Thursday, July 22, 2010

White Mind, Part II

This piece appears in my column, "The Illustrator's Perspective" in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators:

Part I defined White Mind as the unconscious patterns of thought and behavior resulting from socialization as a white American, and one of the causes for the low representation of people of color in all aspects of the children’s book field today. Part II offers ways to make White Mind conscious and change resulting behaviors. (I directly address white readers here, though I hope it's provocative for all.)


I remember an exercise from college drawing classes in which we first viewed a still life as volume, then line, and finally, as white space. For the first time, I saw, then drew, the shape of the space around the objects, which had been invisible to me until my attention was drawn to it.

White Mind can be hidden in plain sight, too, and trying to catch a glimpse of its presence can be like tracking a ghost. Here are some ways to gather clues, learn its tricks, and get your own mind back:

Explore what happened to you.

  1. Learn about racial identity development. In Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, she posits that identity is formed by what is “made salient,” the mirrors that are held up for us when we are young. Racial identity therefore develops differently for different groups. For instance, people of color tend to have racialized identities; white people, as the majority, don’t.
  2. Study the invisible “pass” that comes with white skin, as described in Peggy McIntosh’s seminal essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
  3. Tell your own story of growing up white. Investigating and expressing the truth of your experience around race is a significant beginning and can be a lifelong journey. What were your mirrors?
  4. Look for clues and identify patterns. What did adults around you say and how did they behave in relation to race when you were a child? What ideas did you internalize as a result? How do these unconscious ideas affect your behaviors?

Change the Script.

  1. Connect across racial difference in ways that stretch you. Work to overcome the conditioning of white centrality. Choose books and blogs (see Mitali Perkins, Amy Bowllan, The Brown Bookshelf, Neesha Meminger, Zetta Elliott and many others), movies and other materials to expose yourself to non-white voices and viewpoints. Make friends across race and culture. Step outside of your comfort zone; discomfort can be growth pains. Ask questions, but do your own homework; don’t expect people of color to educate you.
  2. Let go of defensiveness so you can listen deeply. Unconscious white bias is not your fault; you can take responsibility for it without needing to protect yourself. Don’t waste time justifying your intention; it’s the impact of words and actions that is critical. Trust people of color as the experts about their own experience. Become an ally.

Change the World.

  1. Diversify your cast of characters. Once your own world gets more colorful, that will flow naturally into your words and images. Many people of color have requested that white writers not appropriate cultural material and experiences, but we can and should fill our book worlds with all kinds of kids. When portraying a group you’re not part of, get feedback from someone who can see what you can’t.
  2. Create a demand for books by and about people of color, like those in Elizabeth Bluemle’s “A World Full of Color,” at Library Thing. Request them from libraries, donate them to schools, and purchase them for yourself and as gifts. Ask five friends to do the same. Host writers and illustrators of color for school visits, workshops and conferences.
  3. Nurture the next generation of diverse storytellers. Offer to present at underserved schools, for a discount or as a donation. Mentor beginning writers and illustrators of color. Introduce them to your editors and agents.

A Zulu phrase that describes our destination: Simunye! We are one.


Joanne said...

Great to find your blog! If you have not read A White Teacher talks about Race you might find that interesting.
Looking for children's books that provide a mirror for my students of color has been a struggle. It is great to see the change how ever slow. Thanks for opening the conversation.

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

Joanne, thank so much for responding.

I also appreciate the book recommendation; I will be getting it and reading it. Great suggestion.

Jessica {Team Rasler} said...

I think letting go of the defensiveness is one of the hardest parts, but crucial. Great list of steps to take!

Kristi's Book Nook said...

I read this in the SCBWI Bulletin. This is a wonderful post. I appreciate this very much.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I am really enjoying this series. Am tweeting it too. Thanks!