It’s been 31 days since George Floyd was murdered. Thirty-one days of reaffirming that Black Lives Matter. Thirty-one days that our country has taken the fight for racial justice to the streets. Thirty-one days of hard conversations and personal reckonings.
For me personally, a lot of that time has been spent reading and listening to Black voices. I’ve tried to be humble and teachable, to listen far more than I talk, and to believe Black people when they share their experiences.
It’s taken me 31 days, but I’ve finally developed my plan for fighting racial injustice in the kidlit industry. These are things I plan to make a permanent part of my life as a reader and writer. They’re mostly drawn directly from the recommendations of Black leaders, inside and outside the kidlit industry.
I’m sharing for 2 reasons:
- sharing a goal makes it much more likely you’ll achieve it. (This is goal setting 101.) But even more importantly:
- I want to encourage other white people to do the same. I’ve included links and resources. You may not be ready to do all of this, but make a commitment to do some of it.
1. Vow To Take Action
Systemic racism is big beast and it has to be fought in many ways and in many places. Some important fights take place inside white people like myself when we recognize our racist behaviors and beliefs and work to change those.
But if we stop with ourselves, then nothing changes in society at large.
Changing ourselves doesn’t change racist policing practices. Changing ourselves doesn’t fix racial disparities in education, jobs, housing, and income. Changing ourselves doesn’t fix racial biases and disparities in the kidlit industry.
Or as the journalist, Tre Johnson, describes: When Black People are in Pain, White People Just Join Book Clubs. (Ouch.)
So I am making a vow to take action to fight racism in society as well as in myself. Specifically:
2. Educating Myself
Learning about racism is important. Like addressing the racism in yourself, it’s a necessary step toward making real change in society.
Ways I’m educating myself:
- Listening to Black voices when they speak (but not demanding that they teach me – they’ve got their hands full with their own work and grief.) The free #kidlit4blacklives video conference above is excellent – kid (and adult) friendly explanations of racism with positive and affirming calls for action.
- Learning the history that I wasn’t taught in school. Like the article “What Isn’t Taught in the Classroom Has a Profound Impact”.
- Learning about racism which, yes, includes reading books. I’m starting with How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. But I hope to work through more of this list of antiracist books.
- Following Black and antiracist news and social media accounts. This is an easy way to keep learning over time. I’ve already been following The Conscious Kid on Instagram for a while. (They’re also on Facebook.) I also added The Root to the news I follow.
3. Speaking Out And Educating Others
Speaking out is important. When white people are silent on social media, it actually says a lot. The same goes in our non-digital lives.
Ways I’m speaking out:
- Affirming that Black Lives Matter on social media and in real life.
- Resharing the voices of black people instead of sharing my hot take. This lets black voices be heard and educates other white people. (I’ve learned a ton from things my white friends have reshared.)
- Teaching my kids about racism. I’m catching up on a lot of learning, hopefully, I can give my kids a headstart. The Brown Bookshelf has an excellent free webinar: How to Raise and Teach Anti-racist Kids.
- Calling out racism. This is by far the hardest for me. Like many, I was trained by my culture to play nice and not make trouble. But not much will change until unimportant, unheroic people like me fight the big and small battles. However, I do have a limited supply of energy and want to use it to do the most good, in the spaces where I have the most power to effect change. That means I do not engage with random internet trolls, but I do call out my friends, family, writing community, and myself.
4. Supporting Black Writers and Artists
The Kidlit writing industry is just as affected by systemic racism as everywhere else. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are
- underrepresented in books,
- underrepresented in the industry,
- and get paid less when they do break into the market.
Please read happy Black books too. We don’t just write about slavery and colonialism. Consume Black history and art about anything. It all helps to decenter whiteness— #KWA (@athenakugblenu) June 1, 2020
Ways I’m tackling that:
- Reading books by black authors. Including happy books as well as books on important issues like racism.
- Reading books by black authors to my kids. This page has excellent resources.
- Recommending books by black authors on social media and my blog so others can read and support Black authors as well.
- Supporting organizations that tackle racial justice in the Kidlit Industry with my time and money. Such as We Need Diverse Books and KidlitNation.
- Following and sharing from social media accounts that feature books by Black authors such as The Brown Bookshelf on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
- Pushing the industry to pay Black writers fairly for their work. I’m not yet sure how to do this one because I don’t have the industry connections or a big-enough platform to push for it. But I’m going to keep my eyes open for ways to make this happen.
5. Increase Inclusion of BIPOC
One of the racial inequities in children’s literature is the exclusion of BIPOC from things like kidlit conference panels, book lists, school curricula, and invited talks. (See: #AllPalePanel. Or this article about how a satirical website, Rent A Minority, generated actual interest from the business industry. *lolsob*)
Inclusion in these spaces matters for equity, justice, and representation.
But it also has a practical impact: income. Speaking engagements, having your books on reading lists and curricula, winning book awards, etc. all generate income, which can mean the difference between writing your next novel and having to quit to get a second job.
Ways I am trying to increase inclusion:
- Noticing who is in the room. (And who isn’t.) Who is on the conference panel? Who was invited to speak at my library? Who wrote the books my kids are reading at school? Who wrote the books my book club is reading?
- Pointing out who is excluded and pushing for change. Last year, I contacted leaders of a small writing conference with an all-white faculty. I also posted it publicly to their Facebook page to raise awareness among other attendees. In my book groups, I push to include a diverse set of books. It feels uncomfortable at first, but most often people say, “Good point. Let’s do that.”
- Make room for BIPOC. That might mean literally giving up a seat – for instance, a white friend stepped down from an #AllPalePanel so they could offer the seat to a BIPOC. But often it’s more metaphorical – like welcoming BIPOC into the industry without getting defensive that they may take “your” spot.
6. Vow to Keep Going
Reminder to white people:— WHO’S NEXT (@itsjacksonbbz) March 19, 2019
You will continue to mess up re racism. So continue to be teachable, open to correction from POC, and vigilantly monitor yourself for defensiveness and white fragility.
You never “arrive” as an ally, you must continually *practice* allyship.
Dismantling systemic racism can’t be accomplished in 31 days. For real and permanent change, lots of unimportant, unheroic people like me will need to make lasting changes. We need to take action, knowing we’ll make mistakes and have to revise our course.
Which is to say: this is a start and I intend to keep these practices going, but I also know that I will likely make additions and changes to theses plans over time as I learn.
How about you? What changes are your plans for tackling racial injustice?