Monday, June 4, 2018

On Owning It


A few years ago, in the early months of Reading While White, I wrote this post, about changing my mind about a book. In it, I asked, “What am I giving up when I can admit something may not be as wonderful as I originally thought?

My answer was nothing. And what I gain is greater understanding and insight. Something to carry with me moving forward, that I hope makes me better at the work I do. And better in the life I live.

Fast forward to now. To the recent discussions that have taken place on social media about critics and the “call-out culture” that devolved into a vulgar display of white-centered thinking.

And I truly wonder: What are people so afraid of? What do they have to lose in listening openly to what critics have to offer them when it comes to representation of lives and experiences beyond their own? To admitting that they might have things to learn.

I’m not na├»ve enough to think criticism doesn’t hurt. Of course it hurts. But does that mean people should stop criticizing?

Should social justice activists silence themselves, too, because they might hurt the feelings of police officers, or elected officials, or business owners or any of us? Should Black Lives Matter only if those proclaiming it do so nicely? Should DACA activists, or those speaking out against refugee children being torn away from their parents at our country’s borders, or the poisoning of tribal lands or the water in Flint, make sure they speak softly and kindly at every turn?

Racism is racism, whether rooted in government policy, corporate greed, or white-centric views of the work we do; whether found on the streets, at our borders, or in the pages of books for children and teens.

Silence does not equal change. Discomfort unsettles complacency.  

I’m not an author or illustrator. Neither my livelihood nor my sense of accomplishment/ pride/ self depends on what I create. I’m sure it hurts. I'm sure it feels awful, or even scary. It might be infuriating, too. 

Own everything you feel. And then decide what you're going to do with those feelings.

You can say you’re being censored, or silenced, and think of yourself the hero of your own story.

Or you can think about the children and teens audiences of the books you createnot just the reader you envision or the kids you know, but every child and teen. You can own that they're fragile, too. And that they're the point.

You can think about about the need for change in the world in which we live—change that cannot and will not happen if there aren’t those who can tell us from firsthand experience what is wrong with that world. Who is being hurt and how? Who is being left out, left behind, or boxed in? 

And you can think about both the risk and the responsibility that is part of creative work, of sharing your talent, and then ask yourself how you can be and do better.


5 comments:

Monica Edinger said...

"And you can think about both the risk and the responsibility that is part of creative work, of sharing your talent, and then ask yourself how you can be and do better." Yes, yes, yes. For me, this strikes home as well in other areas of my life, say as a white teacher with my IPOC students, families, and colleagues. Listen, listen, listen. Be ready to stumble, to mess up, to OWN IT, to get up, and do better. We say that about all sorts of other things, but there seems to be a void about doing so here. We privileged white folks need to do better. Wrote about this yesterday on my blog: https://medinger.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/hard-listening/

Debbie Reese said...

Own it and speak about it, as Megan did here.

I hope White people who mess up are owning the mess-up, privately at least. And I hope that White people who see friends messing up talk to that friend, too.

What I've seen is a lot of doubling-down, publicly.

One thing that I just do not understand is how White writers can say terribly disparaging things about me one day, never own those things, but still feel they can write to me for help with this or that, one or two days after they said those things, publicly! And they don't apologize in private, to me. They just ask for help. Astonishing.

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

“You can say you’re being censored, or silenced, and think of yourself the hero of your own story...
Or you can think about the children and teens audiences ...the need for change in the world in which we live... and the risk and the responsibility that is part of creative work... and then ask yourself how you can be and do better.”

Then take action, bit by bit, practicing humility, compassion, courage, integrity. Practicing de-centering ourselves.

It’s the work of a lifetime.

And it’s the journey to *becoming* the hero of our own story.

Laura Jimenez said...

A White, male writer recently asked me - during part of the online smackdown and pushback of Debbie Reese - what I wanted from him. I've been thinking.
I want humility.
I want White writers, teachers, librarians, and scholars to stop bragging about how woke they are, or how grateful I should be because of something they once did. Instead, I want White writers, teachers, librarians, and scholars to recognize that they are visitors and act accordingly.
Just because racism is new to you - does not make it new.
Chances are someone else, someone not White has written something about an issue before you have - cite us, recognize us, include us as experts in the conversation because we do know more than you.
What do I want?
Respect, recognition, and humility.

Megan Schliesman said...

The word "humility" has been buzzing in my brain, too, since writing this post, along with its opposite, "entitlement."

To me the difference between entitlement and humility is the difference between "I can write anything I want" and "Should I write this/Is this my story to tell/How can I act responsibly?" It's the difference between declaration and conversation, a mind that is open and one that is closed.

I imagine that someone who approaches their work with the qualities your cite, Laura--humility--and respect--and recognition, of the work that has gone before and their own particular understanding and experience of the world--may ultimately find that what they want to express changes because of those things. I don't see that as curtailing creativity, I see it as expanding it.