White privilege and children’s books article

This article by Laura Atkins is a must read for anyone who is interested in children's literature and/or discussions and representations of people of color in children's books. Parents – that means you – especially if you are white and your child is not and you are purchasing books for them! Thanks to Sarah for the link.

Atkins writes,

also came to recognize the powerful force of market pressure on the juvenile
publishing industry. While this exists to different degrees within large,
corporate publishers and smaller, independent publishers, there is always the
pressure to support the business and make money. What I found particularly
striking was the degree to which perceived
market requirements shaped the books that were acquired and developed. The
publishers where I worked sold primarily to the institutional markets—to
teachers and librarians. In my experience, there was concern about what
teachers or librarians would accept, with a frequent “lowest common
denominator” consideration of what the majority of those in the educational and
library systems would tolerate.

there was the question of defining the audience for whom the books were
published. In the effort to produce books that reflected diverse experiences,
but to do so for a so-called “universal” child audience, culturally specific
aspects were sometimes amended or explained, potentially taking the book’s
address away from those within the
culture being depicted.

consequences of these sorts of decisions inevitably altered texts, often by
making them conform to a more general market; one which represents the dominant
and traditional expectations of children’s literature


question here is not about particular racist individuals who work in the
publishing industry, rather, this is an institutional problem. The way in which
the acquisition, development, distribution and marketing of children’s books
currently takes place is a system based on patterns that are so pervasive they
seem to become natural, inevitable and justifiable. I would argue that most
children’s publishing houses currently exist in order to serve the interests
and needs of the white majority culture.

This is a really great article. Please read it.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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