WHERE HAS ALL THE COLOR GONE ?
The writer, Walter Dean Myers was born in Harlem and loved reading. “To an extent, I found who I was in the books I read. In the dark times, when my uncle was murdered, when my family became dysfunctional with alcohol and grief, or when I realized that our economics would not allow me to attend college, I began to despair. Instead of attending school, I spent days in Central Park reading. I saw that the lives of the characters in my books were my life. What I needed, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me. I stopped reading. I stopped going to school and at the age of 17, I joined the Army. Much later, I read a story by Janes Baldwin, Sonny’s Blues, and it wasn’t the story that I loved. I felt uplifted by it for it took place in Harlem and it concerned black people and brown people like those I knew. Baldwin humanized people like me. Yes, Baldwin’s story humanized me. His story gave me permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.”
Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when children of color are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas about people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?
Movies portray black people as victims. These characters are usually struggling to overcome either slavery or racism. Book publishing is a little better but here too, black history is often depicted as folklore about slavery and they fast forward to the civil rights movements. Of course many people say that black children don’t read. Small wonder, isn’t it?
In the thousands of books that were published during this last year, black kids didn’t feature in them. There are books about animals. There are others about superpowers. There are books about the olden days when people dressed differently. A black child asked his father; “Are there books about me and people like me?” “No, son. There aren’t many. Only because your skin is not white.” So, there is a kind of Apartheid in literature where characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books.