Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A White Man on the Coretta Scott King Book Jury

As many readers know, the Youth Media Awards (YMAs) are like a less pretentious version of the Academy Awards for Young Adult and Children’s Literature. (By the way, the YMAs are coming very soon—click here and bookmark to watch live on Monday morning, January 11.) For as long as I’ve been paying attention to the YMAs, the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Awards have always been my own “Best Picture”; though announced near the beginning of the ceremony, everything else is, to me, a bit anticlimactic. So to say that I’m chuffed to serve on this year’s CSK book jury is a major understatement. But not only is it a thrill to be part of it, it’s also a privilege.

If you haven’t read it yet, now is the perfect time to go take a look at Amy Koester’s excellent guest post at Heavy Medal, The Privilege of Serving. In it, Koester writes, “When a reader does not recognize their own privilege, deep, honest discussion simply isn’t possible.” That really resonates with me as I read books for CSK, whose #1 criteria (as listed on the award website) is to “portray some aspect of the black experience, past, present, or future.” As a White male, do I know what exactly the “black experience” is? Honestly, no; how could I? All I can do is read all the eligible books, do some research, and focus on listening during our forthcoming awards discussion.
Nobody has more privilege than White men. And generally speaking, this privilege manifests itself in White men controlling discussions and talking far more than listening. Black women, on the other hand, too often find their words silenced (the term “intersectionality” was originally coined in reference to Black women and the way they were/still are discriminated against based on race AND gender). The CSK jury consists of seven members; four are Black women (the remaining two are White women). I’ve served on two award committees prior to this year, and I’m guessing my former Newbery and Sibert mates would agree that I’m good at talking. The listening part has not always come so easy.
In an award discussion, every committee member’s voice is crucial to the act of coming to consensus. But with all the crap women have to deal with (especially women of color), isn’t it the least I can do as a White man on the CSK jury to let someone else do most of the talking for a change?


Unknown said...

Sam, Your comments On the Sibert Committee were always enlightening to me. --Ann Carlson

Sam Bloom said...

Thanks, Ann; likewise! Sibert was SO MUCH FUN.

Carol Edwards said...

Part of listening is asking hard questions too-- What do you mean when you say?--- Tell me more about that? I'd like to understand what you are saying better. Can you explain? By questioning the speaker we show we are engaged, listening and learning. Just silence can be a way of avoiding a hard conversation.

I wish I could be a mouse in the corner of the room listening to the discussion. I love that you are commenting here.

Sam Bloom said...

Thanks for making that distinction, Carol; your point is well-taken. I agree that questioning is part of engagement, as opposed to sitting and keeping the lips zipped at all times. (And I know what you mean about wanting to be able to "peak in" on award discussions... I always feel that way about pretty much every committee! Makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable, wondering what went on in the discussion for book X, Y and Z.)