A question that flies around the Children's Literature field quite a lot:
"Hey, ________. You're ________. Do I have the right to write about ________ people?"
I will address this as I see it applying to White people (like me) because really, it's not my place to tell people of color and First/Native Nations people what constitutes appropriate writing. So let's suppose that the person doing the asking is White.
This is the wrong question to ask.
The answer is easy. Yes, you have the right to write about whatever you want, in the USA, at least. The constitution guarantees free speech (although, and this is key, it does not guarantee consequence-free speech). So, yeah--we White people can write pretty much whatever we want and nobody will send us to jail for it.
But either or both of the following might be true:
1) You might drown out or overshadow (effectively silencing) marginalized people who justly want to tell their own stories.
2) You might get some stuff wrong and evoke criticism from people whom you misrepresent.
And nothing you do can alter either of these truths. Not even asking permission from someone from the culture about which you're writing.
Let's face it--often, those who ask for permission from marginalized people are really asking for insurance and the ability to, in the event of criticism, point to the permission-grantor and say "But! Look! __________ said I could, and she's _________!"
And even if someone asks for permission with the best intentions, wanting nothing more than guidance from an expert, the time that __________ has to spend pondering the question (and how in the world to answer!) is time away from __________'s job/family/friends/garden/gaming.
So, White people: Please stop asking people of color and First/Native Nations people this question. It's the wrong question to ask.
Instead, ask yourself, and your White friends/colleagues:
"What do I have the responsibility to write about?"
And the answer is: Your Whiteness.
White people, we have to look at White culture, White norms, how we enact them, and how we oppress people with them.
Some starting places:
-Robin DiAngelo on White Fragility and White Women's Tears
-Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun on White Supremacy Culture
-Gail K. Golden on White Supremacy As Addiction
And after we've done that for the next 500 years or so, we can re-visit that first question.
One final thought, and then I'm done:
As a teacher, I have, indeed, seen many books for children written by White people about marginalized people that are exceptionally well done. These are books that are exhaustively researched and thoughtfully written with a child audience in mind.
No, they are not all problematic.
But as a teacher who tries to have honest conversations with kids about race, what I really need is a book that gives a detailed and developmentally-appropriate explanation of Whiteness, White culture, and White dominance. I'm still waiting for that one.
Read These Folks First, Then Read Us Afterwards If You Still Have Time
- A Year of Thursdays
- American Indians in Children's Literature
- Brown Bookshelf
- Cotton Quilts
- Cuatrogatos Foundation
- De Colores
- Disability in KidLit
- Hijabi Librarians
- Indigo's Bookshelf: Voices of Native Youth
- Latinxs in KidLit
- Medal on My Mind
- OurStory (from We Need Diverse Books)
- Research on Diversity in Youth Literature
- Rich in Color
- See What We See: Social Justice Books
- Teaching For Change
- Vamos a Leer
- We Need Diverse Books
- We're The People Reading Lists
- YA Pride