Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Good White People and Ghosts

Amy Cheney is currently the District Library Manager of Oakland Unified School District after working for many years on the behalf of incarcerated children. All views expressed are her own, and do not reflect those of her employer.

With the horrors of Amerikkkan White entitlement showing more of itself in Charlottesville this past August, I received this email from Center for Popular Action, which I quote in part:

 “White supremacy (...) is a reflection of centuries-long oppressive structures that permeate every aspect of our government, financial systems, cultural norms, and society at large. It’s a system in which Black and Brown bodies are continually devalued, marginalized, and criminalized, and those that perpetrate violence on people of color are protected, promoted, and honored.”

This paragraph gave me pause. When I read “those that perpetuate violence on people of color are protected, promoted and honored” I immediately thought of a recent experience I had that illustrates this--and NOT by the Alt-Right plowing cars into people, or Sheriff Arpaio, but by well-intentioned White librarians and a venerated graphic novelist.

I attended an event about Diversity in Graphic novels in May. Jack Baur and Amanda Jacobs Foust, whom I highly respect, gave a great presentation about a history of comics that illuminated muchThi Bui  and Mariko Tamaki were on the panel representing their beautiful books. You can see the presentation here and find more useful information on this site. [updated 10/11/17]

However, I wondered why Raina Telgemeier, a White writer, whose book Ghosts has been shown to be inaccurate and an act of cultural misappropriation was on this panel about diversity.

Let’s be clear:  by being on the panel, this White person was being promoted and honored.

I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was not going to go well.

And, it did not.

As a White person, I have had many experiences of my privilege in the realm of showing up to a public forum without adequate preparation because I am used to being believed, listened to, honored, promoted and protected. Donald Trump exhibits an extreme version of this where he believes everything he says is important and true and he can say it just because of who he is. I have talked on and on about something I actually knew nothing about, all the while thinking I was making a valuable point.  White people don’t have to prepare or analyze, or take time to understand people’s point of view because what we think fits into cultural norms, and…..truly, underneath it all, we’ve bought into the belief that we know what we are talking about, that our conversation and voice is important because we are good, we mean well, we are a part of the solution, and... we aren’t racist. 

The analysis that follows is both personal and not personal to Raina Telgemeier (RT) and the moderators (JB and AJF). They are good people, fantastic librarians and a terrific author/illustrator.  It is personal only in that they have a responsibility, as all of us White people do, to uncover, unearth and deal with the legacy we have been born into.

Here is a video of the panel. Beginning at 41.07, you can see exactly how it went down.

At 41.07 in the video, a question is asked to RT.

From 41.35 onward RT deflects, devalues and marginalizes what people of color and First/Native Nations have been saying to her about her book while displaying all the classic signs of White fragility. AJF and JB support and protect her.

What is absolutely horrifying to me about this interchange is:

1. RT did not and was not able to provide a clear summary and context of the criticisms leveled against her book and break down her responsibility in perpetuating the devaluation and marginalization of people of color and First/Native Nations. She actually turned to the person of color who asked the question to provide the context.

2. RT devolved into her “right” to write a book because “some of my best friends are _______.”  She focuses on her validity to write a book about Mexican Americans, in part because she married into a Latin American family.  "I didn't think I was borrowing, I thought I was experiencing something on a personal level and sharing stories"  (43.01). RT does not show a clear understanding of what people of color and First/Native Nations have been saying about cultural appropriation.  She says that she has been thinking deeply about this, but whatever thinking she has done was not apparent or shared in any meaningful way. Here’s just one article (the basic 101 version) that outlines some issues about cultural appropriation. 

3. RT’s comments devolved into personal issues that deflected from the very real issue of the genocide her book glosses over and normalizes. At 43.14 there is a clear example of White fragility and deflecting from the issues raised by people of color and First/Native Nations: “I’m not allowed to talk about going through a divorce right now, but it’s really difficult,” she says with tears. Somehow RT is now the victim - “not allowed to talk”  and has extenuating circumstances - difficult divorce - that explains away/detracts from addressing the question. This is what often happens when White people are confronted about racism and it’s what people of color have brought up time and again. This was a complete deflection from the racism in the book Ghosts,  the question at hand and what the panel was supposed to be about.

4. At 43.28 the moderators AJF and JB jump in to “take care” of and protect RT from her personal issues that she is using to distract from addressing the real issues of the problems of her book.

5. At 43.33 elaborate and nonsensical arguments are used to protect RT.  AJF uses the bizarre argument that why we need more diversity overall is because “when there are these unique stories presented they are highly criticized because there are no other voices telling these stories” and that “it’s really easy when there is one example of it to be picked apart because it can’t be everything to everyone.” I know AJF  didn’t mean that we need more diversity so that White people don’t get criticized, but that is actually what she said!

6. Accurate context is not provided by the moderators thereby perpetuating White point of view as normal. At 44.15, AJF says the book deals “a lot with California Missions”  and “the things that we are taught about California Missions and the things that we are not taught about California Missions is huge.” The moderators should have been prepared--i.e. thought through carefully why they included RT on a panel about diversity, be prepared to provide a context of the feedback given by people of color and First/Native Nations and to unequivocally denounce what was written/illustrated in Ghosts that glosses over and thus perpetuates genocide and violence.

For example, they could have credited Debbie Reese, who has already been so kind to inform those that didn’t already know that California Missions were the sites of massive genocide of First/Native Nations peoples.  See her analysis here to understand how Ghosts whitewashes the brutal history of the missions. The moderators and the author could have highlighted and distilled what Debbie Reese and others say in order to educate the audience as to the issues, thus honoring, promoting and valuing the voices of people of color and First/Native Nations.

7. White supremacy is used as an excuse for non-accountability. It seems that AJF’s point was that due to White supremacy we can’t be held accountable to the ways in which we have bought in, been misinformed, etc. If that’s the case, how have people of color and First/Native Nations been informed? Yes, due to White supremacy we are taught a whitewashed version of history but that doesn’t excuse us for perpetuating what we have been taught, for being so vague in our answers and not taking the platform that is given to educate, unequivocally, those in the audience that still may be unaware. Instead these three White people did not take the platform they had to do this. 

The book was not criticized “because there were ghosts at the Missions” as AJF  says, but 1. because the Missions setting was portrayed in a benign and thus false way and 2. as  Yuyi Morales points out (in the comments section): Day of the Dead is not about ghosts but about the souls of the departed. These things could have been clearly articulated by any of the White people.

8. White supremacy is blamed and also used as an excuse for not taking personal responsibility. At 45.00 RT sorta takes ownership: “It (What is It? This needs to be clearly said!) was an oversight and I have to take responsibility for that.” However, within 7 seconds, at 45.07  she clearly does not take responsibility by saying “but it was not something flagged by a single reader, and I had several of them.” This comment highlights privilege (“I had readers”) as an excuse to justify personal innocence. She seems to be saying that not ALL these White people and other readers could be wrong! Uh, yeah. They could be and are.

9. White supremacy is blamed for victimizing us all. Non-acknowledgement of inherent bias/racism is used to justify not doing adequate research.   At 50:50 RT says she did a ton of research and wishes that books and information would have been available to her. This is an example of a mistaken, passive and dangerous belief that we are all victims of White supremacy. Let’s be clear: RT is benefiting from, not victimized by, White supremacy throughout this entire debacle.

At 44:39 AJF says that “I don’t know of an editor that would have that kind of experience to question what we were taught.” First of all, this is a completely arrogant statement, second of all, it’s not true, and third of all, that’s not an excuse, reason or explanation: all of us need to learn how to question what we were taught and how we perpetuate the myth of White supremacy. In addition, it’s NOT up to people of color and First/Native Nations to do this work, but it IS up to us White people.

A simple Google search of “california missions racism” pulls up all one needed to know. On my browser this is included in the second entry: “Missions were little more than concentration camps where California's Indians were beaten, whipped, maimed, burned, tortured and virtually exterminated by the friars.”  Elias Castillo.

As to the possibility that the Scholastic editorial team did not question, fact check, google or utilize their resources to either hire a person of color or First/Native Nations to write this book or fact check a book by a White author about people of color -- that is also their responsibility that doesn’t diminish RT’s responsibility.

This “oversight” might have occurred because it might not have occurred to any of these White people that they could be unqualified or racist and that it’s their responsibility to question the status quo.

10. 46.42 Continued elaborate justifications by the moderators take more time and deflect from the purpose of the panel. Both AJF and JB appear to hold the book in such high esteem for the fact that it is taking on “this topic” (meaning Day of the Dead? Missions? Biracial kids?). All of these topics have been shown to be problematic! Why is this not acknowledged and instead explained away? JB’s perspective that “this could be the ONLY book that kids in Kansas read about this topic” means that somehow this justifies the writing of it and completely undermines, devalues, and Whitesplains away what people of color and First/Native Nations have been saying about the book.

Just to be clear - the criticism isn’t that RT is White and therefore shouldn’t have written the story. No, the problem is that she used (culturally appropriated) Latinx characters and culture that she didn’t accurately represent, and she erased a genocide. Please see Nic Stone’s terrific article about the dangers of “helping” marginalized people be more visible.

11. The people of color on the panel had just a few moments to introduce some good points and places of exploration. These were not picked up by the moderators and built upon, instead the conversation was ended. For examples:  at 49.34 Mariko Tamaki clearly acknowledges her process of understanding how she might be inadvertently racist and outlines a very simple way to make an apology.  This is not heard or followed up on. At 51.35 more from Mariko that’s not expanded upon. At 53.57 Thi Bui gets a few moments at the very end, when she speaks about telling stories from marginalized perspectives and listening to feedback. This is where JB ends the discussion. There were many opportunities on the panel (and before!) for RT, AJF and JB to hear what people of color and First/Native Nations were saying. Instead, the attention and time was used to support and protect RT’s personal defended stance.

12. This entire exchange took from 41:01 - 54:51--almost 15 minutes of time. This panel was supposed to be about Diversity in Graphic Novels and was derailed by a bunch of White BS.

Dare I say that all of this individual lack of ownership of the problem by White people adds up to collective systemic oppression? What I’m shining a light on here is a perfect example of a group of good, well-intentioned White people -- publishers, author, “readers”, editors, moderators, etc--acting together to assert their point of view, meanwhile devaluing and marginalizing the point of view of people of color and First Native/Nations.

Let’s be clear: promoting, honoring and protecting White people who have been educated but haven't owned their inadvertent racist mistakes = violence against people of color and First/Native Nations. It’s not complicated. It’s plain and simple.

The solidification of “White is right” violence continues with what looks like the all White judging panel for the Eisner Awards selecting Ghosts to win Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12).

It is our responsibility as White people to:
      Assume, own and understand that we, as White people, by definition and experience, are racist, regardless of whether we are consciously bigoted.
      Realize it’s a lifelong process to understand all the ways that we are positioned in power, and consciously or unconsciously perpetuate this racist system.
      Take the time to analyze cultural norms and prepare so as to be aware and inclusive
      Question the status quo
      Expose, attend to, and acknowledge--when appropriate--all the ways that we are racist, inadvertent or not 
      Be VERY clear how we benefit from and perpetuate White supremacy
      Provide clear examples and information to other White people about how we benefit and perpetuate racism and White supremacy.
      Take action to point out and dismantle the system that we are benefiting and profiting from
      Listen to, find the validity of and reach a deep understanding of people of color’s and First Native/Nation feedback--especially those we don’t understand or seem contrary to our views
      Move through our shame and excuses (didn’t know, didn’t mean to, but  - blah, blah, blah)
      Come to a clear acknowledgement of feedback
      Incorporate this information into our conversation
      Take action to rectify the problem, especially at personal expense. This means taking action that is not easy, convenient or lucrative, but is doing the right thing to make amends and reparations.
      Not expect people of color and First/Native Nations to shoulder the burden of analysis, feedback, context of how we have bought into and perpetuate White supremacy.
      Google “racism” + keywords

If indeed, if RT, AJF and JB want to take responsibility, the response could have been/can be any number of things such as:

      Use the platform of the panel on Graphic Novel diversity and Eisner award to inform about the many problems of the book
      Acknowledge the people of color and First Native/Nations that brought the racism to light
      Not accept the award or the position on the panel but refer a person of color or First/Native Nations to participate and highlight
      Have a forum to extend deeper the racism brought to light
      Give back all proceeds of the book to small presses that are highlighting  people of color and native people such as Blood Orange Press, or one of the presses listed here.
      Stop the press run of Ghosts and refuse to make money by perpetuating ignorance and inaccuracies that ultimately harm us all and that are off of the backs of people of color and First/Native Nations.
      Issue an apology
      Keep the video that is linked in this piece up on the web. In this way other White  people who want to see what covert yet solidified racism looks like can.

Unconsciousness or good intentions doesn’t excuse behavior or make it less racist and violent. Illuminating and eradicating racism takes vigilant work that can only come about if it’s understood that we are inadvertently and covertly racist and that we will inevitably expose this. We then need to learn to own this racism, learn from our mistakes, speak out, refuse to participate with the status quo and take positive action for a more equitable and just world. Only when personal responsibility is taken can oppressive systems be dismantled.

35 comments:

Debbie Reese said...

Thank you for this account!

As I write, I'm in Norman OK at the 25th gathering of RETURNING THE GIFT, a conference of Native writers, first held in 1992.

First: Walking amidst Native writers and an almost entirely Native group of attendees is such an affirming experience.

Second: We are here--in the present--because our ancestors fought like hell against things like missions. Generation after generation that followed our ancestors has had to fight like hell against the Raina's of the world who don't understand what we endured--and endure--today.

Third: GHOSTS is in most of the presentations I do--no matter what the audience. For the ignorant, what Telgemeier does in her book is White fun. For those who know, it is a kick in the gut that disrupts the goodness of a day, or that says (again) that we have so much to do so that Native kids can go through a school day with materials that affirm their presence.

Fourth: I'll add this to my list of items about GHOSTS.

And now--getting more coffee as I think ahead to another day of Returning the Gift.

booktoss.blog said...

Thank you for your patience. Your analysis of the panel is terrific, well thought out and, I hope, moves White readers and writers to better understand what mis-and under-represented people expect. Like Debbie Reese I talk about the racist erasure, cultural appropriation and ableist message of the book. Hearing her excuse, deny, dodge, and generally "White fragility" her way out of taking any responsibility was difficult to watch.

And, I think your point that the Whiteness sucked the joy and recognition out of the room for the LGBTQ and POC authors.

I'd like to push back a bit on one aspect of this article ... #5 reads "At 43.33 elaborate and nonsensical arguments are used to protect RT. AJF uses the bizarre argument that why we need more diversity overall is because “when there are these unique stories presented they are highly criticized because there are no other voices telling these stories” and that “it’s really easy when there is one example of it to be picked apart because it can’t be everything to everyone.” I know AJF didn’t mean that we need more diversity so that White people don’t get criticized, but that is actually what she said!"

So, you are letting your friend (AJF) off the hook for SAYING, out loud, this racist statement ... because ??? Keep in mind, I think you are absolutely right, she did say white people need more diverse books so white people won't get picked on by the mean Native and POC critics. I think that is exactly what she meant because that is what she said.

Lastly, I'd like to see links to reviews on the other graphic novels that really did deserve to be there. That would be one way to decenter Ghosts.

Here is mine on Thi Bui's beautiful memoir The Best We Could Do

https://wordpress.com/post/booktoss.blog/54879

Yuyi Morales said...

Amy, I am specially appreciating what you listed as how white people can take responsibility. I am taking those and adding all kinds of privileges to those suggestions, and seeing how I can do things better by looking from the privilege point I get by my gender orientation, class, abilities, etc.
Last week I attended a powerful presentation of a project of women working together to heal the atrocities and violence on indigenous women in Guatemala during the so called civil war. Amandine Fulchirone, who was one of the researches and the presenter that evening, explained how her role as a non-indigenous woman was, in all rights, questioned by the other women involved. Amandine explained that one of the main principles during the project was to reject the stigma of taboo conversations. Among the participant everything could be discussed and questioned, everything from the motives of the researches to their own personal stories and who was sponsoring the investigation and why. It made me think what would happen if here in children’s literature, we could also hold a principle of taboo conversation where we could be strengthen by our willingness to talk, to question, to respond, and to be respected for such an openness more than by our insistence to defend ourselves and or work.
In the meantime, as we prepare for the upcoming celebration for the Day of the Death, I hope that we can add to the conversation with alternative readings to Ghosts. Here is one tittle I offer with some of the most accurate information about the celebration: Funny Bones, By Duncan Tonatiuh
And, as I believe the moderators are referring to my posting in RWW last year, in which I talked about how the Day of the Dead experience was misrepresented in Ghosts, I am adding here the link to what I had to say at the time: https://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.mx/2016/11/day-of-dead-ghosts-and-work-we-do-as.html

Tenisha McCloud said...

I don't see any other solution to this than for Scholastic to recall all copies of GHOSTS, and all school and public libraries must remove their copies of GHOSTS from their collections. Raina Telgemeier should receive obligatory sensitivity training. Jack Baur and Amanda Jacobs Foust need to lose their jobs. Yes, they should be fired from their positions for this outrageous behavior. And there cannot be ANY MORE "diversity panels" that include WHITES because they do not exist as part of the makeup of our culture. WHITEY GO HOME.

Amy Cheney, you should be canonized, despite presenting as white, for capturing every second of this panel and every wrong word that came out of the mouths of RT, JB and AJF. You are saintly!!

Megan Schliesman said...

I think what this points to, yet again, is the importance of considering how essential cultural criticism is informing purchasing decisions. Review journals are not the only source we should turn to.

I hope this encourages libraries to look at why they purchased Ghosts--looking at their own selection criteria including what might be missing from them, such as considering sources beyond traditional review journals--and also to consider the essential issue of balancing the collection, so making sure there are other (accurate) perspectives, which aligns with what Yuyi mentioned in "adding to the conversation": libraries are key in providing materials to do that.

Reading While White said...

Tenisha, we are reading your comment above as sarcasm; otherwise your call to fire JB and AJF might be construed as a personal attack under our comment policy. (https://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/p/comment-policy.html)

Allie Jane Bruce said...

I need to say that I have a lot of sympathy for everyone on this panel. Including Raina, Jack, and Amanda. I've done what they do. As a white person, I was conditioned to do it.

I do not say this to defend their actions, just to state facts. My stomach twists up for multiple reasons when I watch this video. One of them is because Raina really is in pain, and I sympathize with her pain.

I can feel that sympathy AND ALSO say that her actions were not OK. Those two things do not cancel each other out.

Here's the thing: It would be easy to pinpoint that moment when Raina fights back tears and say, "this is clearly hurting her, I feel sorry for her," and leave it at that.

In some ways it's harder for me, as a white person, to think through the ramifications of GHOSTS and this panel (the misrepresentation and therefore devaluing of Native life and Latinx culture that happen in the book, the fact that this book has been lauded and nominated for awards, and the way that its critics--women of color and First/Native Nations--have been shouted down and maligned, in spaces that range from this panel to the online world) and see the ways that these actions hurt people as well. That pain is just not as immediate to my experience. The Native kids who see the lives of their ancestors devalued are not in front of my white self. The Latinx kids who see an important aspect of their culture commodified and misrepresented don't have space on too many library panels to make their case. The women who criticized the book--well, I talk to (some of) them regularly, but I haven't seen images or videos of them fighting back tears as they read.

If they did post such photos or videos, I suspect they'd be attacked and marginalized further. Not comforted as Raina was.

Point is--I need to remember that the fact that the people hurt by GHOSTS and this panel are more disparate and less immediate to me does not make their pain any less, or any less important.

As for Raina, or any of the White people involved in this panel, if you happen to be reading this, know that I have been there. You are not alone in whatever thoughts you are having right now. Let us know if you want to work on making this right. We can help you strengthen muscles that fight racism and weaken those that perpetuate white fragility. Everyone with RWW is here to help. I realize this sounds super condescending but I mean it. It is so, tremendously, liberating to detach oneself from a self-image that is Too Good To Make Racist Mistakes.

"To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true." -Bayard Rustin

Tenisha McCloud said...

Yes, I was being sarcastic. I just hope that if I ever find myself in a difficult situation that there is no one ready to film it, post it online, examine my every word, and vilify me in front of my colleagues nationwide and internationally. People make mistakes. This is over the top.

I understand the RWWcomment policy, but I would also like to question if what Amy Cheney has done here - and Reading While White for collaborating - skirts the line of professional ethics and defamation. I hope she has never misspoken, or found herself in a situation where she hasn't had the Right reaction and the Right words.

Elisa Gall said...

I don't think any of us at RWW would say we have never found ourselves "stepping in it," so to speak. We are socialized to maintain these systems and this is a textbook example of what goes on day in and day out in our classrooms, our professional conversations, and our relationships. I know I have centered and protected White people before, prioritizing my (and their) comfort over true conversations, criticism, and change. Acknowledging that doesn't make me a terrible person - it makes me aware of how I am conditioned and it also motivates me to reflect and push against my "default" feelings and assumptions.

I respect how Raina Telgemeier has elevated the medium of comics and changed the publishing landscape. Drama is super important - Smile is one of my favorite books. I can also see that I am impacted by Whiteness (among other systems). When I first saw this video, I held the mirror up to myself, thinking about how I would feel if that was me or what I would have done if I were moderating that panel, wondering if it would have really been all that different. I was uncomfortable. I was fighting the perfectionism that is a cornerstone of White supremacy culture. I was learning.

A published book is a public act. Statements on the internet are public. Panel conversations are public. The behavior and harm are hurting and affecting people, even if (like Allie points out) you don't see it or you choose to ignore it. If someone's hurtful behavior is public, what does privately discussing and correcting it do? What does it not do? Who does it support? Who does it NOT support?

Laura's comment also challenged me, because I read that part of the post as speaking to impacts over intentions. Laura did not read it that way, and I have been reflecting on that and pushing myself to see how the subtle wording of that sentence supports the person who said the statement over the people hearing it. Thankfully, Laura didn't let that learning opportunity pass. Also to Laura's point, I hope that people spend time exploring the work by the people on that panel who had their time cut short. Here is an interview with Bui about The Best We Could Do: http://www.nerdophiles.com/2017/06/20/thi-bui/
And here is Tamaki and her co-author speaking about the new Lumberjanes book, Unicorn Power!: http://ew.com/books/2017/03/01/lumberjanes-unicorn-power-mariko-tamaki-brooke-allen/

I also think this is an opportunity to look at books with Native and Latinx representation other than Ghosts, books by First/Native Nations people and Latinx authors. Here's a review of The First Rule of Punk (https://latinosinkidlit.com/2017/09/28/book-review-the-first-rule-of-punk-by-celia-c-perez/) and here is Monique Gray Smith speaking about her new book, Speaking Our Truth: https://quillandquire.com/omni/monique-gray-smith-to-explain-reconciliation-to-children-we-must-be-truthful-and-face-our-own-fears/

Amy Cheney said...

Thank you all for your comments. I have been having trouble posting comments for some reason. This is a test to see if I can post and I will respond further.

Amy Cheney said...

This entire experience is 100% uncomfortable for all involved. It's not pretty. I'm sure many White people, including myself (too numerous times to mention) have been in this situation many times. It is painful. The shame and fear is intense.

This is NOT about the people involved. This IS about their behavior.

This is NOT a reflection on their value, contributions, professionalism, fantastic work, etc. It is in NO way any reflection on their work, valuable information on the panel, etc. This is NOTHING about them getting fired. If it was I would be unemployable for all the inadvertant and unconsious ways I've been and continue to be racist.

It is, hopefully, something that can be used to educate all White people, including the people involved, including myself. I learned a lot by looking deeply into what I experienced at the time as painful and uncomfortable without understanding all the specifics.

It is painful to expose and see inadvertant racism. In fact, when Booktoss above pushed back at me, I had a reaction. I went into exactly what I describe in my piece (BUT... Blah, blah, blah). I have now gotten to a point I can say thank you to Booktoss. I am amazed at all the ways I see I still defend, protect and work to make White people feel comfortable and/or excuse the BEHAVIOR - which was, in my opinion, 100% unconscious. I can also see that not highlighting Mariko and Thi's books are ANOTHER way that I did not promote, honor and respect people of color as I aim to do. Thank you for pointing that out as well. I want to reiterate I had to go through the process I outline in the piece above from a few comments. This is ongoing work.

Amy Cheney said...

And I will echo what Allie Jane Bruce says above: "As for Raina, or any of the White people involved in this panel, if you happen to be reading this, know that I have been there. You are not alone in whatever thoughts you are having right now. Let us know if you want to work on making this right. We can help you strengthen muscles that fight racism and weaken those that perpetuate white fragility. Everyone with RWW is here to help. I realize this sounds super condescending but I mean it. It is so, tremendously, liberating to detach oneself from a self-image that is Too Good To Make Racist Mistakes."

Jamalia Higgins said...

This is all so fascinating. One takeaway that I have from reading about this and other panel-gates is sort of wondering what we want panels to be going forward.
One version seems to me to be putting together a panel of all like-minded people who will have the audience nodding their heads in agreement with much of what is said.
The other version is essentially a free-for-all where Q&A sessions could become quasi-riots because moderators are not allowed or willing to tone police or ask for calm. I'm not sure either version moves us very far forward in sharing information or understanding. But such seems to be the world of today.

KeladryofMindelin said...

Did JB and AJF give their consent to be used as an object lesson in this way, and were they given the opportunity to view the post and/or respond before it was posted? If not, I feel like this really pushes the boundaries of professional ethics and feels much more like a public shaming than a desire for an open and honest discussion.

Allison said...

This article makes some really valuable points, but man, I have to say the critique of the author's fellow librarians seems........ really personal. I've never seen anyone get called out on this blog- there's usually more of a spirit of self-reflection and personal responsibility, rather than criticizing others. I'm surprised to see it, and I wonder if the same points could have been made here without getting so specific.

Jill Harris said...

I think the points in this article could have been made (and made more effectively) without the personal attacks and public shaming. To me, this article feels more about centering the author as one of the "good white people" she mentions in the title and asserting herself in the counter-productive battle of who's the wokest. I have no doubt that if given the chance JB and AJF would have been totally open to discussing these issues. I know them to be thoughtful, reflective people, who care deeply about social justice and have a desire to do the uncomfortable work of dismantling white supremacy, including accepting critique and evaluating their own biases. But they were not even given a sincere chance to make a comment or provide a response, which to me seems unethical at best, like defamation at worst. Couldn't this have been handled more meaningfully via "calling-in"? Does the approach taken in this article really move us forward in this work?

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Jill, Allison, Keladry--I would be lying if I said I said I had all the answers. Some of these, Amy can speak to. The big one--whether this moves us forward--I believe it does. I truly do. But I won't lie; at the end of the day, I don't know. I can't know. I'm not privy to the inner workings of anybody's heart or mind.

I do know that I've seen this panel a thousand times before. The cast changes; the content does not. People are criticized privately; publicly, we stick to vagueries and generalities. White people learn, over and over again, that we can preserve our comfort at the expense of people of color and First/Native Nations people. The system perpetuates. And Native children and children of color are shamed, over and over and over again, by this system.

If you always do what you always did you'll always get what you always got. We need to do something differently. What's true is true.

Nina Lindsay said...

Keladry, Allison, Jill, I understand why this feels uncomfortable; and why it must feel terrible for some of those named in the piece (who were given a heads up about the publication). As to public shaming, and a chance to respond, a few thoughts:

This was a public discussion, recorded and shared. As any good panel will, it has generated ongoing discussion. I think what Amy's article does that is so important is bring the ongoing conversation out of spaces where White people tend to "caucus" to defend ourselves, and asks us all to reflect. She does a good job of putting this piece in context, calling on all of us White people to examine ourselves and say: "When have I done this?" We all have. This is an opportunity to discuss these issues.

It would not have been possible to share this discussion without naming those involved, because they are named in the panel; there is no way to examine the discussion without knowing who they are. The option would have been not to share the object lesson at all, and that in itself is an act affirming the status quo. Amy is asking us to confront this openly, as we do on this blog.

I have taken two related, but different, responsibilities here. One is to support my colleagues named in this piece, as individuals and professionals. The other is to ensure we can use this discussion to move us forward. If I let the first responsibility swallow the second, I fail in both.

To both responsibilities, I'd ask you to read and reflect on the piece as an object lesson of ALL of us.

Nina Lindsay said...

I want to add another thought, to express what I appreciate about Amy's piece, as difficult as it is.

When valid criticism is offered of a book that exposes the racism inherent in Whiteness, we are conditioned as White people to defend the creator and deflect the criticism in very specific ways that we may not consciously even be aware of. And when in White circles we try to break open an examination of this practice, there are very specific ways we shut that conversation down. We end up spiraling into an examination of ourselves that takes our attention further and further away from what generated it.

There are many people hurt through this whole process. But White supremacy guides the White gaze to circle the wagons round White people. I won't participate in that. We need to learn how to have these conversations, publicly: in our profession, in order to make and share better books for children; in the world, to be responsible citizens.

Jill Harris said...

To be clear, I agree 100% that white people need to be get very uncomfortable, feel hurt, take full responsibility for this work, and call each other in. Also please note that I am in no way defending Ghosts or RT's words at the panel. What I take issue with is that this was not presented as a dialogue between the author and the two librarians involved. They were made aware of the article only a day before publication, on a federal holiday when neither was checking their work email. I think this argument would be made more effectively if it had been presented as a dialogue. I think that JB and AJF truly could have contributed valuable information, including potentially modeling how white people can self-reflect, make public mistakes, apologize, and do better. How does publicly shaming two librarians who on the whole are advancing social justice, diversity, and inclusion in publishing and our profession lift up the people shamed and erased by RT's work? I don't see it. I don't see the need to rush this to publication without taking the time to dialogue with JB and AJF before hand. The panel was back in May, it's not like this was time sensitive. I believe strongly in calling in versus calling out. This article is unlike any other I've read on this blog because of the calling out approach taken. As a reader, in my opinion it doesn't rise to the quality of other pieces published here.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Jill -- all I can say is, read the post again. Read our comments again. This is a call-in. It's a public call-in, for sure. But it's a call-in.

I get it. I've been called in many, many times and responded to it many, many times as if it were a call-out.

We are calling in as loudly as we can. We cannot control whether that lands with people as a call-out. Especially when we white people are conditioned so strongly to respond to call-ins as if they were call-outs, with a plethora of sophisticated defense mechanisms.

Once again, I come back to Bayard Rustin: "To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true."

Thi Bui said...

I was angry and sad to read this post. The nature of the take down--a play by play of someone's personal failings, with a time stamp for where you can watch them become fragile and almost cry--feels utterly mean and unnecessary. Writers put out work with the understanding that the work must stand on its own, be loved or hated or misunderstood or analyzed in ways we did not anticipate. Reviews are fair. Critique of one's work is fair. But when we agree to speak in public, it is an act of trust that is not always easy. And to have one's participation in a conversation ripped apart in this way is enough to shut a person up forever. Or discourage others unsure of themselves from speaking for fear of saying the wrong thing. So much for dialogue and evolution.

There are many salient points in the post and I will assume positive intent. It is an intellectual dissection in the name of understanding white supremacy at the expense of an author and two librarians. I shudder to imagine when I'll be up next on the cutting table. For now, I am represented here as some kind of victim, not given a chance to speak. My book stands up on its own, thanks. When I don't have something important to say, I listen. It's something you can do on stage. I did not miss the irony of having what I did say paraphrased instead of quoted. Nor the irony in the time I have devoted to processing my feelings about this post today instead of supporting a POC cartoonist, supporting friends fighting deportations and the dismantling of health care for the poor, working on a book about climate change, or taking care of myself and my family.

Let's make better comics, yes. And keep pushing for diversity and voices that have been talked over. And sit in our discomfort so that we can grow. But let's not make sacrificial examples of each other.

Monica Edinger said...

I'm currently part of a predominantly white team of fourth grade teachers and figuring out how to support class conversations, rethink curriculum materials (esp books), reconsider our approach to topics centered around race, and address kids of color (and their parents) who are questioning rightly has been hard work. One of the most challenging aspects I find as a white ally/accomplice is how to support the nudging of some of my white colleagues from throughout the school (I referenced my team as that is where I have first hand experience with this more regularly), especially those who don't appear to be as informed as those of us who read this blog to a place where they are able to recognize that they do not have all the answers, cannot necessarily reach closure, can't "fix" every situation, cannot always go on previous experiences regarding other sorts of inclusion/exclusion (social aggression of many sorts from their vast experiences as veteran teachers), and more. These are caring folks --- after all we work in a caring profession. They feel competent as carers, feel proud of their skill in this, see it often as a talent in fact. And so when they feel threatened (say by something like this post) I've observed retreating, hostility, turning off listening to the conversations, and sadly no change for the better. Even when they aren't hostile, I find that certain of the veteran White teachers reinforce each other and getting them to a place of less certainty, an understanding that closure isn't going to happen, and a recognition of the way their presentation of White fragility is going to take time. They definitely want to do better, but I see them falling back on their own experiences, knowledge, and behind it I sense pride as veteran, caring teachers. When this is challenged personally it is hard and too often I think they only dig in, silently feeling they know better because of their long experience. And it is all of this that makes me wonder how this post and similar actions will help those like these white colleagues of mine move to a better place to support our kids and families of color rather than just turn off and retreat. I do trust that change will happen over time, but I guess I'm concerned about what is happening now and how to get more of my white colleagues to be farther along on this path than they are.

Reading While White said...

Thi, thank you for commenting. We appreciate you assuming positive intent. We should have better ensured you the opportunity to speak and weigh in on the piece, especially given that Amy uses your contribution to make a point. We take responsibility for the negative impact of running a piece that does not give you agency to speak on your own behalf, and represents you as a victim.

We understand paraphrasing you rather than quoting you removes the specific words you chose. We’re sorry.

Mariko - we do not want to assume anything about how this post has landed with you, but we offer you the same apology.

We are listening, reflecting, and learning.

Sam Bloom
Allie Jane Bruce
Amy Cheney
Ernie Cox
Elisa Gall
Nina Lindsay
Megan Schliesman

Debbie Reese said...

As this thread has evolved, it seems that it has lost sight of the readers of this or any book that misrepresents or appropriates something.

There's a strong "this kind of post hurts the teacher/librarian/person who is trying but now is retreating" --- and with it, a suggestion that nobody is helped by a post as direct as Amy's.

It is a "if you speak this way" you're not helping, so you shouldn't do it again.

It centers a segment of the population AND seems to forget about those who ARE helped by this direct analysis.

The discussion, at present, is over there with Raina.

Meanwhile, teachers are using that book in classrooms all over the country.

Some teachers---a very tiny number, I'd bet---have chosen NOT to use the book because of the reviews of the Native and Latinx content.

A fact: the vast majority of people love Raina's work. That's why her books are consistently in the lists of best sellers. They're doing a lot of mis-educating of all kids who are asked to read them. Or who choose to read them. Are we inadvertently privileging Raina's pain and embarrassment over their well-being?

Monica Edinger said...

This is absolutely true. But I worry about children who are being hurt not just from books, but from well-meaning white people like the colleagues I mentioned who must evolve and change. The reality of the children of color in my school is that most of their teachers are white. And they need to change now --- the sooner the better for these children's well-being. My post was thinking about that. If it is indeed more white privileging, my apologies. I will try to do better.

Nina Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Monica Edinger said...

Nina, I wasn't looking for answers from you or the others of RWW. My posts were reflective of what I observe in my school and think is probably all too true elsewhere. My school is amazing at the work they are doing, the spaces they are providing (we have regular Equity Learning group meetings for these conversations --- one coming up this week and we had a significant one yesterday at my grade meeting), the POCs they are putting in places of power and as change agents, and more. The work is happening there, but that doesn't mean all the people who need to are changing significantly. My posts weren't asking for answers, just pointing out that well-meaning white people (and I wasn't meaning me:), can move into worse places from some of this and that is not good for the children in their care.

chapterandstack said...

I appreciated Amy's frank, raw, open point of view. I have not personally seen a white person so fully acknowledge the problem of white privilege and their responsibility in it. It was refreshing. Reading the comments, I was reminded of the recent controversy at the Dr. Seuss museum in which authors threatened to boycott a book festival because of a racially-offensive mural. Critics said, "Couldn't the authors have written a letter?" Far be it from me to tell people who've been offended how they should respond to the offense. Sometimes bs needs to be called out. The problem lies not with the messenger but with the offender. In this case, RT put the work out there, she's promoting it, doing events so she must accept the criticism that comes with it. POC of color have been living with the pain of racism forever so white people can surely handle it for a little while.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

I'm reading what Debbie's written, and reflecting on how this conversation has looped into a rut of centering whiteness in multifaceted ways (and reflecting on how I've contributed to that--overanalyzing reactions, and reactions to reactions, and participating in focusing the conversation not on the issue raised but on the manner in which it was raised--a classic technique in perpetuating racism).

(And yes, I recognize that more of ME TALKING is more WHITENESS TALKING. I'm going to leave this comment and then walk away, at least for a while.)

Looking upstream in this post, Yuyi Morales left a really valuable comment that I think has gotten lost. Yuyi asks: "What would happen if here in children’s literature, we could also hold a principle of taboo conversation where we could be strengthen by our willingness to talk, to question, to respond, and to be respected for such an openness more than by our insistence to defend ourselves and or work."

Yuyi cites a group research project based in Guatemala in which the participants held a principle that there would be no taboo conversation, and challenges us to imagine that principle applied to the children's literature world. I highly recommend that you read her whole comment, see above.

In the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond's Undoing Racism workshops, trainers pose this thought experiment: If all neo-nazis, skinheads, KKK members, etc., boarded a spaceship and left Earth for a different locale today, would racism disappear? The answer, of course, is not even a little bit.

What's remarkable to me is that we in the children's literature realm have essentially achieved this. In these online circles, at least, I've encountered exactly two (2) Trump supporters. And they are not neo-nazis. And yet, racism is so, so present in our field. If you doubt it, look at the CCBC stats of books published by/about people of color (http://blog.leeandlow.com/2017/03/30/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2017/). And make sure you look at authorship as compared to content (http://ccblogc.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-ownvoices-gap-in-african-american.html). So what gives? So much of our industry is composed of Good White People. Like me.

So what would it look like if, as Yuyi asks, we held a principle of No Taboo Conversation in the children's literature world?

I only have the beginnings of ideas formed about this. But I think one thing that might happen is that we'd value the pain of the people repeatedly rammed by the car of racism more than we value the pain of the driver who feels really, really uncomfortable about the fact that they just hit someone. We'd start to see our actions align with the sentiment that Native kids really DO matter. That Latinx kids really DO matter. Because until our actions align with our words and intentions, they don't. And keeping the unwritten rule that some things are just too taboo to talk about feeds into perpetuating a world in which only white kids matter.

Casey Gilly said...

It's irresponsible journalism not to reach out to ALL the subjects beforehand. It's shady librarianship to call out your peers as though their presentation was the problem--which it wasnt. It's bad allyship to make this about your white feelings instead of providing a platform for people of color to share their thoughts and responses to the panel. Your white voice? Don't care about it. At all. This isn't how you "collect bad whites." It's how you destroy anyone who *is* providing a platform for difficult, diverse conversations.

Being a white ally is essential--but the way you're doing it? Fetishizing the culture of allyship? You're making it about *you* and not about the underrepresentation in comics. You're making it about calling out white peers instead of having a meaningful dialogue with them. You're spending more time on what the white people did wrong than on lifting up the voices of the people of color and queer people on the panel. I notice you don't mention Justin Hall whatsoever, on that note.

There can, and should, be meaningful, constructive, honest dialogue about representation in literature. White people need to tell stories responsibly. No work is above critique, but within that critique, the motivation needs to be pure, not like what you've done here, which is focusing on getting your Good White Person Cookies.

KeladryofMindelin said...

Wanting to dismantle white supremacy and thinking that publicly shaming colleagues is unnecessary and cruel aren't mutually exclusive. I don't think anyone has apologized for the content of Raina's book or her responses to the questions asked at the panel. For me, at least, the problem is that you decided to publicly scold and insult both the author and the moderators, and then to lecture those who think that was a crappy thing to do.

Referring to AJF as arrogant, to their arguments as nonsensical, claiming that "white people don't have to prepare or analyze, or take time to understand people's point of view" which heavily implies that JB and AJF were somewhat incompetent - none of that was necessary.

Telling those of us saying "that was seriously not cool," that we need to re-read the article and that our objections are clearly due to hurt feelings or feeling uncomfortable - also not necessary.

Claiming to want to spark a dialogue but not giving JB and AJF any advanced information about this article and assuming bad faith on the part of the commentators - unnecessary.

Implying that 15 minutes of less-than-stellar discussion on a panel is somehow the equivalent of a man who tortured people for years (Arpaio), or someone who drove a car into a crowd of protesters, or Donald freaking Trump is unnecessary and deeply offensive.

And finally....several people have stated that NOT discussing this panel would reinforce the status quo and center whiteness. That may be true, but given that it's impossible to discuss every single example of negative behavior (since we would never do anything else - I can think of at least 15 instances of behavior that promotes the status quo and reinforces white supremacy that I've seen since I woke up this morning, and I'm positive that there were dozens more that I missed) we pick and choose what we're going to highlight.

You decided to highlight this.

You decided that whatever lesson could be learned from your article outweighed any negative impact on these individuals (and no, I don't just mean feeling uncomfortable - you do know that people have gotten harassed and even fired from their jobs based on things that they said - or were claimed to have said - online, right? That may be unlikely in this case, but that possibility should go into any calculus of determining when to directly name individuals).

So own that choice.

Don't pretend like there was no other course of action, no other way to make the same point without being cruel to members of the library and author communities. Of course there were other ways, but you chose this one. Own it.

And please, stop patting yourself on the back and humble-bragging about how "woke" you are by throwing your friends under the bus.

Moyrid said...

This post reminded me too much of this story from the veterinary medicine field. http://www.animalwelfareissues.com/veterinarian-commits-suicide-with-drugs-to-euthanize-dogs-after-backlash-from-tv-interview/

This post to me was more cruel than it was constructive. And this isn't me trying to protect the white person. It is about the consequences and the end result of what we write, be it a book or a blog post. It also made me think of this.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URvC6T_xhE0&feature=youtu.be

If we are not prepared to sit down and say these things to the person, to their face, then maybe we shouldn't write them. And if we are cruel to people then we build more walls and we lose. We need diverse books by diverse authors--that is the goal. How does this post get us there? Raina Telgemeier already regrets this book. And she has already demonstrated that there is a blind spot in the industry that needs to be fixed. How does this criticism of her here help us move forward toward the ultimate goal?

And from watching the entire video I don't believe that Amanda Jacobs Foust, Jack Baur, Thi Bui, Mariko Tamaki or Justin Hall were surprised by the question that focused the conversation on Ghosts. I believe they were all prepared and they all had something they wanted to say about the topic. You say you are listening, but are you?

Yuyi Morales said...

As the discussion here continues,I am reviewing my notes from the last days at the classes I am taking ( at the Autonomous University of Mexico,UNAM), and more specifically the presentation I mentioned above by Amandine Fulchirone, and I wanted to offer my reflection about it. This discussion is important to me since I am a creator of children’s books as well, and as I am learning that most of us find it difficult to talk about what is happening and what we are needing or feeling, because instead we tend to want to direct the conversation around what the other has done. So, I am going to say here some of the things I have in my mind and what I am trying to learn from discussions such as this:

1) We need to name things. If we can’t name feelings, actions, and consequences—if people can’t say this book misrepresents me and my way of life, or this hurts, or you are not seeing me—then we erase voices again. Silence does not heal, it only reproduces the violence that it silences. So, how do we create conditions for everybody to have a voice and dialog? How can we create the spaces for the often unheard voices to break up the silence, to open up their hearts and name the pain, and even cry when things hurt?

2) This seems to me to be a discussion about justice, so, I find it necessary to reflect and ask, and try to have an answer to the question What Is Justice? I will tell you that during Amandine’s presentation, one of the thoughts that was offered is that for the women in the project for healing the violence that has been committed on them during the civil war, justice was defined also as to be accompanied—to be alone no more. So, I wonder, here, in our community of children’s literature (but also in the world), how can we accompany each other? And mostly, how can we be companions to those who are constantly marginalized and erased? Amandine mentioned something that touched me deeply: that we can not accompany others if we are not in the process of transformation ourselves.

3) I take it as the ultimate objective of my work, my books, my creation, to learn how to disarticulated oppression. Do I know how to do that? Not without people like you to interpellate me, and most of us can’t do it without the community to open up the spaces to do so with dignity. That is why we need to hear the difference, to hear what the other is saying to us. Could we make it our work description—the heart of our profession—to listen?

4) I am learning that it is not enough to change our thoughts, we need to let our bodies live a different experience, and mostly, I am learning, we do it by collectivizing our process. We cannot do it alone and all by ourselves. We hardly transform ourselves by going alone to the mountain and asking for insight; instead we do it by moving and recreating ourselves from a place of individual power and into a place of connection with the many others. I want to think that what we need is a process in which, yes, we might learn to take care of our wounds in private first, but only to become strong enough to bring it to light so that we can make significant changes to our world.

5) I am also learning here that the objective of these discussions is not to eliminate the moments of tension, but rather to accompany each other so that we can evolve. Without tension, we will just stay in our own unquestioned state of privilege where things are ok as long as nobody messes with our comfort.

6) I have many more thoughts and questions in my mind, but I am still working trough them. Just to mention one last one, one of the things that impressed me the most from this project that I have been using as an example, was when Amandine told us how these Guatemalan women were working towards life not death, and healing horrific pain towards happiness and well being; their method, they called it, pedagogy of life. It made me think, do we have a name for our work here in the wold of children’s literature? What would it be?

booktoss.blog said...

I'm very glad the folks at RWW have taken a stand to NOT delete, edit, erase or otherwise put a screen around the conversations going on in the site. Both here and over at The Secret Place review.
I want to echo what I think Yuyi is calling for ... an civil dialogue. The issue I see is that the idea of respect and civility is very different among the players in this drama we call diversity in children's literature.
For White people being civil means allowing racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist (all the ISH) language and ideas to go unanswered. To only talk to White people in private to help them learn to be better.
In the mean time, the ISH is still out there in the world, unaddressed and confirming long held beliefs that damage our society.
I consider a civil conversation one that leads our society forward, wherein the most vulnerable are heard, believed, and respected and the most privileged listen and learn. Because - and here is a HUGE shocker - those of us who live and work on various issues of representation are the experts.

Laura Jimenez
AKA Booktoss