Posts Tagged ‘ African American ’

Children’s Books: Where Are the Black and Latino Characters?

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Children's Books CharactersAbout a year ago, many of my friends, along with a certain segment of the Jewish world, were excited about the publication of a new children’s book, an event that is usually so routine it rarely elicits notice, let alone comment. This book, however, was different: The Purim Superhero features a brother and sister who live with their two dads. It is billed as the first Jewish kids’ book to feature same-sex parents or any type of LGBT characters, and was on Parents.com’s recently published list of great children’s books with same-sex parents. (The title refers to a Jewish holiday that, coincidentally, was celebrated earlier this month.)

I recently thought of the book and the enthusiasm it provoked when I read about a study showing just how few newly published children’s books portray characters from racial and ethnic minorities: Of 3,200 books published in 2013 and studied by researchers at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, they found only 93 about black characters; 57 about Latinos; 69 about Asian; and 34 about American Indians.

That amounts to… not a lot.

This is a shame on so many levels. Most obviously, for kids who themselves belong to any of these terribly underrepresented groups—but also for all of us. The problem with these stats is the flip side of the excitement my friends and I felt for The Purim Superhero. The stories that we tell ourselves—and certainly the stories we read to our children—matter. Deeply. They help us understand and make sense of our world, they help us define ourselves and our values, they help us appreciate how others feel and how to put words to our own feelings. It is not just a matter of seeing myself in these stories, it is a matter of seeing my world—and the world I want to live in.

The American family is changing, fundamentally, rapidly. Whatever the world of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents looked like, today’s world, and certainly tomorrow’s world, will look very different. I want to be able to help my children understand, value, and cherish other people and other families, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship, or who they love. If the kids’ book world cannot capture in any adequate way the range of racial and ethnic diversity among American families, what hope is there for depictions of newer and less traditional family arrangements?

Books are a big way to help us accomplish that. Without them to aid us, the task is that much harder.

As our values and the realities of our world change over time, so should our books, which can help our kids feel comfortable with and accepting of ideas–and people and family arrangements–that are new, different, and perhaps at first unusual to them. In addition to its two-daddy household, The Purim Superhero features a woman rabbi as the spiritual leader of their synagogue. Depicting a woman in the historically male role of rabbi would have been remarkable a couple of generations ago, and virtually unthinkable before then. Today it is hardly mentioned, if at all, in coverage of and discussions about the book. My kids shrug at it, just as they shrug at the idea of a family with two daddies, and that’s in part thanks to the book they’re asking me to read again and again.

It’s important to note that The Purim Superhero wasn’t created in a vacuum and it wasn’t a happy accident of writer meets publisher. It was the product of a writing contest held by Keshet, an advocacy group for LGBT Jews (the name means “rainbow” in Hebrew)–which saw the contest a great way to find, publish, and publicize an engaging book with the character, themes, and message of so important to the organization.

Perhaps it’s time for others to follow that model. Strangely, the University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that the number of children’s books featuring characters from the groups it studied dropped over the past decade.

We’re going the wrong way. It’s time for our kids’ books to look like America.

Plus: What career will your child have? Find out!

The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years

Image of girl reading book via Shutterstock.

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Raising a Black Boy in America

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

By Barbara Brandon-Croft

IRaising a Black Boy After Trayvon Marcust’s been more than nine years since I wrote this essay expressing my feelings about raising a black boy in America. Certainly times have changed. (When I wrote this I could not have even imagined a black president of the United States.) And yet, in too many respects, times have remained exactly the same. The Trayvon Martin tragedy harks back to the very sentiment I wrote about when my now teenaged son was just in kindergarten. Here’s what I wrote:

While pregnant with my one and only, the technician administering my sonogram blurted out, “You’re having a boy.” I said, “A what?!” Stunned, he asked, “You don’t want a boy?” Quickly I tried to change my tone, but frankly I was scared. See, I know firsthand what it was like to be black and female in America. I felt confident (perhaps unrealistically) that I could actually help a girl navigate through a life of racism and sexism–but a boy? What was I going to do with a boy? Fortunately, I have a great husband who is smart and full of insights and who knows more than just a little bit about being a black male in these United States, but what about me? What would I have to offer? My fears?

As a mom, I worry about how I will someday have to explain to my 5-year-old son that we don’t actually reside on Sesame Street. In fact, statistics show that the older he gets the more likely it is he will become victim of violence. I’m raising a veritable sitting duck in the society we call home.

For my son’s own good, my husband and I will have to tell him that everything is not equal. He’ll have to be told that in another six or seven years, that he’s not only likely to be a victim, but will also be seen, in the eyes of many, as an suspect–for nothing other than the color of his skin. That hanging out with one or more of his black friends outside will turn “the guys” into “a gang” and, depending on who’s watching at them, “a threat” – and it won’t matter if they’re carrying basketballs and water bottles. My son will have to be taught that he can’t be “mischievous” like his white counterparts are allowed to be. Carrying out a dare to steal a candy bar for a white friend might garner him a “time out,” and that same misdeed could get my son shot. A teenager’s “joy ride” is just that for a white boy, but translates to grand larceny for my son. As bleak as it may sound, he has to be taught–for safety sake–that racism exists.

I grew up in an all-black neighborhood on Long Island and I remember my brother being unjustly stopped by the police repeatedly. (To hear him tell it, he was ordered to “assume the position” on a weekly basis.) And while that may be a slight exaggeration, that’s how the not-so-subtle nature of racism makes its impact. Let’s face it; the truth is not pretty.

But, exactly, when is the right time right to give your baby this ugly news?

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