Thoughts on Varian Johnson’s Post, “Where are all the black boys?”
I read Varian Johnson’s post, “Where are all the black boys?” earlier this week, when people were linking to it all over Facebook. If you haven’t read it yet, you can see it at Varian’s blog, here. It’s one of those posts that has stayed with me, partially–of course, because it’s so important and Varian shows the problem and his feelings about it so beautifully. But, also, I think, because there are so many questions in the post, one question in particular–which I’ll get to later–that I can’t find any answer to.
I’m going to talk first about my own reaction to the post and to many of the excellent posts I read about multi-culturalism. Basically, I feel part of the privileged group–the white American girl who grew up in a safe, sheltered environment; who tucked herself consciously into that safe, sheltered environment and was happy there. I have always been able to find myself in books–basically, you could build a tower as tall as the Washington Monument about us shy, reader girls who don’t feel popular and would rather curl up with a book than venture out into the world. Yeah, that’s me. Except, of course, in those books, those girls always find themselves in a situation where they have to step out of their comfort zone, and I never, really did. Yes, I’m Jewish, and no, there aren’t that many books about Jewish-American girls today, at least not that I know of, but I grew up in a completely non-practicing family, of which many members had also grown up not-practicing and not necessarily believing for a generation or two before me. I still don’t practice any form of religion, Jewish or otherwise. So the Jewish girl who’s written about as a practicing, even semi-religious character just isn’t my “me,” if that makes sense. I can find my grandparents and great-grandparents, and my mom, in some excellent historical fiction–for adults and kids–if/when I want. I guess, if I were looking for a more specific me than that white, sheltered girl, I’d look for an atheist girl growing up in a very non-atheist world. I look around my brain and heart and ask if I mind that I don’t find that story, and–for myself–I guess I’m okay with that. Maybe I shouldn’t be?
All that is just to explain why/how, when I read Varian’s post, I feel like I’m a bit on the outside looking in. I feel sad and angry and frustrated, but as someone seeing this stuff happen (or not happen) to another person, not to me. I’ve had the same feeling, reaction ,when I’ve read and contributed to some of the excellent posts on multi-cultural writing at Mitali Perkins’ blog, Mitali’s Fire Escape. I’m not sure whether that actually makes any difference in how I respond or how I should respond, but I do think it’s part of my perspective.
Anyway, what I do know is that it matters what I do about it. It matters what we all do about it. Except…
I don’t know what that is. I don’t know what I, we, can do to change the uneven, unfair representation in books of so many peoples, so many populations. Is this misrepresentation even just happening in books for kids? I’m guessing not, but I really don’t read enough “adult” books to have an opinion.
Whatever. The question is, what can we do?
Buy the books that are written with non-white characters? I do that. Not just because I should, but because I’m always on the lookout for a good MG or YA story. Also because I like to explore worlds and cultures and people who are different from me. Like I said, I can pick up a “me” book anytime, anyplace. With ease. I like something new and different. Buy these books for our kids? Did. Do. Check out these books from our libraries? Request that our libraries purchase them? Did, do, again. Possibly, on this one, not often enough. (Note to self: Send more requests to librarians.) Talk about the topic and the books on our blogs and in social media? Did. Do. Doing.
What else? It just doesn’t seem like enough, not enough to actually make a change. I know, I know, a drop of water can wear away a stone, but…IT TAKES FOREVER. Varian says he’s worried about his daughter, and his nieces, and his nephew. I’m worried about them, too. I’m worried that our kid will still be fighting this battle for their kids, and so on, and so on.
What do you think? What else can we do? What do you do? And do you think it’s actually going to work?
Trying not be discouraged. Trying to find a sweet spot in the fact that Varian’s post is making its way around and that we are all at the very least talking about this. It just feels like a relatively small sweet spot.