This week, I'll be in New Orleans at the Healing for Democracy 2012 meetings, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing initiative. Here's the opening paragraph from their webpage:
In 2010, we launched the America Healing initiative, to support programs that promote racial healing and address racial inequity, with the goal to ensure that all children in America have an equitable and promising future.As I read those words earlier today, my thoughts turned to news and images that have been in my mind the last couple of weeks. I'm disappointed (again), that people continue to defend playing Indian as harmless fun. When I wrote about Ladybug Girl dressed like an Indian, several people objected to my critique. And when I heard about Swamplandia! being on the short list for the Pulitzer, I shook my head in dismay. I did an in-depth study of it here on AICL in January (see Day One with Russell's Swamplandia! and Day Two with Russell's Swamplania! and Day Three with Karen Russell's Swamplandia!).
Society seems determined to inflict hurt through illustrations in picture books (like Ladybug Girl) and through images generated when you read about the playing-Indian family at the heart of a young adult novel (Swamplandia!). When Native children are inundated with this imagery, they are denied the promising future the America Healing initiative is committed to.
This morning, I read Betsy Bird's post at School Library Journal. There, she short lists Cradle Me, a beautiful board book that features American Indian babies. The book and Betsy's decision to promote it... Therein lies the promise of racial healing and an equitable and promising future.
Here's the images, side by side. On the left is the healing image, one of a Native baby just starting out in the world. On the right is what that Native baby will have to contend with... People who insist on "playing Indian" and defend it as "harmless fun" or "honoring" American Indians...
What will your choice be? Heal? or Hurt?