A friend recently reached out asking what her good-hearted, brave daughter, barely a teenager, could do to combat racism in her mostly white small town. The kid had overheard a discussion about racist incidents and wanted to go out and bust some Nazi heads, and directing that impulse to something peacefully productive instead of stifling it entirely was her mom’s first response.
In the round-robin text thread that ensued we came around to the idea of making sure the local library had books by and about people of color, for all age groups. I thought of that reading this:
Fattal: In your book you talk about nostalgia and how parents are reluctant to acknowledge racism in the books they loved growing up and want to read to their kids. Can parents share these books with their kids while also acknowledging their troubling elements?
Nel: I think that what we have to do is admit that our relationships with these books can be complicated. It’s okay to think fondly of a beautiful story, but you need to also think about the way in which that beautiful story may also be racist. We can talk about what is masterful about it or what is artistic about it, but we also need to talk about some of the things in the book which are not, and if presented uncritically are simply transmitting these ideas to a new generation. I think adults need to recognize that their fondness for a book or a movie is not a defense of that. I think you would actually have a richer and more profound relationship with a work if you do think about it critically, and if we do acknowledge those mixed feelings.
Kick has a bazillion books and lots of them have characters who are black; fewer and farther between are Asian or Hispanic characters. Often the children of color in these books are one of an ensemble; a named character is almost always white or Deliberately Vaguely Biracial. She has a book about Maya Angelou she’s obsessed with, however, and one about Frida Kahlo.
Do you remember the first book you read about a person of color? What was it? Would you recommend it to someone else?