leon’s story

Oh, hi! I’m still here. I’m still reading. I’m still saying fuck and shit a lot on Twitter and talking about social justice. But I also started my PhD in children’s and young adult literature, and one of my first semester courses is Critical Content Analysis of Children’s Literature. The first children’s book we’ve read is Leon’s Story by Leon Walter Tillage as told to Susan L. Roth, and I have Thoughts.

This is young middle grade, maybe for third graders or so, and it’s basically The Circuit or The Big Lie but about sharecropping and the South in the 1930s and 40s. It reads like somebody talking and giving an oral history, and the afterword says that yes, it’s basically a straight transcript of this guy talking, so points to me, I guess. It doesn’t hold back and very openly talks about random violence for sport enacted by whites, like the time some people came out with dogs and tried to Most Dangerous Game him, and he says “nigger” all over because that’s what people were saying to him all over, and non-black child readers shouldn’t be coddled or protected from that word, frankly. So yeah, the point-blank statement that back when he was a kid, people called black people “nigger” is on the first page, and I give him all the props. This book came out in 1997. Good luck getting publishers to get behind that now.

Each chapter is a vignette or ramble about whatever the title says, like going to school or running away from Klansmen. For what is likely to be a kid of any color’s first book about this corner of American history, which most people like to gloss over as if it was just a blip on the way to white America’s favorite dead black person, Saint MLK, it does a good job describing stuff. The conversational tone works for awhile until it starts to get real transcript-y, with all of the fillers and disfluencies that any journalist would delete out of courtesy and in the name of clarity. Sure, in some cases those things add authenticity and character, but in this book I think all they do is make what is already an unconventional (for a person who, based on their time spent on earth, has read fewer books than others of us) text hard to understand.

I am of two minds when it comes to books like these Continue reading


that thing that happened with meg rosoff today

First, my friend Edi Campbell posted this, which made me ask where this was on Facebook, and she tagged me so that I could participate.

I’ll wait a moment while you read her post.

So then we were all talking about it on Facebook. I got involved because this is my area of activism and because I hate whitesplaining.

Then Kaye wrote this and Debbie wrote this and KT wrote this and lots of people wrote things, which you can find linked on Debbie’s blog (I’m linking directly to the three people who are personal friends or close colleagues, as well as fellow members of marginalized groups of various sorts, but that’s not to say I don’t value the other pieces I read, nor do I know everything about the authors of said pieces except that they are clearly intelligent and good people doing the right thing).

So then I wrote this.

And I hope we’re all still writing about things.

white discomfort and seeing no color

and omg I keep looking at this cover only seeing the watermark OR the forefront and it goes back and forth and is just brilliant and omg

!!!!!! I have been so excited for Shannon Gibney’s See No Color [IndieBound] and the publisher sent me a copy and it’s the best thing ever. It’s rare that a book that is really Important to highlighting an experience that rarely gets examined in literature is also just a Good Book, and this one is.

Description from GoodReads:

Being a biracial girl adopted by a white family didn’t used to bother Alex. All that mattered was being her father’s baseball star–until that status slips. Now she’s questioning her identity. Black or white–where does she fit in?

I have zero interest in sports stories, but that didn’t stop me from finding a lot in this book. I can think of a handful of adoption books I’ve read in my life: Real for Sure Sister; Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye; Year of Mistaken Discoveries, Abby, and only two those were about brown people and only one about a brown person in a white family (Ann Angel’s – incidentally, when I met Ann, I learned it was based on her real life AND the baby in the book and I have the same birthday. So I had A LOT to identify with, and the book should totally be back in print. Anyway, See No Color is a book that I think a lot of people will find to be one of those This Book Is Everything And I Finally See Me titles, and plenty others will be like, “yo, romance and baseball! Sweet!” Check off many boxes.

A thing many parents in books and in real life do harmfully and badly – but with good intentions – is tell their biracial children that race isn’t real and the only thing that matters is love. That is patently untrue. Say all you want that race is a construct, but it’s also real (and even biological, to a point) because we made it so. The interesting thing in this book is that Alex’s dad (the parent of consequence in this book – she has a mom, too, but the story centers primarily around her relationship with her father) tells her such things but also clearly wishes to “validate” her blackness in appearance by reminding people that she’s half white. Mixed people whose makeup includes white and who grow up in privileged social spaces (whether that’s around mostly white people, in an educated class, or whatever else) probably all know what this is like. White people feel more comfortable around us because we’re not true people of color to them, tell us they don’t think of us as X other thing because they consider that a compliment, welcome us (somewhat) into their whiteness. Alex’s father obviously doesn’t care that she’s biracial or they wouldn’t have chosen to adopt her, but he also feels uncomfortable when confronted by other members of white society and feels the need to lapse into that belief that partial whiteness adds status (hey, that’s kind of true – privilege is a nice thing to have). Continue reading