The Writer’s Page: “Speak with Us, Not for Us”

Many of my writer friends who are white feel anxious when we talk about “diverse books.” If other white writers are anything like my dear, well-intentioned friends, they might be thinking that kids don’t need any more stories about white characters and that no one wants to read or publish them anyway. So even though these writers do want to support this developing diversity, they also worry about their own place as children’s book creators. They fear that they, as White Writers Who Want to Support Diverse Books and Authors, have no stories that the world demands or desires.

for those worried White Writers Who Want to Support Diverse Books and Authors, these are also the stories and characters that you are uniquely qualified to tell.

Which, of course, is not true. In order to achieve true diversity in children’s literature — a diversity so commonplace that we won’t even need to call it that — we need everyone, and that includes white authors. But we need white authors to speak with us, not for us. At times, this is hard to explain to my white friends, so I usually explain it using a parallel situation — that of a feminist, male author.

The way a lot of male authors jump in to “help” feminism is to write a feisty girl protagonist into their booksWhile the intentions may be good, this doesn’t necessarily help. I mean, yes, by all means have strong, self-confident girls and women in your books! But women do not need men to tell that story. Women are perfectly capable of writing those characters themselves. Shannon Hale can easily write her kick-butt protagonists as being strong and confident females, because she is already that herself — just follow her Twitter feed and see how she stands up for herself and her beliefs time and time again.

Read on for how to be an ally to the We Need Diverse Books organization and marginalized authors on Grace Lin’s guest post on the The Horn Book.

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