Monday, March 26, 2012

Seeing What We Can't See

Just discovered a cute pack of 9 board books, the Baby Days Collection, published in 2007 by Little Scholastic, full of adorable baby faces of all colors.

But I was flabbergasted by the inner photos in Baby Bathes. Take a look:

Is it really possible that no editor ever noticed the progression of babies by skin color, and the subliminal message it conveys: a black baby = "time for a bath," a white baby = "clean baby?" (Stunning that the middle photos intensify the effect, with the baby's skin lighter in the 3rd spread.) Has no one at the publisher ever heard of incidents of very young children mistaking dark skin for dirty skin?

It's perfectly clear that no one meant to convey this message. In fact, it's obvious from the collection's design that the opposite was intended, that the set was meant to be warmly inclusive, to celebrate all kinds of babies. 

But it's a clear example of the dominance of the white lens in the children's book industry. I find it hard to believe that an editor of color - or a white editor who was well-versed in the significance of racial images - would not have noticed this. There's intention, and there's impact.

We can't see what we're taught to not see.


Anonymous said...

Hi Anne,

This may be off your subject and you may have already addressed this topic, anyway, for years I have noticed, as I'm sure many others, that the various advertising with both children and adults of color are of light skin tone. My daughter who is 7 and I we're looking thru a "national" company ad. She mentioned on her own, look Mom, her skin is dark like mine. This is a rare happening, though it is about time fo other children to adults of darker skin tones to be able to see themselves as they and we see them. Katie

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

Thanks, Katie. An important point and not off topic at all.

Part of the legacy of racism is the pervasive impression that a broad section of American readers (especially white people) won't identify with a dark-skinned character. (There's also the offshoot of racism called Colorism - the preference for lighter skin over dark - seen around the world among all races.)

Sadly, the reactions of some fans this week to the casting of black actors for "The Hunger Games" - for characters who are in fact described in the book as dark-skinned - seem to prove the point. For too many Americans, it's still true that dark skin=Other.

To further this discussion with your daughter, you might want to check out the book Shades of People, which I reviewed in an April 27 post last year.