Janine Macbeth paints in color, because black ink on white paper isn’t enough to draw her impressions of the world.
Macbeth writes in color, too, which is why her stories are narratives about characters who are beige, brown, tan and yellow.
Macbeth, an Oakland author, illustrator and publisher of children’s books, creates tales around multiethnic children. Her stories would serve America well, particularly at a time when the incoming American president is a man who ran a campaign steeped in bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia — fueling hate, distrust and rage among his supporters.
Intolerance is taught and learned through repetition and positive reinforcement. But what if there were more diversity in children’s books?
Would we be consumed with hate if all of us were raised with examples of people who, though they might look different, are relatable?
Would I be writing about racism after a presidential election if the books in libraries, classrooms and on the dusty shelves of living-room bookcases reflected the true vibrancy of this country?
There’s been a push for more ethnic content in TV and film. And not just with characters, but in programs written and directed by minorities. But the same movement hasn’t touched the white-hot problem in book publishing.
A 2015 survey of book publishers conducted by Lee & Low Books, an independent publisher of multicultural children’s and young-adult literature, found that nearly 80 percent of respondents were publishing staffers who identified as white. What’s more, the survey revealed that book reviewers were 89 percent white.
Even more telling is the research by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, which found that in the past 20 years, multicultural content in children’s books has remained steady at 10 percent even though people of color account for 37 percent of the United States population.
“The decision-makers in publishing are not reflective of us — or not valuing all children,” Macbeth said.
Publishers simply don’t get it. Consider this: Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who for years passed as black and was the president of an NAACP chapter, will have her memoir published by BenBella Books in March at a time when many women of color, like Macbeth, can’t grasp a book deal.
Publishers have rejected Macbeth’s stories, telling her it’s hard to find a good multicultural story to sell.
“The absence of our voice in children’s literature is so extreme that, at this point, everywhere I turn I see a story that needs to be in a book,” said the soft-spoken Macbeth.
“It puts a spotlight on a kind of dad rarely seen in picture books, portraying a joyous mixed-race family thriving in a happily multiracial world,” The Chronicle’s reviewer wrote about the book, which has sold out.
The second title, the bilingual “One of a Kind, Like Me,” or “Unico Como Yo,” written by Lauren Mayeno and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo, was published this year. To get more books like this in print, Macbeth is running an online fundraising campaign.
“Imagine what bigotry would look like then if every child had that experience or exposure. It would disappear,” Macbeth, an Oakland native, told me over tea and cookies at her home in the Upper Dimond neighborhood.
“Racist violence, police brutality — what if those police officers had been raised with books like that, and had an integral love of characters, identified with characters that didn’t look like them?” Macbeth continued.
Macbeth teaches her two young sons about their identity, sharing the stories of people in the framed black-and-white photographs in the living room. Her husband, who is culturally Latino, was raised in Panama by a white mother and Chinese father.
Her Chinese maternal grandparents owned a gas station that was a community center for Chinese immigrants settling in Oakland. Go to Eighth and Franklin streets in Chinatown and you’ll be at a corner named for her grandfather, Bill Louie. Her black paternal great-grandfather, Hugh E. Macbeth Sr., was an attorney who fought for equal rights, including the displaced and incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II.
American history — our history — is more colorful than black and white. How would life change if more children saw this, and themselves, in books?
“We’re just people who live and love and have experiences and are unique and individual and distinct,” Macbeth said. “We’re not a monolith. We have personalities.”
- Summer books for Vietnamese children News
- Message films struggle to bring in young audiences
- The fine art of listening to a Vietnamese museum’s stories
- An eccentric retrospective on 2018 stories
- US author: lost and found in Vietnam
- McDonald's struggles with competition in Vietnam
- Children's hospitals struggle with recent surge in patients
- Photo exhibition reveals lives of ethnic children
- Disease kills more than 30 children in remote Myanmar
- Storm-hit village in central Vietnam in dire need of education access for ethnic children
Children’s author struggles to get stories of color in mainstream have 964 words, post on www.sfchronicle.com at November 15, 2016. This is cached page on ReZone. If you want remove this page, please contact us.