Friday, July 15, 2016

Embracing Discomfort

Ernie Cox
The Reading While White team is jumping for joy this week, because Ernie Cox is joining us.  Ernie works as a Teacher-Librarian in Iowa City and was chair of the 2016 Newbery committee.  Ernie's first post as a Reading While White blogger is below. Welcome to Ernie!

The manuals for book awards administered by The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) were recently updated to include a statement on Diversity and ALSC Media Award Evaluation. It concludes with this passage (the entire statement is available in any of the award manuals at

“As individuals serving on committees evaluate materials according to the criteria outlined for their specific charge, they should strive to be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their responses to materials. Every committee member brings unique strengths to the table, but every committee member also brings gaps in knowledge and understanding, and biases. Committee members are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.”
When my colleagues and friends here at Reading While White invited me to contribute to this blog I wish I could tell you I was filled with excitement. I felt uneasy, perhaps uncomfortable too. What was the source of my discomfort? The professional discourse in children’s literature has shown us that for many good-intentioned folks it is difficult to “be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their responses to materials (children’s literature and media)”.  That includes me. I’ve also heard what can happen when we listen to other perspectives - new insights into our own gaps and biases appear.  I read through the resources on the RWW site to better understand what this blog was all about.  Scanning through Peggy McIntosh’s piece on White privilege I came across this point:

“I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

That is where the discomfort was for me. I’ve rarely had to speak or write about Whiteness. This might be the ultimate luxury of White privilege - being oblivious to our invisible impact on the world and not needing to say one word about it. Like an award committee’s work, the work of being an ally for a diverse and inclusive profession (and society) is a process.  Unlike an award committee’s work, it is an unfolding process spanning years. A process that will require me to be uncomfortable.  That my discomfort is primarily cognitive is another testament to my privilege. I look forward to getting to know more about myself and others through this blog.


Hanna said...

Happy to see you here, Ernie! I am grateful for my colleagues' willingness to be made uncomfortable on the path to better books and service for kids.

Linda Mitchell said...

Thank you for your opening comments. I so appreciate your comment that being an ally is a process. In my process there are moments that I'm embarrassed by. However, I am determined to not let that stop me from becoming the ally I really need and want to be.

Also, just because I am aware of the process....doesn't mean that my loved ones are. I have to respect where they are in their process--even if I want to push or hurry them.

Thanks for being here. I really appreciate you joining and talking about what's uncomfortable for you. I so want to be part of the conversation about race in my country.....but feel awkard about when and how to do that.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you are aware of Rosetta Lee's work? She's a Korean American identity (racial, gender, etc.) educator who pointed out that for many White Americans, especially those who didn't not recently immigrated to the United States, there is a loss of what anchors them with their actual ancestry. I remember this past spring when I asked a group of HS and MS students in the Asian Cultures Club at my school (open membership so the members are from Asian, African American, White, etc. backgrounds) to share some of their family histories and ancestries. One of the white boys whose family came to the States more than 200 years ago was at a loss as to what his "white" identity really means. (Unlike some others who could point toward their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents and had concrete links to lands beyond the U.S.) He no longer has relatives or family ties with whichever countries his family originated -- his identity background is solely in the U.S., in New York City, even though there is the vague notion of his European ancestry.

Ernie Cox said...

Thank you for joining us in this process. You make an important point about being aware of the different places people will be in this work. Finding spaces that encourage people to interact deeply around questions of race is not something many of us have had access to in the past. I hope RWW is one such place. I also hope it helps us to foster these conversations with our colleagues and loved ones in face to face conversations. We're working against the "norm" presented to us through mainstream media - that of people holding fast to a position without interest in nuanced informed discussion.