Black voices matter

26 Jul 2016 news 14 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 1.41.07 PMHere we go again. The publishing industry has produced a book written by an outsider that distorts and pathologizes Black youth. Please head over to Crazy QuiltEdi to read reviews of When We Was Fierce by Edith Campbell and Jennifer Baker; then stop by Reading While White to read K.T. Horning’s post, “When Whiteness Dominates Reviews.” Lee & Low’s Diversity Baseline Survey showed us that 90% of reviewers are White women so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this problematic young adult novel has “earned” three starred reviews from the major outlets. It comes out in a week and only NOW are (some) people listening to the concerns of Black people. I’m so tired of this cycle. No one in the production process thought there might be a problem with this book; one Black author says he likes it and so it goes out for review and is named THE book to read this summer. Meanwhile actual Black writers with actual lived experience within the Black community can’t get their books published. The number of books ABOUT Blacks continues to rise, but not the number of books BY Blacks. When I wrote The Last Bunny in Brooklyn, I included a museum scene where the endangered bunny dreams about being turned into a mummy. Because that is what the dominant group does to us—they appropriate every aspect of our culture until we’re no longer necessary. We become a sort of quaint artifact to be put under glass. There’s the actual annihilation of Black bodies that’s reported on the nightly news, and then there’s the symbolic annihilation where White editors and agents show preference for non-Black writers and their narratives that distort our image/voice. When I spoke to the TYWLS teens last week, I wrapped up with a warning: “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” But the truth is, even when you DO tell your story, there’s a good chance that it will be dismissed while an outsider’s story is celebrated for its “authenticity.” If you haven’t read Percival Everett’s satirical novel Erasure, READ IT NOW. It’s about a Black author who only achieves fame when he writes an offensive, absurd mash-up of Native Son and Push (two Black-authored, commercially successful novels criticized for pathologizing Blacks for a White audience). The White literary establishment adores the book, of course, and it goes on to win the most prestigious literary award. That’s satire, but the White appetite for Black pathology is REAL. I haven’t read When We Was Fierce and don’t intend to. If you’re a fan of the author and/or plan to add the book to your school’s library, please take the time to read the reviews listed above. I don’t want the book banned, but I DO want it read and reviewed critically.

ETA: apparently the publisher sent out this message, which I pulled from Facebook on 8/4/16