I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few days. Thinking about our field, and the White people in it. To borrow from Dave Chappelle--we need to get our shit together.
So let’s start communicating in clear, non-bullshitty ways. Here are my expectations for White people in the field (and to be even clearer, I am a White woman, and much of this I’m writing down to hold myself accountable).
White people, I expect you to study the history of race and racism, colonialism and white supremacy in the USA and in children’s literature, and to learn how all of the above are still alive and well today.
White men, I expect that in addition to studying the above, you will become experts in patriarchy and misogyny and how they are linked to White supremacy.
I expect you to learn about racism as a system that allots power disproportionately to White people, and our unique responsibilities as White people to dismantle that system.
I expect you to commit the time and money you can to this education process. I expect you to read books, read articles, and watch videos. A starter list: The Root, Colorlines, Latina Lista, Indian Country Today, Hyphen magazine, and The Aerogram.
I expect you to, if you possibly can, attend an anti-racist training. I highly recommend The People’s Institute’s Undoing Racism Workshop, Border Crossers’ trainings, and SEED trainings.
I expect you to prioritize this education process over your yoga class.
I expect you to educate yourselves before you take actions, recognizing that one of the most dangerous things we White people can do is act without education.
I expect you to ask for guidance, to hold yourselves accountable to people of color and Native people, especially women.
I expect you to lift up people of color and Native people, especially women (and not just authors and illustrators--I expect you to lift up librarians and teachers and activists). I expect you to thank them for what they have taught you. Start with our blogroll. Become fans of those people.
White men--I expect you to recognize that you are uniquely safe in the USA. You have a shield that nobody else has. I expect you to use that shield to advocate for others.
White women - I expect you to educate yourselves on White Feminism and take responsibility for organizing with other White women to interrupt it.
White men--I expect you to connect with other White men, to organize to undo White patriarchy. Including the White men you feel you are better than, smarter than, separate from. Your life may not depend on it, but your humanity does.
I expect that when someone says “ouch” to you, you will apologize. I expect you to expunge “I didn’t mean...” and “What I meant was…” from your vocabulary and to introduce phrases like “You’re right. Thank you for educating me” and “I clearly have some learning to do.”
I expect you to name racism when you see it. When someone else names racism, I expect you to listen and back them up. And when other people deny or erase their experiences, I expect you to say, “that is not OK.”
White people who are exhibiting safety pins, or their characters with safety pins, I expect you to stop and consider how you have responded to the work of people of color and First/Native Nations and their allies when it comes to naming racism in the children's book industry. Too many of us ignore, dismiss, or actively undermine their work to fight racism. Please do some soul-searching and ask yourself how “safe” you really are.
Here's something else to consider: not everyone finds the safety pins a meaningful symbol. For some people, they erase the very real reality that they aren't safe.
White librarians, teachers, bloggers, and reviewers: I expect you to stop merely advertising for books by/about marginalized groups and to prioritize advocating for them. Let me break this down.
Too many of us happily advertise for ourselves, for book creators, or for publishers when it costs us nothing and gains us rewards (like fancy dinners. And free books. And connections with authors/illustrators. And fancy jobs. And fuzzy warm feelings.)
Too many of us disappear when we are called upon to advocate for marginalized people, to put ourselves on the line when it gains us nothing (except our humanity) and could very well cost us something (like the above perks).
Too many of us trample people of color and Native people, especially women, in the field, in our field. Too few of us advocate for women of color and Native women who are librarians. Too few of us thank them.
Too many of us make light of the struggles of people of color and Native people. Too many of us utilize their struggles to get the laugh, to advance our brands. This must stop now.
(Make no mistake here--I am in favor of humor as a coping mechanism. But humor that makes a joke of oppression--and thereby strengthens the oppressor--is not OK. Good humor makes fun of the oppressor. Better humor highlights the nature of oppression. The best humor weakens the oppressor.)
Too rarely do we name our privileges as White people and White men in this field. White people, I expect you to name your whiteness openly and frequently.
Too often, our White fragility and male fragility is activated when people of color name racism and when women name sexism. Too often, we demand to be comforted in those moments. By people of color and Native people, and by women.
White people, I expect you to make mistakes. Over and over and over again. I expect you to apologize for them, over and over and over again, without asking anyone--especially women, people of color, or Native people--to take care of you. I expect this to be a struggle (it is) and I expect you to not give up.
You can no longer be passive, non-racist, "good" people; you need to work to actively dismantle this mess.
If it makes you feel uncomfortable or confused or guilty or shameful, sit with that for a while (those feelings won't kill you--I speak from experience), then help each other organize.
The thing to do now is soul-search. Listen. Read. Talk to other White people who are a little further on this journey. Let yourselves be educated about the special powers and privileges you have by virtue of being White--especially White men, especially now. Challenge yourself to ally (verb) every day.
White people, including Allie, I expect and accept nothing less from you.