Where is the Color in Our Children’s Books?

Slam! Scorpions. Glory Field, Somewhere in the Darkness! Monster

Walter Dean Myers was one of my favorite writers growing up. In much the same way James Baldwin helped Myers to validate and define his existence, his words have supported countless young black boys and girls including myself.

In a New York Times Opinion piece entitled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”, Myers expressed his concerns over the striking absence of black and brown faces in todays childrens and young adult literature.

In 1969, when I first entered the world of writing children’s literature, the field was nearly empty. Children of color were not represented, nor were children from the lower economic classes. Today, when about 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, the disparity of representation is even more egregious. In the middle of the night I ask myself if anyone really cares.

Of course, Myers observation holds true even outside of the publishing world. For many children of color in the United States, everything from the video games they play, to the movies they watch, to the toys they play with are predominantly created and designed by and for a white audience.

This type of invisibility can have real consequences for kids of color in terms of self-esteem.



On White Women as Scarves…

Artist Nate Hill has been showing off his latest fashion piece on the streets of Brooklyn and it’s a doozy!

Just as some ladies love to tote around their Michael Kors bag as a status symbol, quite a few folks are of the belief that some men of color pursue white women for the same reasons. Playing around with the concept, Black artist Nate Hill pinched a few nerves by wearing unclothed white women around his neck — literally!

His photographic project is called “Trophy Scarves,” according to a Vice interview, and the Brooklynite artist has been traveling around town

 draping unclothed white women over his shoulders. Hill wanted to tackle the notion of non-White males using Caucasian women to elevate their own social statuses

White Women as ScarvesThe project has garnered a lot of attention and elicited responses from all corners of the internet. And some have actually criticized Mr. Hill on the grounds that his exhibit perpetuates the same objectification of women he’s in part trying to comment on since these naked women serve as nothing more than props in his display.

I’m not sure I fully buy this line of reasoning however. First, this is an art installation. One imagines that the women being used here were informed of why they’d be draped over Hill’s shoulders.These women are voluntarily and willingly participating in the act in order to bring attention to the issue. They’re playing a role. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of a slave doesn’t perpetuate or reinforce slavery. In fact, by participating, he helps to reveal the grotesque nature of our country’s history and forces all of us to confront it. The portrayal of a naked and vulnerable woman draped over the shoulder of a man is similarly offensive, and is meant to force us all to realize how despicable and damaging the objectification of women really is.