Friday, October 05, 2018

Connecting Some Dots: Picture Books about Museums, White Privilege, and Brett Kavanaugh

I have an invitation to be interviewed for a podcast. I said yes, and went to that person's website to see what all they have been saying there about children's books. They'd been to the Eric Carle museum, and to the Seuss one, too. I saw they'd linked to other sites that have lists of picture books about museums.

I knew, before looking at any of the lists, that Bailey at the Museum would be on some of them. When that book came out, an AICL reader wrote to me about it because Harry Bliss (the author/illustrator) included Native content in the book. Most responses to my review are along the lines of 'it is for little kids' and so, the problems with the Native content don't matter. Response to Native critiques--of Halloween costumes that objectify Native women, or mascots that stereotype Native people--includes indignant 'grow up' and 'don't you have something better to do?'

Those responses are White Privilege in action. And, they are wrong. When people dismiss misrepresentations of Native people, they are inadvertently--and perhaps intentionally--saying it is ok to dehumanize anyone who is not like themselves. In that mindset, "those" people and their humanity don't matter.

There are consequences for that dismissal.

We're seeing those consequences, right now, in national politics as we wait to see if the US Senate is going to vote yes on Brett Kavanaugh.

The video of Orrin Hatch shooing women away, telling them to "grow up" is White Male Privilege, in action, but there are many White Women doing that very same thing. Here's Hatch:

His response to them is similar in tone and judgement to people who tell me and others who critique misrepresentations in children's and young adult books that our objections are misplaced. To them, children's books are harmless, and inconsequential. Critiques of them, they argue, can be ignored.

Of course, children's books do matter. They shape how readers think about the world. Critiques of misrepresentations of Native people are efforts to get everyone to see us as human beings.

Many women are feeling dismissed right now. Dr. Ford's testimony reminds them of their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment. They're speaking up, but the president and most of the GOP and all those who are chanting "We want Kavanaugh" are dismissing them.

We'll know, soon, if Kavanaugh will become a justice. I suspect he will be confirmed. Those who feel he has no place on the court will feel defeated.

I have no doubt whatsoever that--amongst them--there are many who said misrepresentations of Native people in children's books don't matter. So, I hope that they will reflect on the ways that they may have inadvertently contributed to a status quo that says the voices of those who have spoken about injustice do not matter. And of course, I hope that everyone who is involved with children's books will reflect on the ways that they, too, are inadvertently contributing to a status quo that says this or that voice does not matter.


Emily said...

Thank you, Debbie, for making that connection, and making the point very well. I am in school to become a librarian, and am working at a reviewing magazine, and am a parent to two small children, and in all aspects of my life I regularly use your insights to inform how to handle and consider books for children. Thank you for doing this important work.

Ava Jarvis said...

Co-signed, on all points.

Val O. said...

It's disappointing to see people (especially authors of kids books) say, "it doesn't matter, it's just for kids", when it's pretty common knowledge now that what kids learn and experience, defines who they are as adults. If children seen Native people, and People of Colour, portrayed only by caricatures, they'll grow into adults who only see Native people, and People of Colour, as caricatures.