Bob Szesnat last edited by
I am an artist living with a physical disability from birth. At the same time, I am a white male. As a disabled person, I am comfortable with a fully physically abled person in writing about a character with a disability. Though I want the writer/illustrator to do some research about people living with disabilities or at least interact with a person (the more people with different types of disabilities the better) on a regular basis. This is just good writing/illustration practice.
Yes, I want people of other races than my own to have a say and create stories featuring their own lives, people, and personal opinions. I want them to make transformative work that shows the rest of the world new and inventive ways in story-telling.
It's because we (I am speaking about Americans--I'm not familiar with the social milieu of other nations) are being pushed toward tribal identity politics, intersectionality and grievance groups.
Everything has to be devolved around tribes. It's: The Black vote, the Hispanic vote, the White vote, etc. Apparently we are not humans, we are races.
It is now not considered racist to say something like: because of your race you can't do X (where X currently most often refers to a White cis-gendered male doing something like: drawing a brown skin character and/or telling his/her story).
Meanwhile, we are looking for the Holy Grail of intersectionality. Women are more oppressed than men so they are higher on the hierarchy but of course a Black woman would be higher than a White woman, while a lesbian Black woman would be higher still. Eventually the unicorn of intersectionality will descend from on high and the transgendered, Native American, pansexual, disabled female will have all power conferred to them and will then be able to tell us what to do.
As we wait for that, people of all races, religions, genders, and ideologies, will continued to be told: if you are not part of X niche identity you are not allowed to presume that you might have a sense of how a member of that identity might think or feel in any given situation.
Which is, literally, not how being human works.
A gay, Asian, Muslim man (an identity group to which I do not belong) knows exactly (or near enough so as not to make a difference) what I am feeling when he sees me get slapped in the face, or drop my newly purchased ice cream cone, or try not to weep at the sappy Hallmark ad, or hold my child, or catch myself from almost slipping on the ice, or slamming my hand on the steering wheel in frustration, or laughing with an old friend at a cafe until tears run down my face, or experience the thousands of other little things that human beings have been experiencing for thousands of years.
The White, Southern, Confederate flag waving, woman can as well.
As can the afore mentioned unicorn of intersectionality.
DanetteDraws last edited by DanetteDraws
This is such a great topic @smceccarelli, thanks for starting it!
It's one, like others here already have mentioned before me, that gets me fired up too. I agree with what everyone is saying about how we most definitely should be showing a diverse range of ethnicities in our art. I most definitely understand the need for #ownvoices and fully support that. But reality is, the majority of books still being published today are those of Caucasian decent, or those who wouldn't identify with a non-white label (or marginalized group, whatever that may be). If those white writers and illustrators then are limited to depicting ONLY other white people, our problem continues with not representing enough of a diverse range in our works.
I don't think I've noticed anyone else mention this, but a popular recommendation I've heard given to writers lately is that it's totally fine to write outside of your identity, but on top of doing thorough research, you should get (and potentially pay for) a "sensitivity reader" who is part of marginalized group you've written about. They then give you feedback on whether you've properly portrayed that culture or group in your work. I wonder if, as illustrators, we could do something similar. Reach out to someone we're trying to depict in our work and ask for feedback.
The thing is though too, is that there's so many identities and different experiences within a single cultural group that even if someone were to be an #ownvoices author or illustrator, they still can't completely represent their entire race through their work. Just as I, as a white Canadian, would research the hell out of depicting a white person from France for example before writing or illustrating about them, it's no different than if I chose to have my MC be a gay biracial male for example. The whole point of fiction too is that we're writing and illustrating characters that are different than ourselves, that have their own voice outside our own. If we take care to be culturally sensitive and make sure we're representing a group to the best of our ability, there should be no harm in that.
I do think though that you shouldn't pigeon hole a diverse cast of characters if it's not right for the story. And take a look at shows. For example: RIVERDALE (guilty pleasure! I devoured Archie comics as a kid. Shot here in Vancouver BC too!) - where they randomly changed the original cast just to be diverse. Suddenly, Mr. Weatherbee is black and Reggie is Asian. I do find it a bit weird (having grown up with very different characters in the comics) but I'm okay with that as long as the overarching original 'world' they live in isn't affected by the change.
Also, I feel sometimes that white folk get a bit of reverse racism thrown at them. If someone comes along who's #ownvoices, would they get the same feedback that their secondary characters shouldn't be white?!
smceccarelli last edited by
So much food for thought in your great comments @mattramsey and @DanetteDraws! I am reminded of an old international study about cultural differences that found out that differences and similarities run with professions and social class, not with ethnicity or nationality. That is, a mother in Nairobi thinks very similarly to a mother in New York and a doctor in Calcutta has a similar view of the world as a doctor in Paris, but a lawyer in Kenya has a completely different culture than a farmer in Kenya, even though they have the same nationality and the same ethnicity.
I know what it means to force diversity beyond any reasonable representation of reality - I have worked in corporate marketing for a multinational company, where having a balanced representation of race in all communications is a mandate (does not matter if we have to look hard to find the Asian woman manager to put in the Annual report, while there would be ample choice of male Caucasian managers to choose from...). But at the same time, I have cringed at a brochure about pre-natal diagnostic which was drafted by young single, childless women who have not the slightest idea about the frame of mind of a mother-to-be going through pre-natal diagnostic (tip: pictures of happy pink babies and smiling pregnant models in the 9th month are not a good idea...).
So what is the right thing to do? For the illustrator (and author) seems to be at the end similar to the question of finding your style....YOUR voice is after all a combination of your experience, your sensibility, your tastes and preferences - we could take it as a call to authenticity....
DanetteDraws last edited by DanetteDraws
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DanetteDraws last edited by
One more thing... If writers and illustrators could only ever depict characters of their own identity, we'd never have a diverse cast of characters in any given story. It would be a sad, sad day if we, instead of seeing multicultural books, began to see "white books", "gay books", "Asian books", etc. This is not representative of life nor is it a message I think we'd want in our world.
MirkaH last edited by
I think this was a great subject to bring up. Its been bothering me too, and I have been trying to stay out of it. I was asked by an african american woman author to draw some illustrations for her (self published) book, of an african american boy. it has to do with him and a cat, so hopefully I don't have to run into any of these issues.
kimchizerbe last edited by kimchizerbe
Ok, so for context this is coming from someone who has studied race and gender and I teach ethnic and gender studies in my college courses, so buckle in...
I totally get where you guys are coming from, but I think you may be missing a key component to what this movement MIGHT be trying to accomplish: representation.
I don't believe the "Own Voices" movement is about preventing stories of diversity, but rather, it is serving as an opportunity to give under represented groups a chance to tell their stories from their perspective. This movement is happening because for sooooooo long, the conversation in the arts has been absolutely dominated by white, heteronormative, straight, men. That is the prevailing voice, and when THAT voice tells the story of someone of color, someone who is oppressed or marginalized, it is a form of cultural/soci-economic/gender/etc. appropriation. It is a form of intellectual tourism. If the conversation as been only focused on one group for so long, I think publishers are now trying to create more opportunities for other points of view, or frames of reference. I personally believe that the industry is looking to find new and upcoming artists and authors of diverse backgrounds to tell diverse stories. This helps them avoid looking as if they are simply placating or pandering to a more diverse population by presenting stories of diversity from authors and illustrators who are not, in fact, "other".
I don't think it means you cannot include a diverse cast of characters. I dont think it means as a white illustrator I cannot draw black people. What it DOES mean, is that I should exercise caution before telling the story of a child of color growing up in abject poverty because that is a life experience I cannot adeptly speak to with authenticity.
A couple of things here: Please be careful of falling into the 'we are all humans' or 'I don't see color' trap. I know when people say that, they mean well, but what that does is erase the diversity of many marginalized groups who have been made to feel sub-human for centuries. What many oppressed groups want instead is for you to see and recognize, and RESPECT their differences, not erase them when they make you uncomfortable.
Another comment that I think needs to be addressed is @mattramsey's comment about the intersectional unicorn. I get where you are coming from. Psychologically, there are things that ALL humans feel. Getting punched hurts. Having your heart broken sucks. Making a new friends is awesome. But THOSE is not the type of stories I believe the "Own Voices" movement is trying to tell. Of course anyone creative can imagine what it may have felt like to be picked on for being gay, or fat, or black, or disabled. But if you are none of those things, you don't have an honest place from which to tell that story. You may accidentally get some of it right, but wouldn't an authentic voice from someone who has not had the same opportunities to share that story be more powerful? Wouldn't that be an opportunity to learn and grow? And perhaps more importantly for the AUDIENCE (who has been alarmingly missing from this discourse) wouldn't be awesome to see yourself represented by someone who is like you? THAT is what this idea is really supposed to be about. Representation
Also, I hope before you spout off about "gay, asian muslim men" or "transgender lesbian black disabled women" as some sort of "holy grail" of diversity you stop to remember that those labels ARE attributed to and DO affect REAL people. Some people don't have the privilege to only wear those labels to write or illustrate a story. Some people have to live it every second of every day...and every action they preform or interaction they have is colored by those labels. Understanding privilege is a great way to help see the other side of the story. I can PROMISE you without a doubt that anyone identifying as any combination of those labels you tossed so carelessly have been hurt by, or discriminated against in ways you take for granted every day. The transgender lesbian disabled black women has to worry about that building having wheelchair access. She has to worry about getting jumped for using the "wrong" bathroom and she has to hope the store manager doesn't follow her around because she looks like she might steal something. She has to worry about getting mugged because of who she loves. Because of who she IS. That is her life. I can assure you she doesn't see herself as some coveted intersectional Holy Grail.
What the "Own Voices" movement realizes, that many people here seem to be missing is that you simply CAN'T know all the myriad and nuanced ways the daily life of those different than you are impacted by being different. You can try to, or pretend to, but that is just it. It's not real or authentic. Maybe this topic is not as relevant in children's media but it certainly is a big issue in almost all other forms of creative expression.
One final thought on why diversity in children's media is so important, and why having authentic voices share those stories is so valuable: Steven Universe. This show is an excellent example of diverse characters who are not telling stories ABOUT diversity. They are written honestly and authentically without losing the target audience. And the creator speaks very eloquently about the importance of LGBTQ representation for young children. Hope this helped provide some context.
jimsz last edited by jimsz
Years ago when I was creating a lot of work for a publishing company it was specified that I had to include x number whites, x number black, x number asian, etc. It was so ridiculous that they even specified hair and eye color for the various characters. My belief then (and now) if that is what the client wants it is my job to deliver it and deliver it to the best of my abilities since that is what I was hired for.
That's a different perspective from the "Own Voices" idea. Own Voices is simply a form of racism and bigotry as it segregates, separates and compartmentalize people (the artists) by race. While popular with "educators" it is wrong for the real world.
If a person is a good artist (written or drawn) their audience will recognize a white person. They will recognize a black person and they will recognize an asian, a hispanic, etc, etc, etc.
The same goes for authors. Guess what, Rowlings was never a 10 year old boy wizard yet she wrote Harry Potter. Twain was not a black slave yet "Jim" from Huck Finn is a well rounded and believable character that is from the best piece of American fiction that was ever written
What I tell my kids when they are confronted with this in school is to substitute "white or caucasian" with whatever other race you are being told and if the person telling you would have a problem with the statement using white, it is racist.
You can agree or disagree and I am fine with that.
Quality art (written or drawn) is simply quality art. It does not matter what color the person who created it is and for that to matter and make a difference is bigoted.
Eric Castleman last edited by Eric Castleman
Let's not let this get too political at the risk of upsetting anyone. I think there is room for all of us in this industry, and whatever we hope to do there will be an avenue for each perspective and style. I have my own convinctions, and if I get offered a job (if I ever get good enough) in the future that I do not feel I can morally take, I will politely decline. Life is a bunch of hills, and I won't die on this one.
However, reverting back to the issue first brought up by @smceccarelli : I would personally email the instructors on this subject. It seems as though it is a touchy issue, and a private conversation will grant them more leeway with advice for you (I have no clue what their views are btw)
I can understand the confussion, especially if you are living in a part of the world that is not as politically polarizing as America's is. As someone who lives in the US and was born and raised in Southern California and in one of the most liberal cities outside of San Francisco all the while being raised in a conservative home, I can tell you that it is best to just roll with the punches (not assuming you are conservative or liberal)
A good illustrator is going to get work, and a good book will always be a good book. I just believe that. So I don't think we should be all that concerned.
Of course this comment will be much more brilliant in the future after I win the Caldecott....soooo...make sure to bookmark
mattramsey last edited by mattramsey
I don't believe the "Own Voices" movement is about preventing stories of diversity, but rather, it is serving as an opportunity to give under represented groups a chance to tell their stories from their perspective.
Right. And also preventing a person who doesn't fit in that particular exact category from telling said story.
This movement is happening because for sooooooo long, the conversation in the arts has been absolutely dominated by white, heteronormative, straight, men.
Have you heard of Broadway?*
is a form of cultural/soci-economic/gender/etc. appropriation.
What do you mean by this? Do you mean that a White female author who writes a story that has a young Black girl (for example) in it is appropriating the Black girl's culture? If so, Ok. I'll refrain from giving my opinion on that opinion. If not, what do you mean?
What it DOES mean, is that I should exercise caution before telling the story of a child of color growing up in abject poverty because that is a life experience I cannot adeptly speak to with authenticity.
You seem to be saying that a Black person who grew up in poverty can't "authentically" write about a poor White person. What if they were neighbors? Skin tone, for you, would make any writing about shared day-to-day struggles in the same socio-economic and geographical location ring untrue?
What if a Black person who grew up poor DREW a poor White child? Surely we can agree that there would be no "problematic" issues with that....right?
But THOSE is not the type of stories I believe the "Own Voices" movement is trying to tell.
Ok. I would imagine that they are (at least for some), but fine.
Of course anyone creative can imagine what it may have felt like to be picked on for being gay, or fat, or black, or disabled. But if you are none of those things, you don't have an honest place from which to tell that story. You may accidentally get some of it right, but wouldn't an authentic voice from someone who has not had the same opportunities to share that story be more powerful?
I don't know. Depends on how well they write I suppose. All things being equal: sure? I don't think anyone would argue that, again, all writing skills being equal, a person who lived an experience could tell a "better" story than someone writing about someone experiencing that experience (e.g., autobiography vs. biography).
Wouldn't that be an opportunity to learn and grow? And perhaps more importantly for the AUDIENCE (who has been alarmingly missing from this discourse) wouldn't be awesome to see yourself represented by someone who is like you? THAT is what this idea is really supposed to be about. Representation
Alright, sure. I can admit that I may be unique in this but I have never, ever, finished a book and then decided to do some research on the author to see if I should enjoy the story more, or get more meaning and impact out of the story based on the author's gender (sometimes this can be deduced by the name), race, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, or abled status.
In my view art is either good or it isn't. Art is impactful or it isn't. The idea that an artist can't authentically create stories and imagery on a variety of diverse issues removes the "art" from his/her title. In other words, that is one of the very skills that makes an artist an artist.
Also, I hope before you spout off
about "gay, asian muslim men" or "transgender lesbian black disabled women" as some sort of "holy grail" of diversity you stop to remember that those labels ARE attributed to and DO affect REAL people. Some people don't have the privilege to only wear those labels to write or illustrate a story.
I feel like you might be projecting something but I don't want to presume and get into some kind of internet fight. I will say that I did not suggest that no one really is/are those things.
I can PROMISE you without a doubt that anyone identifying as any combination of those labels you tossed so carelessly
Ok. How could I have more carefully set them down gently?
The transgender lesbian disabled black women has to worry about that building having wheelchair access.
She has to worry about getting mugged because of who she loves.
Now you are just pulling my leg. This part was meant to be levity, right? You can't seriously expect me to believe that there is a contingent of criminals who, not only can tell who someone loves, but also specifically target people based on that criterion.
I can assure you she doesn't see herself as some coveted intersectional Holy Grail.
I think you missed my point here.
many people here seem to be missing is that you simply CAN'T know all the myriad and nuanced ways the daily life of those different than you are impacted by being different.
You are right, you can't. We are in 100% agreement you and I. And literally** no author/illustrator of any race, orientation, ideology, etc, believes that either.
Maybe this topic is not as relevant in children's media
Why wouldn't it be?
*Hopefully it is clear that this is a joke but the idea that there doesn't exist (or that there hasn't for "soooo long") a massive diversity in the arts--gender, race, sexual orientation--doesn't seem, to me, to ring true. Would be interested in what others think.
**And by "literally" I, of course, mean: figuratively.
The same goes for authors. Guess what, Rowlings was never a 10 year old boy wizard yet she wrote Harry Potter.
substitute "white or caucasian" with whatever other race you are being told
Although I can see where this wouldn't always work, I do find myself automatically doing this.
In the end I don't care if you're a black gay woman or pudgy white guy with a mullet...story is good, art is good...I'll buy it....don't think these small children are looking at a picture book and analyzing it's deeper hidden meaning.....most picture books have what..500 words...people are over thinking this....it's the bottom line...you better sell some books
DanetteDraws last edited by
Just wanted to mention a side note... has anyone checked out the #MSWL tag on Twitter yesterday? Wow, literally every agent mentions they're looking for diverse books and #ownvoices. Which is great. It's such a hot topic right now (obviously, this thread a prime example of that!). Unfortunately, when everyone says the same thing (and doesn't mention what ELSE they're looking for), I find that the whole purpose (of MSWL - Manuscript Wish List) to be defeated. I'd imagine that even for the people with #ownvoices manuscripts to find it frustrating - I mean, it's not really narrowing down for you which agents to submit to, when ALL of them say they're open to it!
@smceccarelli I hope you resolved your original problem or at least had a great conversation about it with your agent. I feel bad for you that your original thread seems to have been totally taken over!
Naroth Kean last edited by Naroth Kean
This is a huge topic. I was asking my friend the same question a month or two ago, and we gave each other a high five as we don't think of ethnicity when we design a character. I honestly just draw personalities. Yes some would recommend diversity while some say no. I would stick with what I believe is true and hopefully people we see the same. I would pick the one that has the most personality and make people not to think of ethnicity at first impression. I hope this helps.
At the end of the day I think one of the most crucial words is ‘authenticity’…which illustrator is going to make the story feel real and the characters come alive to the audience, so that they can empathise and feel the same struggles as the characters. A lot of different factors are going to come into that choice - not least the quality of art, and the storytelling, as well as their “own voice” distilled from their overall background, influences and experiences of life. I don’t think that’s going to automatically include or exclude illustrators purely on the basis of race/gender etc. Making sure people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to tell those stories is of course something to aim for.
On a side note, thinking about the actual content of my picture book collection, you wouldn’t think you could have such a politically sophisticated discussion about them! (my collection is aimed at the under 5’s though)…it’s full of animals being friends, lost library books, tigers losing their smile, two boys digging a hole, a dog getting dirty, lost cats, assorted nursery rhymes, tigers coming to tea…I mean it’s all cute, and the modern ones are ethnically diverse when there are people in them, but it’s not charged with the racial issues that adults are more tuned into. That doesn’t mean it’s not important to have this discussion - of course it is - but one of the things I like about picture books is that they can talk about timeless topics that are simply ‘human’, by layering them into stories about animals or aliens or whatever.
@Dulcie you said what I was thinking (with much more grace) I think kids need to be able to stay kids for as long as they can without having to worry about this stuff....
Eric Castleman last edited by
I think I am just going to draw robots from now on. Just sidestep this whole thing.
smceccarelli last edited by
I think all responses here have been insightful - casting lights on different aspects of the issue. And no, I do not think the topic has been sidetracked - all aspects are related. I am at SCBWI NY, and there was a keynote speaker addressing this topic for illustrators - it is really a hot button right now, my agent was right. It is not so much about not being able to illustrate cultures other than your own, it is more about making sure that these are correctly represented, in a respectful and considerate and truthful way. And is also, in a very big way, about being authentic, being true to who you are, where you come from and your experience of the world. This is for me the biggest take-home message.
So art directors nowadays is simply not likely to hire an illustrator to illustrate a story that has a distinct ethnic or cultural connotation unless the illustrator is either from that cultural space or has a style that deeply resonates with that particular culture - there is therefore little point in putting such depictions into your portfolio, though you can freely do it for your personal work (with the risk, however, of misprepresentation). It does not mean that you cannot include different ethnicities in a story that has no specific cultural resonance. Several examples were made, and the books discussed were really embedded in a specific cultural universe - Mexican folklore or Native American family life. Clearly stories that I, for one, would be completely unfitting to illustrate anyhow. In this context, I can understand the "own voices" movement a lot better.
It is not so much about not being able to illustrate cultures other than your own, it is more about making sure that these are correctly represented, in a respectful and considerate and truthful way.
Several examples were made, and the books discussed were really embedded in a specific cultural universe - Mexican folklore or Native American family life.
I would imagine that this would seem reasonable to most people.
Thank you for the insights/clarification!