I “met” Madhuri Blaylock only recently. It was after the November 21 National Book Awards, where Jacqueline Woodson won a prize for Young People’s Literature for her book, Brown Girl Dreaming.
After Woodson gave her acceptance speech, to a standing ovation, host Daniel Handler, made a watermelon “joke” that, in Woodson’s words, reminded her and the world, “in the form of a wink-nudge joke about being black.”
In an eloquent and moving op-ed, Woodson elaborates:
In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from. By making light of that deep and troubled history, he showed that he believed we were at a point where we could laugh about it all. His historical context, unlike my own, came from a place of ignorance.
In a PR shitstorm, Handler went on to apologize, and to announce a huge matching gift to We Need Diverse Books, a grassroots organization committed to diversifying children’s literature. I was incensed about the whole thing and, though newish to Twitter, tweeted: “1. Be racist. 2. Apologize. 3. Donate money. 4. Do not repeat.”
Madhuri Blaylock retweeted this, and thus, I met a kindred spirit. (In small-world fashion, it turns out we overlapped in college for a year.)
In addition to my good fortune of finding Madhuri’s writing, the whole episode introduced me to We Need Diverse Books. Again, I’ll quote Ms. Woodson:
Mr. Handler’s watermelon comment was made at a time of change. We Need Diverse Books, a grass-roots organization committed to diversifying all children’s literature, had only months before stormed the BookCon conference because of its all-white panels. The world of publishing has been getting shaken like a pecan tree and called to the floor because of its lack of diversity in the workplace. At this year’s National Book Awards, many of the books featured nonwhite protagonists, and three of the 20 finalists were people of color. One of those brown finalists (me!), in the very first category, Young People’s Literature, had just won.
Madhuri has been running a series on her blog to support the work of WNDB, the efforts of which could not feel more critical than now, in light of police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo walking away from justice, along with how many others, while racism runs rampant on scales micro and macro every single day in this country where equality still doesn’t reign.
I was struggling to articulate my feelings about all of this a few days ago, and wrote as much on Facebook. When Madhuri asked me if I’d guest post for her series in support of WNDB, of course I said yes. Because damnit, we have to be the change. Racism is not born, it’s made. And so much begins at home, with the books we read, the images we see, the stories we learn and spread in the world.
Read my guest post:
I #SupportWNDB – The Series: LET’S!.
And there are only 5 days left in the WNBD Indiegogo fundraising efforts to diversify everyone’s bookshelf. Donate to this vital campaign HERE.