Books Between Cultures
Speaker: Mitali Perkins
Mitali Perkins opened with asking the audience about their heritage and background. Times are changing, and teen librarians, in Mitali's words, get it when it comes to race and culture. Will have links at http://www.mitaliperkins.com/yalsa.htm for the links and information in her presentation.
Six Ways Teens See Themselves in Stories
These stereotypes are ones that cause teens to turn away from books that feature them.
1) The Noble Savage
2) The Exotic Stranger
3) The Token Sidekick
4) The Accented Alien
5) The Under "Class" Man
6) The "Not-It" Reject
Mitali showed a short film by teenage filmmaker Kiri Davis, called A Girl Like Me. This film explored the beauty standards and self-image issues faced by African-American girls, starting when they are young. The audience was very surprised by the filmmaker's choice to administer the doll test, performed first by Dr. Kenneth Clark in the time of Brown v. Board of Education, and the results that were shown when this test was administered in 2005 to a group of young African-American children. This film prompted many comments and discussion from the audience members about the film and how to work with teens about these issues. The film is available for online viewing at Media Matters Fest.
Six Questions To Ask About Stories: more information at Mitali's blog
1) Are the non-white characters one-dimensional? Are they only good, bad, funny, etc.?
Teens need to see themselves in all kinds of stories--some that explore race, and some that don't. We see this more on TV than in books right now.
2) Are the characters "exoticized" in any way?
Are you aware first and foremost that foreign piece of them, and does it really matter? Keep an eye out for generic vs. specific culture.
3) Who are the people with power to affect change in this story?
It's not always the mainstream white people who save the day.
4) Does a storyteller use accent as a shortcut for characterization?
Are names or accents or other aspects used as a way to characterize someone, without fuller exploration of the character?
5) Does a person have to adopt "main-stream" or "white-collar" behavior to resolve a conflict in this story?
6) How is beauty described? How is race described? Why is race described?
Cover art is very key in this. There are ways to describe race that aren't lazy storytelling. A recent discussion on Mitali's blog with authors about this question came out with an important message: no more food metaphors to describe characters! Try to imagine the hero of your favorite book as a different race. Look at manga/anime, which has racism, too; many Asian cultures are very racist.
Great books are available now for middle readers and teens between cultures. Info about these books are available on Mitali's website.
Issues and Questions
--Stories that need to be told (adoption stories, graphic novels, Arab-American books)
--Sensitivity to both sides of the hyphen/the power of displays
--Authenticity in storytelling (oyate.org; the brownbookshelf.com); must be especially careful when dealing with periods of oppression/power issues or when discussing Native Americans
Not a complete and full record; speaker's remarks are paraphrased. Any errors or typos are my own.