Saturate the industry with our stories. There is and has always been a grotesque lack of diversity in literature – namely children’s books. The isssue goes far beyond sparse representation of non-European culture into outright disparaging of other races and ethnicities. Think “Little Black Sambo” by Scottish author, Helen Bannerman. A popular children’s book for well over fifty years, it has been redone and retold, the world over since its first publication in 1899. The depiction of Sambo is starkly sterotylically of Africans, which is significant when one considers that Sambo is actually a Tamil from Southern India. This addesses two destructive trends: misrepresentation in literature and exclusion.
Following the the chart above from the publishing house Leed & Low, over a 24-year study, only 7% of books depicting Americans of African decent are penned by Americans of African decent. For the natives of this continent, it’s less than 1%. Children’s books are 3x more likely to portray animals and inanimate objects are characters than people of non-European heritage. Leed and Low, established in 1988, tackles this affront by selectively publishing books inclusive of all cultures by diverse races to the exclusion of stories about bears and cars. Leed & Low shows that this industry problem, which is also a cultural one, is also an opportunity. People of color simply need to create more, inundate the literary field with stories by and about people of color. The internet annihilates the need for a publisher. The distributor can be a private website or social media platform. Crowd-sources connects creatives directly to their target audience.
How awesome it would be to read – for example – retellings of stories like Sambo but from an Indian-perspective, Tarzan from an African world-view? Missing from the world Canon of great and epic mythologies are the many African cosmologies – part of which is repackaged and sold to us as Greek and Roman mythology. Other parts are wholly villified as evil and satantic, such as Hoodoo, Voodoun and Santeria. Our history, our heroes and heroines are hidden there. Without them where rendered blind, inwardly and outwardly – forced visions of another of ourselves.