Try to Always: White Privilege and Interrupting Racism
Contributed to CBC Diversity by Karen Boss
Over the years at my varied jobs (in higher education, the scuba-diving industry, nonprofits, and now publishing) in many locations (Maryland, Los Angeles, Thailand, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Boston), I have often discussed race and diversity with others. From first widespread American use of the word “multiculturalism” while I was in college in the early 90s, to the annual three-day diversity training for student leaders at Occidental College, to working with Burmese folks who went to Thailand for protection, I’ve been concerned about race, diversity, and people’s experiences in the United States and beyond for a long time.
Working in publishing—especially children’s publishing—for me has meant being able to continue to engage around diversity issues. And I’m lucky to be at Charlesbridge, a house with a track record of publishing books featuring characters of color and diverse cultural viewpoints.
Recently I was reminded of an experience I had more than a decade ago, when I attended the Social Justice Training Institute (SJTI). This three-day intensive is for campus professionals and engages diverse groups of about twenty in an immersion experience centered on race, culture, and social justice. The discussion one morning was focused on interrupting racism when one sees, hears, or happens upon it. At one point, I (a white person) said that I would commit to always trying to interrupt racism. The reaction in the room was palpable. I knew I’d made a misstep, but I didn’t know what I’d said wrong. I waited.
7 Books About Growing Up Asian-American I Wish I'd Had As a Kid
I often have iterations of this conversation with my publishing colleagues, especially now that diverse books are becoming more visible (and hopefully will continue to be so). Reflections of my Asian-American experience were not common in the 90s and early 00’s when I was still in school; when I come across stories now, I think wistfully, “I wish I read this back when I was a kid!”
So I present you a completely personal, completely not comprehensive list of 7 middle grade and young adult books featuring contemporary Asian-American characters. While my heritage is Chinese, the characters here include Taiwanese-American, Korean-American, Indian-American and more—and I found plenty to identify with. The only other thing they have in common is the fact that even if they were published when I was the “right age,” I came to all of these as an adult.
“The need for diversity has always been my primary purpose. It’s a conversation that’s been front-and-center for the 30 years I’ve worked in publishing, both as an editor and author. So there’s not a first time that I can pinpoint. As an African American writer, parent, and publisher, I live and breathe the importance of diverse perspectives.”—Andrea Davis Pinkney in her interview with the Texas Library Journal on the “most critical topic of diversity”
Okay, so this might be a horrible thing to say given that I’m an editor, but I don’t think I’ve read a book that changed my life. Gasp! I know. When I’m editing, I always cross my fingers and hope that it will change someone’s life—and maybe, one day, I’ll read one that does just that.
But when I think back to my childhood, especially the time between the ages of five and eight when I lived in Germany, I remember how important books were for me. Before I turned five years old, my father enlisted in the Army. We lived in a pretty bad area in Brooklyn, and my parents were dreading my first day of school. And rightfully so, because I really think I would’ve been eaten alive at my neighborhood public school…especially since I was already doing a very bad job of defending myself on the playground. Since they didn’t have the money to move or to send me to private school, my dad joined up and we were off to Germany. Germany of all places! Probably an extreme measure to some, but thinking back on it, I appreciate the gesture.
I don’t remember too much about Germany. Four things stand out to me:
The Red Pencil: 2015 Children's Africana Book Awards Winnerafricaaccessreview.org
Are ethnic cleansing and large-scale violence against civilians a topic that can be raised with readers between eight and twelve years of age? Pinkney and Evans’ The Red Pencil shows that this is indeed possible.
A huge congratulations to author (and CBC Diversity Committee member) Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrator Shane Evans!
Dana Suskind, pediatric surgeon and founder of the Thirty Million Words Initiative (TMW), has partnered with the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Children’s Museum to promote early language exposure and development. The library expects to launch “demonstration sites” incorporating Suskind’s research and lesson plans at two initial locations in early 2016.
Booklist of Diverse Nonfiction Literature for Young Readerscbcbooks.org
The Nonfiction Booklist provides a searchable list of diverse nonfiction titles for young readers. Created and curated by Lauren Causey — and supported by the Carnegie-Whitney Grant from the American Library Association — the list is an invaluable resource for librarians, educators, caretakers, and book lovers of all kinds.