I was disappointed to read an essay posted online recently by a white male author/illustrator about how to handle the demands of "We Need Diverse Books" without losing any business. That's right. His essay about his experience with including diversity in his books is about how to do it properly so as to not lose any business to authors and illustrators who are people of color. "Sue me for being selfish." he actually writes at one point. He is quite proud of himself for having "worked in" some Spanish, a wheelchair, and a girl wearing a hijab. Then he blames WNDB for requiring that he do so. When his agent urges him to cool it on awkwardly checking off boxes in his work to indicate diversity, he "was pretty pissed off." He creates a list of books made by people who are not the same race as the characters in the book they made in order to argue his case with his agent. Sadly for him, his agent lets him know that each of the books on his list was actually made by a POC the same race as the characters depicted in the book. Oops. Instead of admitting that his agent is right, he reaches out to a friend in the industry who tells him that his inclusion is coming off as a bit forced and inauthentic. This upsets him. But then he realizes that the most important thing is getting published, so he decides to whiten up his characters. "Plain old" is the term he uses to indicate whiteness, the natural default for characters. He seems angry at WNDB for tricking him into thinking that he needs to include brown people in his work.
He then writes about talking to two POC in the industry who stress that the industry desperately needs more POC on the creative side as well as the editorial side. He then states that he would prefer to make the books himself, rather than have POC make them, because he wants to make the money. That's when "Sue me for being selfish." comes in.
This essay is so incredibly inappropriate and completely off the mark. He never mentions the reason why WNDB exists, only his desire to find workarounds so that he will not lose any business to authors and illustrators of color. His sense of entitlement has him thinking that not only should he get book contracts for projects depicting white people, he deserves to get the contracts for books depicting brown people too. His annoyance at being told that he wasn't doing it well is evident, and instead of taking the advice being given to him, he chooses to argue because he can't possibly imagine that he is wrong.
I've heard similar things from Caucasian people in my critique group, proudly showing one page of brown people in their portfolio to satisfy the call from WNDB.
I've seen well-executed inclusive books made by white people and very clunky inclusive books made by white people. What never seems to cross anyone's mind is that maybe it's time for white folks to stay in their own lane and let POC tell their own stories.
For next month's post and moving forward, please send me questions and topics that you would like to discuss that involve libraries, books, diversity, and the children's literature community. email@example.com
Fifi Abu spends her days surrounded by books that have already been created and the rest of her time writing and illustrating books yet to be born. She looks forward to a day when all children can see themselves reflected in the books they read. Ms. Abu holds a master's degree in children's literature and a master's degree in library science, is an active member of SCBWI and a Children's Book Academy graduate.
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