This blog explores white privilege and how it relates to children’s literature. White privilege in North American media can be difficult to identify because in American culture, whiteness is considered mainstream. An all-white cast of characters is never questioned or thought of in any special way. On the other hand; films, magazines, books and television shows in which the main characters are people of color are considered “ethnic” or “multi-cultural”. Just as white privilege shapes all things in North America, it shapes children’s literature as well. White privilege influences children’s literature in that the majority of books that are published are for a white or “mainstream” audience. Although 37% of the United States population is non-white, 90% of all children’s book published in the United States feature white characters or animals (Kysia, 2014).
There are several articles that discuss the many reasons given for the disproportionately low representation of people of color in children’s books. Some have argued that there are not enough people of color in the publishing industry, others claim that books about non-white characters don’t sell (Low, 2013). Whatever the reasoning may be, many library professionals and educators are using their voice to bring attention to this problem. Despite the fact that white privilege in children’s literature has always been the norm, it is becoming more and more apparent and obvious that there is a need for change.
Children are influenced by the books they grow up with. As Erin Winkler explains in her research about how children learn about race, children learn to attach meaning to race without adults directly teaching them to do so. She states that,
“Children pick upon the ways in which whiteness is normalized and privileged in U.S. society. Consciously or unconsciously, middle-class white culture is presented as a norm or a standard in the United States in terms of appearance, beauty, language, cultural practices, food, and so on. Tatum (1997) argues that this message is so prevalent in our society it is like “smog in the air. Sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in”. For very young children, this “smog” comes in the form of picture books, children’s movies, television, and children’s songs, which all include subtle messages that whiteness is preferable” (Winkler, 2009).
In order for the mainstream to reflect the actual makeup of our society, there must be meaningful conversations about white privilege. We must acknowledge that change is necessary. Because we learn about race at an early age it is extremely important to focus on children’s materials and media. There must be a demand for change from within the industry, advocates must gain allies and together work toward helping children’s books reflect the world’s diversity.
Image: Diversity Gap in Children’s Books Infographic 2015
Video: We Need Diverse Books Campaign
Kysia, A. (February 25, 2014). Challenging white privilege in Children’s Books. Retrieved from https://www.teachingforchange.org/white-privilege-childrens-books
Lee and Low Books. (2015). Diversity Gap in Children’s Books Infographic 2015, Retrieved from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2015/03/05/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-publishing-2015/
Winkler, E. (2009). Children are not colorblind: How young children learn race. PACE: Practical Approaches for Continuing Education, 3(3), 1-8. Retrieved from https://www4dev.uwm.edu/letsci/africology/faculty/upload/children_colorblind.pdf