Why Are Children's Books Still So White?
When the Cooperative Children's Book Center released this year's Choices, I was curious to see if their data about diversity in children's literature revealed any changes in two years. In 2005, as we noted on the Fire Escape, the Center received 2800 books and discovered the following statistics:
By African or African/American authors 75In 2007, the Center found the following results among the 3000 or so titles they received:
About Africans or African/Americans 149
By American Indian authors 4
About American Indians 34
By Latin American authors 50
About Latin Americans 76
By Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific authors 60
About Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific Americans 64
By African or African/American authors 77In short, not much has changed. We note again that American Indian stories continue to be written mostly by outsiders. Last year, about 12% of Americans were African American, but only 5% of all children's literature featured African American characters. Once again the low numbers and even a decline in Latino books is striking, given that this demographic is the fastest growing and second largest segment of the population in the U.S.A. -- stories featuring Latino characters and themes make up about 2% of all children's books, while the population is more than 15% Latino.
About Africans or African/Americans 150
By American Indian authors 6
About American Indians 44
By Latin American authors 42
About Latin Americans 59
By Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific authors 56
About Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific Americans 68
In a recent Entertainment Weekly special report, Why Is Television So White?, Jennifer Armstrong and Margeaux Watson noted a significant "paling" factor in the fall 2008 television lineup:
According to an Entertainment Weekly study of scripted-programming casts for the upcoming fall 2008 season, each of the five major broadcast networks is whiter than the Caucasian percentage (66.2 percent) of the United States population, as per the 2007 census estimate. And all of the networks are representing considerably lower than the Latino population percentage of 15.2 percent.But television is doing something about it. Every major network has a high-level veep whose job description is lobbying fellow executives and producers to keep minorities in the game. And they seem to get that the next generation wants and expects to see us mix things up:
...Color-blind casting is something teen-focused networks seem to have down pat: Nary a show has passed through ABC Family or The N without an interracial coupling or a naturally integrated cast ... Those networks' execs say it's a simple matter of economics, that their Gen-Y viewers accept — nay, expect and demand — such a reflection of their multi-cultural lives. ''They're completely color-blind,'' ABC Family president Paul Lee says of younger viewers. ''We've done a lot of things wrong as a nation, but we've clearly done something right here. They embrace other cultures.''
So why aren't we facing up to that reality in the children's book world? Given the CCBC's statistics, it would seem that contemporary children's literature is even less reflective of America's changing demographics than the small screen. Let's face facts: our industry is behind the times when it comes to race and ethnicity, making us seem even more anachronistic than ever in the eyes of the young people we serve.