Tascon (2008) describes white privilege as an invisible force, a spectre that is fueled by a deeply ingrained blindness, which results in ‘everyday racism’. Children’s literature exemplifies this concept through statistics that show the disparity between white and non-white characters. Furthermore, inequity is exacerbated by the inaccurate and unauthorized portrayal of diversity through stories that misrepresent or stereotype race and culture.
Our research revealed multiple examples of white privilege in children’s books. It was particularly unsettling to discover so many recently published examples as well as books by well-respected authors and illustrators.
A renaissance in children’s literature is needed in order to counter inequity. Such a movement must be built on the inclusion of minority authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers in the widespread distribution of children’s materials. Zetta Elliott comments on how well-meaning industry leaders can make a major impact. “When you plead for greater diversity are you only thinking about the person you see on the cover of a book, or are you also advocating for a wider range of people editing, marketing, and reviewing those books? If we don’t change the structure of the industry, we can’t expect different outcomes. It will continue to be business as usual” (May 18, 2014). The counterpart to this effort will be educators, librarians, and parents who demand inclusive literature as part of their curriculum and collections.
As librarians, we can counter everyday racism with everyday advocacy. To do so we must make every effort to stay informed and to participate in an ongoing conversation about white privilege and inclusion. Luckily, there is a vast amount of resources to aid in this pursuit, many of which we have listed in our additional materials section. Bloggers are leading the charge toward equitable literature through candid, researched discussions and global connections between authors, editors, publishers, teachers, and librarians. Furthermore, ALSC’s newly published 2017-2020 strategic plan includes “the importance of diversity and inclusion within our organization and our profession, including the need for supporting members to serve our communities with cultural competence; and about the crucial role that library service to children serves in our democracy” as major themes for directives and planning (ALSC, n.d.).
Librarians must know their community in order to offer both mirrors and windows. In the words of indigenous Australian author Ambelin Kwaymullian:
We stumble our way towards knowledge of each other, making mistakes along the way. That’s all right. What matters is not whether we make an error but that when someone corrects us, we listen. We apologize, and not in a way that implies the other person is being overly sensitive (or, worse still, that they shouldn’t ‘take it personally’). We simply say sorry, trusting them to be the experts in their own backgrounds and experiences. In discussing our worlds we find points of similarity and points of divergence, and delight in them both (June 12, 2015).
Finally, we must develop a critical eye toward diversity when selecting and promoting materials, perhaps replacing the search for diverse books with a search for equitable books.
If we engage ourselves in the pursuit of equity, we will not only fight everyday racism, we will help our young patrons make cross-cultural connections and become global citizens.