withholding a few and letting more prominent titles slide by.

Kids and teens, like adults, need to see themselves in the books they read, and young white readers need to see other cultural groups as something more than illegal, or violent, or criminal.

As chidren’s literature expert Perry Nodelman notes: “Stories structure us as beings in the world”. In the same week a Lowy study found one in five Chinese Australians have been threatened or attacked, it could not be more important to invest in an inclusive future for our kids.

‘I literally know The Cat in the Hat by heart without the book,’ said Donald Trump Jr.
Stephen Colbert’s segment finishes with suggested books by authors of colour.

The Conversation

Kate Cantrell, Lecturer in Writing, Editing, and Publishing, University of Southern Queensland and Sharon Bickle, Lecturer in English Literature, QLD rep for Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association, University of Southern Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Teen summer reads: 5 books to help young people understand racism


Jessica Gannaway, University of Melbourne and Melitta Hogarth, University of Melbourne

This article is part of three-part series on summer reads for young people after a very unique year.


US teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead in 2012 by a neighbourhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman who was later acquitted of the murder. This saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The racist social and political issues in the US saw the deaths and violence on Black bodies brought front and centre through acts of protest.

The arguments against the alleged police brutality in the US were easily translatable to the Australian context.

The Black Lives Matters movement was renewed following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May this year. And together with US counterparts, tens of thousands of Australians marched across our cities to draw attention to racial profiling, police brutality and the more than 400 Indigenous people who have died in police custody since a royal commission into the problem was held in 1991.

The global movement brought unprecedented sales of books about race and anti-racism. This turn toward texts is indicative of the role they play in helping us make sense of major social issues.

Angie Thomas, author of the 2017 bestseller “The Hate U Give”, has spoken about the role of literature in igniting awareness, resistance and change.

I think books […] play a huge role in opening people’s eyes and they’re a form of activism in their own right, in the fact that they do empower people and show others the lives of people who may not be like themselves.

Research has long shown a link between the books we read and our development of empathy. But more recent research has highlighted it is important we don’t see books as immediate fixes to complex social issues, especially when we import these books from other locations and times.

Our reading must be accompanied by close attention to the ways racism and prejudice unfold in our own location.




Read more:
5 Australian books that can help young people understand their place in the world


Coming to understand the impact and complexity of racism in this way is referred to as “racial literacy”. Here are five books that can help young people build racial literacy around the varied forms of racism and discrimination.

Dear Martin is build around the question: what would Martin Luther King do?
Penguin

1. Dear Martin

by Nic Stone

Dear Martin explores issues of race through the eyes of conscientious 17 year old, Justyce McAllister.

Built around the central question, “What would Martin (Luther King) do?”, this novel brings to light the litany of decisions and ethical conundrums thrust into Justyce’s lap daily, as he navigates a world affected by racism and prejudice.

2. Punching the Air

by Ibi Zobai and Yusuf Salaam

Written by one of five young men imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit.
Harper Collins

In 1989, five young men were falsely accused of the assault and murder of a jogger in New York’s Central Park. Now documented in Ava Duvernay’s Neflix miniseries When They See Us, the Five were exonerated 12 years later.

But the story stands as a haunting reminder of the inequalities experienced by Black men and the life-altering consequences this can wreak on innocent lives.

One of these young men, Yusuf Salaam, collaborates with award-winning author and prison reform activist Ibi Zobai, to craft a story that examines these themes through a narrative of a wrongfully incarcerated young man navigating his teenage years in prison.

3. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

edited by Anita Heiss

An anthology of essays written by those with lived experience of racial issues.
Black Inc books

This anthology of 50 chapters provides an opportunity to deeply listen and understand the lived experiences of Indigenous Australians and the ways racism takes all manner of overt, subtle and systemic forms.

Particularly noteworthy are the chapters by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Celeste Liddle, in which the authors describe both the nature of racism experienced by them from the schoolyard, and the broader historical context on which this racism is based.

4. Slay

by Brittney Morris

Explores racial themes through an online game.
Simon & Schuster

This novel centres on 17-year-old Kiera, a talented young developer who creates a multiplayer role-playing game. The game is a “mecca of black excellence” and an escape from the racism often experienced by those “game-playing while black”.

When an offline murder is traced back to the game, Kiera grapples with the complexity of both the implications of her creation and the conversations it triggers.

Slay weaves social commentary into the dialogue between characters from all walks of life, covering everything from cultural appropriation, to whether racism can ever be “reversed”.

5. Living on Stolen Land

by Ambelin Kwaymullina

This is made up of prose verses like ‘Bias’ and ‘Listening’.
Magabala Books

Many books here centre around the kind of racial stereotyping and violence that put the Black Lives Matter movement on the map. But understanding racism in the Australian context also involves examining colonialism and the racist underpinnings of our history.

Living on Stolen Land centres Indigenous sovereignty in the conversation about race. Using prose verses such as those titled “Bias” and “Listening”, it leads readers through examining unconscious beliefs and moving toward being a genuine ally of Indigenous people.

Author and educator Layla F Saad has suggested when we read texts about social issues like racism, we read for transformation, not merely information.

A range of texts have been developed to support families in having these transformative discussions together. Maxine Beneba Clarkes’ “When We Say Black Lives Matter”, for instance, is a beautifully illustrated picture book that focuses on the strength and resilience of black children and communities. While texts like Our Home our Heartbeat by Adam Briggs centres on key Indigenous figures to be celebrated.




Read more:
Teen summer reads: 5 novels to help cope with adversity and alienation


The Conversation


Jessica Gannaway, Lecturer, University of Melbourne and Melitta Hogarth, Assistant Dean Indigenous/ Senior lecturer, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If the Romance Writers of America can implode over racism, no group is safe



While 97% of Romance Writers of America members are women, only 14% are people of color.
Refat/Shutterstock.com

Christine Larson, University of Colorado Boulder

Over the past month, Romance Writers of America, one of the country’s largest writing associations, with over 9,000 members, has erupted in a race-related scandal.

The controversy began when diversity activist and romance writer Courtney Milan, in a pointed tweet, criticized racial stereotypes that appeared in a book by a fellow member. Writers took sides. A punishment was handed down. Backlash ensued.

Now the very existence of the 40-year-old organization is in doubt. But you’d never know it from the cheeky media coverage, which hasn’t been able to resist casting the controversy as a battle between forlorn lovers.

CNN, for instance, describes the Romance Writers of America as “more scandalized than a dowager countess finding her headstrong niece alone on the lap of a rakish duke,” while NBC News tells us there’s “lots of passion but not too much love” among the writers.

As a former journalist, I get the appeal of a saucy lead. But as a scholar who’s spent nearly a decade studying romance writers and their networks, I see how portraying the incident as a catfight or a relationship gone wrong oversimplifies the controversy, which has serious implications for the rest of the publishing industry – and beyond.

It all falls apart

To briefly recap what happened: In August, Romance Writers of America member Courtney Milan, who is Chinese American, Twitter-shamed a novel written by a white member, calling it a “racist mess” for its depiction of Asian women.

The book’s author filed an ethics complaint, accusing Milan of bullying and damaging her business prospects. In December, Milan was suspended from the organization for a year and banned from future leadership positions.

The result shocked almost everyone involved. Milan has been a vocal and effective advocate for inclusion. In protest, nine members of the board resigned, including eight women of color. The president and executive director quit. The RITA Awards – the Oscars of romance publishing – were canceled, while major publishers pulled their sponsorship from the annual conference.

A tradition of support

Here’s why it matters: For 40 years, romance writers have been successfully pushing back against second-class treatment in the publishing industry.

My research suggests this is due to their surprisingly effective – and somewhat counterintuitive – approach to social networking and support.

Unlike other professional organizations, they welcome novices, share trade secrets and readily exchange advice about how to leverage new technology to advance their careers. These tactics have helped authors improve the terms of their publishing contracts, pioneer new promotional techniques and form a grassroots network of writers that can quickly adapt to changes in the market.

Disrespect and exclusion united romance authors in the first place. The Romance Writers of America was formed in 1980, when a diverse group of white, black and Latina women writers got fed up with being dismissed by mostly male agents and editors. In an era before email, the group managed to build a far-reaching network of women authors and editors who encouraged one another and taught each other to succeed.

The group’s efforts eventually led to some serious wins.

For instance, many romance authors write under several pseudonyms, which create distinctive brands for their various series. For decades, the romance publisher Harlequin didn’t let authors own the rights to their own pseudonyms. That meant if authors changed publishers, they couldn’t bring along their pen names and the fans who followed them, which hurt their ability to negotiate good terms. But in 2002, the Romance Writers of America – under President Shirley Hailstock, who is black – persuaded Harlequin to let authors keep their own pseudonyms, even when they switched publishers.

Then, when e-books and digital self-publishing came along, the group’s tradition of advice sharing and innovation catapulted the careers of romance writers. My research shows that romance writers’ median income nearly doubled after the explosion of self-publishing. This took place at a time when authors in other genres saw massive declines in income.

Diverse writers still left behind

But the group’s gains have not been equally shared by all authors.

In my study of more than 4,000 romance authors, I found romance authors of color earned about 38% of white romance authors in 2014. Another study found that only about 8% of traditionally published romance novels are written by authors of color. Until last summer, no black writer had won a RITA. In interviews, writers of color told me about some stunningly racist comments from editors at romance conferences that the organization failed to publicly address.

Furthermore, while 97% of Romance Writers of America members are women, only 14% are people of color.

These statistics mirror those of the publishing industry as a whole. According to a forthcoming report for the Authors Guild that I wrote, authors of color across all publishing categories earn about half the median income of white authors. Roughly 80% of book editors are white. Authors of color write just 7% of children’s books, while black authors pen only 2% to 3% of stories in science fiction magazines.

When publishing organizations attempt to change, the backlash can be swift. In perhaps the the most glaring example, in 2015, a set of right-wing, anti-diversity science fiction authors known as the Sad Puppies formed a voting bloc to try to prevent diverse authors from winning at the annual Hugo awards, science-fiction’s most prestigious award ceremony.

What could have been

The Romance Writers of America has tried prioritize inclusiveness over the past few years.

Members – including Milan – sought reform by openly talking about issues on social media while also utilizing the organization’s traditional, behind-the-scenes networking. Vociferous Twitter debates over diversity ensued; the hashtag #RitasSoWhite circulated; bestselling authors used their award acceptance speeches
or their prominent platforms to call for fair treatment for authors regardless of race, sexual orientation or ability.

Moved by these efforts, the membership elected a very diverse board in 2019, with nearly half made up by authors of color. Judging procedures for the RITAs were changed, and other diversity measures adopted. Three women of color won RITAs last August, and 20 out of the 30 speakers or winners at the ceremony made it a point to celebrate diverse authors.

In the end, however, it wasn’t enough. For many, the ruling against Milan was the last straw. The fallout, which includes the disbanding of the Las Vegas chapter on Jan. 20, continues.

Taken together, these events suggest that even organizations that seem to be addressing issues of inclusion in good faith are susceptible to fracturing. Either that, or exclusion is so deeply ingrained in certain institutions that it can’t ever be adequately addressed – and the entire organization needs to be torn down.

This could be bad news for other predominantly white groups and industries trying to evolve. Witness the ongoing struggles of the film industry to diversify, the continued predominantly white male makeup of Silicon Valley or the bitter divide over the organizers and participants in the Women’s March. All have faced calls for change. To many, the results have been unsatisfactory.

For a time, the Romance Writers of America seemed to be showing that change could occur from within. Now that seems increasingly far-fetched.

Whatever happens, this controversy can serve as a lesson about the profound challenges of building relationships and instituting organizational change in the digital age.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]The Conversation

Christine Larson, Assistant Professor of Journalism, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Another Book Award is Renamed Due to Racism


The link below is to an article that looks at the renaming of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer to The Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2019/08/28/the-john-w-campbell-award-is-now-the-astounding-award/

Laura Ingalls Wilder Name Dropped From Book Award Because of Racism


The links below are to articles reporting on the dropping of the Laura Ingalls Wilder name from a children’s book award over racism concerns – the prize was changed from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/24/laura-ingalls-wilders-name-removed-from-book-award-over-racial-concerns
https://the-digital-reader.com/2018/06/24/little-house-on-the-prarie-authors-name-removed-from-book-award/