Big Brother

The moment we walked in the door questioning eyes were on us: “Who are you?” my coaches asked my brother in law and father figure as he questioned them as to why I wasn’t getting any playtime on the basketball team. My brother is black and I am white based on societal descriptions. He always stood up for me and had my back. From elementary through high school. We would get side way kinds of stares by people who weren’t exposed to different kinds of families.

My mother died when I was turning 10. My (I think biological father) was incarcerated off and on. I was raised by my sister and my brother in law. We were rare and uniquely different. Looking back and reflecting on my upbringing, I realize just how thankful I am. I was exposed to what children normally are not exposed to and as a result I am an eclectic kind of person. I watched and listened to shows, movies and music such as The Sopranos, Poetic Justice and The Streets is Watching. However, I always had someone present and there telling me someone made it or it was directed by someone. Someone made it up from their brain and it was inspired by real life events. I always had someone like my sister or brother in law telling me to cover my eyes during the racy parts.

I have so many memories from playing ball, driving around pretending to be on MTV Cribs to witnessing drug raids to people dying. This was my reality. So, I understand many walks of life. I was and am blessed to be surrounded by real, authentic type love. A rare kind of love that you cannot find. They never had to buy love or material possessions. Getting Chinese takeout, laughing, yelling and crying a lot, playing monopoly and playing ball was enough. It was my foundation of what a family is all about. Not perfect but perfect if you know what I mean.

As a grownup, I am working towards planting seeds where children will make a better life and ultimately a better world by reaching mutual understanding across cultures and perspectives. A world where people will know who each other is the moment they walk in the door. Questioning eyes will fade. The who are you will turn into I know who you are. A place where different families exist and it’s cool and unquestioned. People will stop and stare for how beautifully dynamic and powerful differences are. A place where it’s cool and dope to be different aesthetically, creatively and intellectually.

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The Power and Genius of Books

While at The Genius of the Book Exhibit in DC https://www.folger.edu/exhibitions/form-function-genius-of-the-book something came full circle for me. The exhibition also affirmed why I love and recognize the power of books. Historically, there was and still is a reason why people in power choose to burn books that challenge thinking, status quo and create different and opposing ways of being. Books are powerful.

When selecting books what questions and thoughts materialize in your brain? Many come to my mind each and every time I’m picking out a new book or picking up an old one to read again, especially when choosing literature for children, families and myself. I ask myself what do the illustrations and writing portray? What images are painted in µy mind

For example, look for illustrations of culture, ability and disability, race, gender, identity, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and many more. Are we being portrayed non-stereotypically and in powerful roles?

As noted by an NAEYC article, a list of common and undermining set of stereotypes are when people are portrayed as:

  • Strong, independent girls and women are “manlike”
  • Book-loving or nonathletic boys and men are “effeminate”
  • Latino men talk funny, are lazy, gang members, or wear oversize sombreros
  • Latina women are earth mothers or subservient
  • African American men are gang members, oversexed, or underemployed
  • African American women are too independent, oversexed, or “welfare moms”
  • LGBTQ people are invisible or sexual predators
  • Poor people are invisible or depicted as passively needing help from others
  • American Indians live in teepees, carry bows and arrows, or are half-naked in winter
  • People with disabilities are not independent or are to be pitied
  • Arab and/or Muslim men are terrorists
  • Arab and/or Muslim women are voiceless and passive
  • All Muslims are Arab

Some of mine I look for:

  • People are invisible or in a side role not empowering ones
  • Characters matter: who is the hero?
  • The storyline and perspectives in it
  • Gender and are women and men portrayed accurately?
  • Race, culture, ethnicity: is it an authentic and accurate portrayal?

When I see stereotypes in the drawings/illustrations or writing in books, I put it down and move on to another such as suggested: http://www.teachingforchange.org/selecting-anti-bias-books

I am also starting to write letters to publishers.

Another tip: look at the dates and authors. Dates and writers matter.  Research and support people in comparing and contrasting. Also ask why is a book written?   Books are like people, they serve a purpose. For example, If you got a book entitled: Firemen Fight Fires, time to move on because the term Firefighters include everyone and they do more than ride in firetrucks fighting fires anyway. Just saying.

Books and children’s books continue to be an invaluable transmitter of messages we absorb influencing who we are and how we see each another.  Media and books are transmitters of cultures, perspectives and values.  Books reflect our personal identities, diversity and varying relationships among different groups of people.  Books and media (AND ADVERTISEMENTS) portray who matters and creates a positive or negative self-image and concept.  Look at who is advertised/displayed on your outside arena where people perform or play sports. Who is displayed? Are women?

Looking at the Verizon Center, our students did not see women and said, “See, it’s true, we were right, women don’t play basketball.” We walked inside to see the Mystics playing. Talk about a transformative experience.

It is crucial to show and share an eclectic set of books about people like us and different from us (TO CELEBRATE OUR AWESOME DIFFERENCES) and our families. ALL of the books should be non-stereotypical and authentic. *Reminder items to look for: look for dates, portrayal of lifestyles, cultures, social identities, relationships, social change and justice, invisibility and tokenism.*

When discovering new books or reading classic books what questions materialize in your mind?

And speaking of choosing and reading awesome books by amazing authors go to: https://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ to check out when the National Book Festival is to meet your favorite and your children’s favorite authors!

Written with love. Lots of it!

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford