Yes, it Matters What Children Read; Diversity in Publishing is the Solution
Editor’s Note: This commentary by Jason Low, publisher of Lee & Low Books, is part of an ongoing Foreword Reviews series called #IndieVoices, in which we invite small publishers and indie authors to address the 2016 US presidential election and its aftermath.
The election results were painful. A large segment of the United States voted for the promise of more middle class jobs, which is reasonable, except for the fact that when you elect a candidate you elect the whole candidate and everything he represents. The problem I have with one-issue voters is you cannot elect a candidate a la carte! Race and diversity are serious issues, and this election showed how little these issues are valued.
The election was brutal and divisive. Countless times I swore that Trump couldn’t possibly win because he had denigrated so many different groups of people and crossed so many lines. But every time he upped the ante and raised the outrageousness bar, he was rewarded with more news coverage and larger crowds at his rallies. His reality TV strategy got him into the oval office, but at what cost? In the process of seeking the highest office in our land, the fundamental principles of what America was built on broke a little.
Trump supporters assure us they are not racists and the president-elect promises to be the president for all Americans, but his cabinet appointments say otherwise. His continued stream of utterances on Twitter isn’t helping to calm the masses either or win over anyone who did not support him.
We have laws in this country that protect a citizen’s human rights. But when rules are enforced selectively and unevenly, the responsibilities of all citizens must come to bear. The only way a small crack becomes bigger is when people’s voices are taken away and good people stop listening.
My take on the road ahead is not to give an inch when it comes to diversity and human rights. When some Americans devalue other Americans based on their ethnicity, their language, and/or their religion, everyone’s freedom is put in jeopardy. Exit polls show that minority and LGBTQA voters overwhelmingly supported Clinton, so it is no surprise that people of color and other marginalized groups feel uncertain about what their immediate future may hold.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), hate crimes have spiked across the country and remarks from yesteryear, such as “Go back to your country,” have resurfaced. Growing up, I remember being told to go back to where I came from on numerous occasions, but I refuse to accept that we are going to let ourselves slide back to the “bad old days” when white people randomly decided who belonged and who didn’t based on the color of their skin. Even writing that last part of the last sentence is a blast from the past, from decades ago. We are back to diversity 101!
So what does the work look like moving forward? At Lee & Low Books, we will continue to publish books about marginalized people and the struggles they face. We will work hard to insure our books stand the best chance to reach as many readers as possible. If the president-elect read diverse books growing up, he would not be the person he is now. What you read matters.
Publishing colleagues: In your day jobs, work toward equity by publishing books that will help patch some of the cracks that formed during this election. Our Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) showed a lack of representation behind the scenes in publishing’s workforce. Those making hiring decisions must lean in when it comes to building a diverse workforce because different voices and different perspectives need to be in the room where decisions are made and ideas become books.
After the workday is over the work continues. For those of us who are parents, how do you talk about the president-elect and the host of issues brought to light by the election? My own family’s dinner conversations have run the gamut—from sexual assault, gender bias, and misogyny to refugees, white nationalism, immigration, Black Lives Matters, and poverty in middle America. My older son knows what is at stake, and his awareness is growing to the point of taking the initiative to speak his mind and encourage the political stances of classmates exercising their freedom of speech. These are our future voters.
As citizens we have to collectively cut back on binge watching shows like Black Mirror and make the time to become politically vigilant. Society needs volunteers, donations, and activists to personally influence The Great American Experiment’s outcome. With the proliferation of social media, people are sequestered according to their beliefs more then ever before. If we get to know our neighbors by reaching across the fence or apartment hallway and connecting with people who do not necessarily hold the same views that we do, we might be able to re-establish civil discourse in this country.
In addition to civility, the country is in desperate need of more mutual kindness. A book we recently published called Step Right Up tells the story of a self-taught veterinarian named William “Doc” Key, who taught his horse Jim to spell, read, solve math problems, and more. Doc’s and Jim’s work eventually helped bolster the movement for the humane treatment of animals. To promote this book we developed a Kindness Pledge, which has resonated with people in a particularly strong way. Following one of the most vicious elections in US history, kindness is a good place to start.
Jason Low is the publisher and a co-owner of Lee & Low Books, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the United States. Founded in 1991, Lee & Low celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2016. Lee & Low was named the 2014 Indie Publisher of the Year by Foreword Reviews. In 2016, the Eric Carle Museum selected Lee & Low as the recipient of its Angel Award for the company’s dedication to diverse books and to a new generation of artists and authors who offer children both mirrors and windows to the world.