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 naïve 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 create—not 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.