“The job of a child is to learn as much as possible about the world through new eyes that cast no judgment. It is not that they cannot handle inconvenient truths; it is we as adults who shy away from controversial topics and feel uncomfortable — even ashamed.”
This quote is from Javaka Steptoe’s 2017 Caldecott Medal Acceptance Speech, which I am still re-reading, along with his CSK Illustrator Award Acceptance Speech. This particular quote is interesting to me because, taking it out of context as I have, I am curious about what each of us as librarians and educators who work with children and books imagine are the inconvenient truths we feel uncomfortable, “even ashamed,” in confronting.
At the end of his speech, after giving thanks to Leo (and Diane) Dillon and Jerry Pinkney, the only other African Americans to receive the Caldecott Medal, he thanked his father John Steptoe, “and all the African Americans who received a Caldecott Honor. It is on your shoulders I stand.” Then Steptoe went off script briefly, to indicate that in his mind, all those silver medals are gold.
It is an inconvenient truth for many of us, mostly white, that our industry (which I use here loosely to mean work in children’s books) upholds the systemic racism that is prevalent throughout the wider media industry and most institutions and communities in our country. It can be uncomfortable to confront the foundations of one’s own expertise in and passion for children’s books and examine where some of our judgments of quality we think are “unbiased” are only so when viewed through the lens of white privilege. But this white inconvenience, this white discomfort, is paltry when compared to what we create for communities of color by pretending this problem does not exist, or is not our own job to fix. To do our job, in service of the job of the child, many of us will need to start listening more, speaking less, and using our expertise to make space for and amplify voices that shine, in the multitude of ways a voice can shine.
I will soon start making appointments for ALSC members to serve on the 2019 Book and Media Award committees, and this has been a very long preamble for a call for volunteers. I will endeavor to round out these committees with experts—whether new or long practiced—who can work collectively with a group of 9-15 dedicated professionals to select the best in children’s media to be published in 2018, and who can listen for and bring to the table an understanding of just how loaded that word “best” can be.