"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ethnic awards : is it time for a new approach?

I have been suffering from Blogger's Block, lately. Petty, mundane, and not so petty or mundane life worries seem to fill out my mind. But then, I came across an important debate on Read Roger's blog, today, and it seems fitting to mention it here, right after a post celebrating the inaugural of Obama.

Should awards like the Coretta Scott King or the Belpré live on as they are, or should the whole concept of awards based on the ethnicity, identity of the author/illustrator be entirely reframed?

As I read Marc Aronson (do note that the article was written in 2001) and Esme Codell's arguing the need to rethink these awards, and in light of what we hope to be a new era, one that made it possible for a global citizen with white and black blood (I mention the white blood first because his mother, who carried him and pushed him into this world, was white, and so she comes first; if his mother had been black, I would have switched the order) to be elected as president of the United States of America, I found myself nodding a lot. But then, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Yuyi Morales (look up Yuyi's input in the comments section of Esme Codell's post) contributing their own thoughts had me thinking some more.

And finally, there was Richard Michelson's conclusion, that somehow wraps things us for me: "... while the majority must open its gates to the minority, it is up to the minority to decide when they want to put out the welcome mat. Clearly we are not there yet."

Doesn' it all boil down to this? Yes, atrocities and injustice created this world where affirmative action and ethnic awards like the Coretta Scott King and Belpre's awards are needed if the voice of the minorities are to find avenues to make themselves known and heard. The question is : can I objectively write the previous sentence in the past tense? Has the world changed so much that minority authors can hope to see their work published and appreciated for their content, and without the help of awards based on the identity of the author or the artist? Has the world changed so much that authors or artists who belong to the majority can be included, so that these ethnic awards would be exclusively about the quality of the work, and no longer care about the identity of their author/illustrator? 

The majority, to which I belong, would like to say : YES, it has. Because majority people like me, who understand that being "non racist" requires active and conscious work, somehow feel cheated when a minority refuses to include them. I mean, I'm NOT a racist, and I work hard at not only embracing and advocating an inclusive multicultural world, but also at fighting any residual thought or impulse born from my being a white person who was brought up in a predominantly white world. It is my will and my dream that my biracial children grow up and experience a world where the color of their skin will never cause them sorrow, frustration or any other negative emotion or experience. Doesn't, shouldn't that count for something?

Well, the response ultimately lies with the minority, those who were (are)  wronged, persecuted, and silenced for too long. How long will it take for them to feel, judge and declare that things have now truly changed and they can finally let go of all the hurt and the past? Who can say? But as Richard Michelson states : "clearly we are not there yet."

Where does that leave us, as far as ethnic awards are concerned? Might the answer lie somewhere between both extremes : let the Coretta Scott King Award and the Belpré live, maybe until the much awaited "new" reality declares them as belonging to History, and therefore obsolete. In the meantime, new awards could be created that " honor books entirely based on identity - but not that of the author, only the themes in the books," (as mentioned by Marc Aronson, about the Lambda Literary Awards). 

Seems to me this whole, necessary debate, is about how to best negotiate a fundamental transition. I also like Mitali Perkin's conclusion : "I'll fight to the end for NO APARTHEID in WRITING." I'll drink a virtual glass of champagne to that.