Pre-Reading Reflection: Book awards given to identity-based books is an interesting topic, one that I hadn’t really thought about before. I guess I don’t really understand the term “identity-based books.” Isn’t everything an identity-based book? Some books are geared toward women, others toward children of a certain age, others toward people of a certain religion or way of thinking and on and on it goes.
I feel the real question being asked is how do I feel about identity-based books that focus on minorities. As for that question, I think I feel two very different and conflicted ways. One part of me thinks it’s great that there are awards for African-American literature and Hispanic literature. It shows that these two minority groups are being taken seriously, and it also draws more attention to books that, unfortunately, might not have been as noticed otherwise. It has been my experience that minority books still do not get as much attention as they should. When I took an African American literature class in college, for example, we read a plethora of literature geared toward high school students or that would have been ideal for students of that age, and my teacher asked us some hard questions: Why do you think this wasn’t taught to you in high school? Do you think maybe we don’t focus as much on minority authored works or works geared toward minorities as we do other works? I’m still not entirely sure why minority authored and minority focused books don’t get as much attention, but I know that it’s not right or good. At least these awards will cause more people to pick up these books.
The second part of me doesn’t like that minorities are set apart and singled out for their literature. I think, in some ways, this might do more harm than good. Instead of the book just being honored for being a great piece of literature, we have to draw attention to the fact that it was written by a minority *r focuses on a minority group. I think, by drawing our attention to this fact, it kind of separates us –it sends a message that “they” (minorities) are different from “us” (non-minorities). Sadly, it might also make some people not pick up the book due to their own biases or prejudices, and these are the people who most need to read such a work. It would be better for someone to pick up a book because they like the story, to start reading, and then to find out what race or ethnic group the characters belong to or that the writer is than for people to pick a book with this knowledge in mind; I think it could limit the audience. Obviously, I’m quite conflicted, and I feel somewhat uncomfortable talking about this and scared of saying the wrong thing or offending anyone. I’m going to do the reading and see if/how my opinions change.
“Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes”: This article cleared up what the term “identity-based books” really means. Before, I had assumed they were books written about or geared toward a specific minority or “identity.” When I realized, in reading this, that the author of the book had to be of a certain race to even be considered for the award, I became even more against it. I completely agreed with this article and with the statement that, “It is the wrong way to bring more kinds of books to more kinds of readers; it is wrong in that it does not evaluate literature in its own terms but by extraneous standards; it is wrong because it is a very slippery slope down which we are already tumbling; and finally it is wrong because even as ALA sponsors more and more such awards, we have not openly debated and discussed their merits” (4). It seems very backwards to me that we would even think to ask a writer’s race or ethnicity, let alone to make it a requirement for winning a certain award! That is type of racism in its own right, and as the author states, it makes the assumption that only people of a certain race/ethnicity are capable of writing about that race/ethnicity. That’s as silly as saying male authors can only write about male characters. There are so many situations the awards don’t take into consideration. What if a person was adopted and raised in a Hispanic family but is not actually Hispanic? Does that somehow make his or her views less valid? Or what if an author spends years researching a particular culture in order to write about it authentically? It just seems very, very wrong to make identity such a factor, and I loved the author’s suggestion to “honor content alone, not identity” (10).
“Awards That Stand on Solid Ground”: I did not agree with most of Mrs. Pinkney’s response, and I found myself growing angry at some of her statements, showing me that I really did have a stronger opinion on this matter than I thought. Pinkney states that the awards are a “gateway to progress” and that they “provide a door for authors and illustrators into the world of children’s literature” (12). Quite frankly, I don’t think providing opportunities for new or struggling writers is really the point of literary awards. The point of such awards is, instead, to honor works of great literary merit. Later, Pinkney refers to the awards as “awards that celebrate ethnicity,” but I think, if anything, identity based awards are exclusionary and create a rigid definition of ethnicity. A white person growing up in a Hispanic neighborhood, for example, and who had many Hispanic friends might very well identify with that ethnicity more than his or her own, but this award wouldn’t let that person’s voice matter. I was also bothered by the statement “The CSK Award seal lets me know that a book has been created by someone who is black” (14). Ouch. What if I said, “The Cracker Award seal lets me know that a book has been created by someone who is white.” That would be considered pretty racist, I think, and I felt that her statement was as well. It shouldn’t matter the color or ethnicity of the person who wrote the book. All that should matter is the story and how the reader feels about it. I do see Pinkney’s point, and I might feel differently if I had struggled in the same ways she has and had felt excluded in the literary world, but I think the big problem is that I’m idealistic. I want people to not care at all about race/ethnicity. I want it to not matter for any reason what color or ethnicity a person is. I want us to not even think about it. I just want us all to look at each other as fellow humans, but we just don’t live in that world yet.
“Responses to My Critics: The Claims of Principle and of History”: I appreciated this article and the fact that Aronson did not apologize for his views or back out on them as I expected he would. I had to laugh at how, in the synthesis of his criticism, he writes “We do not live in a color-blind society, and we do not function in a color-blind publishing system, thus it is either heedlessly idealistic or somewhat conspiratorially disingenuous of me to suggest that our awards should be color-blind” (17). I suppose that I can agree, as I stated in the above paragraph, that both Aronson and I are overly idealistic, but I think that’s a good thing. We see the world as it should be, and we don’t accept anything less. Like Aronson, I wish that I could take away all ethnic qualifications and make it so all types of children read all types of literature (19). While I can’t do that, I can do it with my own children one day, and I can choose to read diverse literary works myself. I can make it happen in the classroom as well. It’s a start in its own way. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement: “I fundamentally cannot accept the idea that we honor, we give value to, we treat as valid, distinctions based on race, or ethnicity, or religion” (21). I’d probably add sexuality in there too, as I don’t think that should matter either. All that really matters to me when I pick up a book is whether or not the author can write, just as how the way I treat a person is based only on how that person treats me and how I would like to be treated.
I enjoyed Kendra’s blog a lot. I felt like we both started out torn on the issue, for similar reasons, but then came to two very different conclusions from the reading. Despite some of the differences of opinion that we have –I think a Hispanic person could write just as well about the black experience as a black person, depending on many different factors –I really liked this quote from her:
“These awards were created because of the problem that exists in a society that does not recognize all ethnic groups and these awards shouldn’t be done away with until there’s no reason to have them. “
I think she hit the nail on the head in that what we really need to be concentrating on/working toward is making the need for these awards disappear, not the awards themselves.
Finally, I am not sure why there are no “Best Books for Teens” on the ALA site for Multicultural Literature. Maybe young adult writers don’t tend to tackle these issues. When they do, I think it often tends to come off as preachy and overly obvious, so perhaps there just aren’t enough high-quality books that fall into the category. I think, as teachers, we should find books written by all kinds of writers about all kinds of people and have them in our classroom and, when possible, teach them. Every person is different; every experience is different, and the more people/experiences we read and learn about, the more whole we all become. Bookhenge.