I can’t seem to embed the video. But click through for the interview. Dr. Elliot talks about her struggles publishing books with characters of color and editors telling her “there’s no market for this.” Only about 5% of books published are written by people of color, but we are about 40% of the population. Dr. Elliot says that children of color are already the majority (which supports claims I’ve heard where PoC will be the majority by 2020). It’s crazy how the media doesn’t reflect reality at all, then get all affronted when PoC ask for more representations of themselves. No one believes in our buying power, but it is there. And we are so starved for representation now, that we go out in droves to see films, and watch TV shows, and read books with PoC as the main characters. Look at the success of Scandal or Kevin Hart’s films from last year. We want representation and we want it in our children’s literature too.
Dr. Elliot also says “Books can be windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. If you don’t see a mirror, you start to feel invisible.” Which I believe I’ve also heard author Junot Diaz say something similar. What he says, and I’m paraphrasing, is that a lot of monsters in folklore don’t have reflections–vampires are the most well known for this–and if you don’t see your reflection, you can begin to view yourself as a monster. Elliot says that when she was writing in high school and when she sees young black kids who present stories to her, it is white characters at the center of those stories. I am working on a piece for the website Black Girl Nerds that talks about my own experiences on the matter. Elliot says, “I had to dream myself into existence.” You have to undo years of conditioning to get yourself to write stories that are about people who are like you, rather than the people you’ve been reading about.
“Without a mirror it becomes difficult to see yourself in particular scenarios.” I didn’t know there were other “black nerds” besides me. I thought I was the only one reading mysteries and speculative fiction stories and wishing I could attend San Diego Comic-con. I couldn’t imagine that there were others like me. And there are so many fields and things that young people of color want to do and be and experience but don’t because they think that people of color don’t do those things. Books are a great way to show kids that they really can do whatever they want, because someone of their ethnic background has done it somewhere. Or they can read others’ stories of being the first [x] to do such and such a thing and be encouraged to do the same in whatever field they’ll be the first in.
Dr. Elliot also talks about the Diversity Gap and presents this fantastic image. I’ve read a lot of the books in the 93% but not a lot in the other percentages. This blog is helping me find those other 7%.