Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Open Letter to People Who Are Not "Fans" of "Call Out Culture" on Social Media

Dear People Who Are Not "Fans of "Call Out Culture" on Social Media,

Today (October 13, 2015), The Guardian ran an article on Meg Rosoff's "row" over her remarks on Edith Campbell's Facebook page. There, Rosoff wrote that there are thousands of books out there where kids can see themselves. In The Guardian, writer James Dawson said that he disagrees with Rosoff's remark that there are thousands of books, saying there are "numerous" books and that they're hard to find. Then, he said this:  

Just in case you didn't realize it, Mr. Dawson and others who aren't fans of "call out culture," you're asking me to shut up with my critiques of the ways that Native peoples are depicted in children's and young adult books. 

Some of you are like Dawson, and think that buying books by diverse writers is enough. You think the mirrors in those books are enough.

But you forget, don't acknowledge, or maybe you don't even know, that the mirrors that Native kids get in classic, popular, and award-winning books aren't those nice shiny things you have in mind.

Far and away, what Native kids get are fun house mirrors* like the ones we see at carnivals, fairs, and theme parks. The ones that take your image and distort it. That make it look funny. Or uber cool. Or scary. Or stupid.

Source: http://www.dianasprinkle.com/2011/12/funhouse/

We have to call out these distortions, and you should, too. Lift books that give kids accurate representations of Native people, but call out the ones that are not ok, too, so that your buds will know those books are not ok. So they won't be put onto those school reading lists.

I'm talking about Ghost Hawk. And Island of the Blue Dolphins. And Little House on the Prairie. And Brother Eagle Sister Sky. And The Education of Little Tree. And Walk On Earth A Stranger. And... I could go on and on and on.

Your silence affirms their existence. Your silence harms what Native kids get, and what non-Native ones "learn" from those distorted images.

Join me. Call out the bad. You're not being a "fan" of call out culture. You're being a person who cares about what kids get in books.

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

*Update on Friday, Feb 25, 2022: In searching for something else, I came across Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's use of the phrase "fun house." In Shadow and Substance: Afro-American: Afro American Experience in Contemporary Children's Fiction she wrote that "black children exploring the world of children's books found themselves looking into a kind of distorted fun-house mirror that resisted sending back reflections at all..."  


Wendy said...

I think (but am definitely not sure) that what he was referring to wouldn't apply to pointing out bad books, or books that contain bad representations, but rather calling out bad behavior on social media. I don't necessarily agree with him in this case, nor do I think that's what was really going on--from what I saw, people were attempting to have an educational discussion, not saying "hey everybody pile on Meg Rosoff and stop buying her books". And if he's saying he's "not a fan" of people saying "hey, check your privilege", I definitely disagree with him--we all need that IMHO.

But the irony is that this business arose because Edith was trying to do exactly what he said, call attention to a good book, and Rosoff jumped in and seemed to be trying to negate that effort.

Anonymous said...

Great response. As an African-American woman, I cringe at many of the images of Black characters in media. And not just those from the past. I was raised consuming these, and so was my adult son. We all have a duty to speak out and to continue to call-out those who don't or won't see the damage those images do. Internalized racism is very real; it stems from a steady diet of poor and destructive representations. So, where there may be thousands of mirrors in media, few are honest representations of marginalized people.

Anonymous said...

I've been amazed and please so far at the civility of the discussions. I though he was saying that he thought differences should remain private, not become a public forum. If a disagreement is truly private, yes it should remain that way. But, this began on FB and that's a public forum. There were those who saw the original comments on FB and went to FB, but they didn't name names, believing it wasn't there place to do so, and I agree with their discretion. Names were not mentioned until I took it to my blog. The public was soon given full access, complete quotes and nothing out of context.

I'm not one to participate much in call out culture, I prefer to take my time to work through the situation particularly because so much of it is on Twitter and honestly, it can sometimes take me a minute to get meaning from those 140 characters. There has to be a better name for this than call out culture because at its best, what happens is a communal critique of a situation. What we originally share takes on a life of its own and sometimes that's a really good thing.

Discussing books, calling out stereotypes and discrimination is calling them out. How else will people know? How else can conversations grow to get them to fully understand the situation?

Julie said...

This not only began on FB, it began on a post where a person enthusiastic about a diverse book was sharing it, and Meg Rosoff was the one doing the calling out--saying diverse books did not need to be promoted that way. So, Campbell is basically a model of Dawson's preferred behavior. Rosoff is a reminder that even advocating books to your friends is not safe from intrusions of white fragility. In attempting to make nice with a powerful individual, with whom he seems to be friendly, Dawson's twisted the story all the way around. He should be steadfastly in Campbell's corner here.

PragmaticMom said...

I'm not sure what "Call-Out Culture" is but I do think that when incorrect depictions are in literature, they must be challenged and corrected. And out and out racism needs to be called out in books as well. Buying diverse books is a good start but it's not enough.

Brenda Agaro said...

If we don't call out bad representation, then how are we to improve the publishing industry and YA/children's books? How can authors and professionals improve?

Debbie Reese, if it weren't for your blog, I would have probably gobbled up David Arnold's Mosquitoland without giving much thought about the protagonist claiming Cherokee ancestry. I would have probably still have Island of the Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolves listed in my list of favorite books. That's how little I knew about Native peoples and cultures.

I'm still following this and other Diversity news that I have missed, but I am appalled at Meg Rosoff. And I was planning on catching up with her other books too. What's even sadder for me is her point about good literature expanding minds. It reminds me of the arguments/debates I've seen on the Internet regarding the call for diversity in the media - the "it's about quality, not quantity" argument. The publishing industry does not work that way. Hollywood does not work that way. Yes, the diversity advocates I follow want to strive for quality work. But we should also point out stereotypical portrayals and misconceptions. Because if the work is good but features bad representation, guess what? It's going to sell. It's going to be listed and recommended. Constructive criticism of a book does not equal a personal attack.

Unknown said...

I think one of the problems is the "buying diverse books is enough" attitude is that people who think that buying diverse books is enough may not be culturally competent enough to recognize when they are buying books that feed into stereotypes. Hence their objections to "call out culture."
It's important to buy diverse books, but it's equally important to "call out" those books that represent persons of color and indigenous peoples incorrectly or stereotypically. We need diverse books, but we also need culturally competent librarians and teachers to support collection development.