The Equity & Inclusion Corner welcomes author, Jack Cheng, for the third of our 2020 quarterly posts. In his call to action for substantive and meaningful change in our communities and society, Jack exhorts us to be agents of change at a deeper level.
Stay tuned for our final 2020 blog post in October. Equity & Inclusion Team member, Debbie Taylor, shares the highlights of her conversation with Dr. Ashlelin Currie, Co-Chair of the Literacy Committee for the Books for Barbers organization. Dr. Currie serves as Early Literacy Consultant for Oakland Schools and was former president of BCDI-Detroit. Look for upcoming announcements on our Books for Barbers book drive to promote our collaborative efforts that will foster stronger community connections.
Be well and take care,
Isabel Estrada O’Hagin
Arcs of Justice
By Jack Cheng
I can’t wait for everything to go back to normal. This is a sentiment I’ve felt and expressed a number of times over the past months. I imagine that you’ve felt it too. To say that 2020 has been an unusual year so far would be a gross understatement.
But I want to challenge you—and myself—to resist the urge for normalcy. I want to challenge us to recognize that normal is the racist systems and policies that killed George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. That killed Malice Green and Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit, Theo Gray in St. Clair Shores, and Cornelius Fredericks in Kalamazoo. Normal is racism that blames Asians for the pandemic and causes it to disproportionally kill Black and Brown bodies. Normal is, in other words, what got us here.
The purpose of daily marches and demonstrations in cities across the world isn’t only to highlight these injustices, but to interrupt the very sense of normalcy—as a means of effecting change. We, as storytellers, know that this interruption is an essential part of almost every story, almost every major character arc. Change doesn’t happen out of comfort; change must be incited. When our characters are shaken out of their “life as usual”—that’s when the story starts.
We know, too, that real change can’t be superficial. In the middles of our stories, our characters might attempt to soothe their surface problems and go back to the way things were, only to discover that these fixes are no substitute for the deeper inner transformation they must, through toil, trial, and error, discover. Likewise, our own transformations must involve more than just retweets and bail fund donations. They must involve more than just supporting authors and illustrators of color, and LGBTQIA+ creators, more than frequenting Black-owned bookstores. Those are all important, yes—but we must also do the far more difficult and uncomfortable work of reckoning with ways we personally, as a community, and as a society, have perpetuated racist ideas and policies, often without realizing it.
I believe that on every level, we can all—myself included—do better.
On a personal level, we can educate ourselves, and work to uncover our own biases. There are countless anti-racism reading lists available right now; we need only look at the bestseller lists or do a simple search to find them. The Brown Bookshelf, for one, has put together a collection of anti-racist resources off the heels of their KidLit Rally for Black Lives. Classes from Writing the Other are also an applied way to engage in that same education—through learning how to more sensitively write characters who are different than ourselves.
From within our communities, we can speak up when we see our friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues perpetuating racist ideas. But we must also work to identify and replace the racist policies in these same communities. The conclusion from surveys like Lee and Low’s 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey shouldn’t only be that we need individually to be more sensitive and inclusive, but that we also need to rethink the systems of publishing, agenting, and hiring that place disproportionately fewer people of color in industry roles, that offer smaller advances to Black authors over white authors, and that put disproportionately fewer books by marginalized authors into readers’ hands.
And here’s where our reality diverges from a simple three-act structure: We might have our moments of personal epiphany; we might have breakthroughs with our loved ones; we might effect policy changes in our industry; but unlike the stories in our books, the story of racial justice in this country is not going to be wrapped up with a neat denouement. The deeper we reach within ourselves and communities, and the farther we follow the symptoms to their root causes, the more we also start to see that we can’t achieve equity and justice in our local and professional communities without also addressing broader societal issues relating to housing, policing, healthcare, clean water, immigration, and education. The deeper we reach, the more we’ll see that this is not a single story but a multitude—an ongoing saga, already four hundred years old.
It’s a tall order, at times overwhelming to even grasp—how much work we still have to do. But we can always start with that desire for normalcy. We can learn to recognize it now, and whenever it appears in the future, for what it is: a call for action. A call for deep, meaningful change.
Learn more at jackcheng.com.
Your voice matters. We invite you to comment on Jack’s post to keep the dialogue going.