Own Voices



  • I have my personal opinion about this case and it coincides with yours! http://bigpaperwriter.com/blog/cultural-identity-essay is talking about culture as a way to identify your country and nation!



  • @smceccarelli thankfully chefs do culture appropriation since who knows when and we get to taste their diverse flavor of cultural appropriation all the time. What about individual appropriation? How do you live in an ethnically diverse world and not appropriate from others you live and interact with? Sounds like a super killjoy. I love art and I don't live in Platos cave.



  • @Tyson said in Own Voices:

    @smceccarelli thankfully chefs do culture appropriation since who knows when and we get to taste their diverse flavor of cultural appropriation all the time. What about individual appropriation? How do you live in an ethnically diverse world and not appropriate from others you live and interact with? Sounds like a super killjoy. I love art and I don't live in Platos cave.

    I would love someone who feels strongly against "cultural appropriation" to give me a concrete definition of just exactly what they mean. The definition I have that I THINK some people mean is, frankly, daft, sickening, and completely against the experiences all humans have been having for the last several thousand years.

    But I'll refrain from telling everyone how I really feel....



  • I really appreciate how everyone has tuned in on this conversation - each adding a new dimension and new perspective on a topic which is multi-faceted and controversial. This, I believe, is exactly how we should face any discussion about art and society: openly and respectfully sharing our opinions.
    This is clearly a major topic in the publishing industry today (meanwhile, I have met two "sensitivity readers" - a profession that I did not know ever existed before). Still, I think it is important to put it into perspective: I believe it is a topic only or mainly in the USA (which is the major market for English-speaking literature, so it is not inconsequential). Identity politics and identity discussion have shaped and continue to shape Amerian society in many different ways, not all of them fully healthy. Racism and discrimination exists everywhere, but I believe that insisting on defending the integrity of an "own" culture (be it ethnic or sexual in nature) is not a weapon against it - quite the opposite: it is a way to fuel it.
    But, we are commercial artists, and the concerns of publishers (assuming we are interested in working for them) are our concerns too. I just hope they will get over the "walking on egg-shells" feeling soon.
    On my side, I will continue to be amused and not offended when Italians are depicted as "pizza-pasta-mamma-mafia", in pop literature, British as tea-loving aristocrats and Swiss as dull but prissy farmers. And the character of the dumb blond will not send me into a feminist rant either. Admittedly, being associated with three different cultures and three different professions helps to put everything in perspective 😉

    And now, just to put more fuel into the fire of this discussion, this is something that was on my FB feed today - not sure if they have a point - their analysis seems self-serving:

    Rebel girls video



  • I see both sides of this argument and maybe because I am biracial but don't really view people in colors/race but see it come up a ton. On one hand I think diversity is great regardless of what the race the illustrator happens to be. I think it is a great idea to include a multicultural scene especially since some races are definitely under represented clearly by the numbers in children's books. However I also get the argument that one authenticity should be valued vs just painting someone a color or worse really not hitting the mark and it become offensive out of ignorance. Also certain races will definitely be able to tell their stories better, there are racial nuances that someone will not just understand if they are not apart of that cultural /race. And there is also an economic factor to consider, I don't know the numbers but I believe Will Terry even mentioned this field is dominated by white males. It seems economically injustice to not allow illustrators if they are just as talented to illustrate "their stories" if that makes sense.



  • Read some more of the posts response sorry for the double post. Also I want to comment on something else. I think it is important. If you are a brown person or a fill in the blank person even as a child it is very clear to you that you don't see others that look like you in books. So I disagree it should not be overlooked, it should be worried about vs just making books to sell if you truly are wanting to touch a child's life. I know I was grown before I ever saw a little girl in a book that looked like me. The world is not completely full of caucasian little girls with blond hair and yet that is all I saw in books growing up and whether you want to admit it or not it affects us as a society if this is not a good representation of us all in any form of media and affects children's self esteem.



  • @Stephanie-Hider said in Own Voices:

    I don't know the numbers but I believe Will Terry even mentioned this field is dominated by white males. It seems economically injustice to not allow illustrators if they are just as talented to illustrate "their stories" if that makes sense.

    So, what you are saying is someone should be chosen simply because of their race? I'm sorry, I disagree.

    An AD should choose whomever they think will do the job, whomever will work as easily as possible with the staff/publisher/etc., whomever will meet the deadline with the least amount of drama.

    If it is a white male, great, if it is a female person of color, great. But to choose one over the other due to their gender or color, is bigotry.


  • SVS OG

    I agree that the person who can best do the job should be picked. And getting it done on time, without drama, etc. is important. But also having the background, history etc. to be able to represent well what the story is about is a factor in being that best person to do the job. So it is definitely not an unrelated issue.

    And if I remember right @smceccarelli said they talked about this very issue at SCBWI. The issue was NOT showing diverse kids in every day situations--i.e. in the class room, play ground, etc. The issue was books that draw deeply from a certain culture. Books where someone not part of the culture might easily use stereotypes in their illustration without realizing it, but someone actually FROM that culture would be able to depict it with real-world knowledge and experience. Not all books do or should have this deep cultural base where this would become an issue. BUT, for those books that do, I think it is legitimate for publishers to consider the background of the artist when considering whether they are the best person for the job.



  • @smceccarelli I feel similarly with you in that this is primarily a US concern. Even though I'm Canadian and we do have more influence here from our American neighbours, I've never once heard this topic come up from Canadian sources. I think we've always been more accepting and multicultural here though, which has translated into multicultural works for years already. I've never once felt a part of a white-dominated culture - even all the way back to grade school. In fact, in my years living in both Toronto and Vancouver I've felt like the minority.

    We're not without fault though - we still have racism and sexism concerns. Recently a transgender teenager faught the government to remove a person's sex from their birth certificate, and we were all touched by that and hoped it would pass.

    Another thing I've been thinking about a lot lately...I wonder how many immigrants actually read publications in English? For one, within this past year the last remaining bookstore in a wide radius to where I live has been closed down due to lack of sales. This has saddened me greatly, but I know it's because the area is primarily occupied of East Indians. And whenever I'm on transit I love peeking over their shoulders to see what they're reading on their phones - and it's always in Punjabi (even the young teenagers). Same thing with Asians (there's a large population of them here too). I can guarantee you it's NOT because there's a lack of diversity in our publications, it's the language that's the primary motivator in which works they choose to read. Now OF COURSE I realize there's loads and loads of immigrants too that not only learn English (and those who were born here and English is their first language) who would read English works. But what I'm saying is, not enough to keep a single bookstore in business here within a 30 minute drive.

    I've also never once felt lesser as a female as a kid - it's just now as an adult I'm noticing sexism so much more. I do think I was exposed to a great many female-empowered works as a child. That video you posted, while they do have a point, it's also not the whole picture. They pulled out all the princess books - but not every princess story has a little lady waiting on her prince! One of my all time favs is Robert Munch's The Paper Bag Princess. She's smart as well as bad-ass. And my fav Disney movie of all time is Beauty and the Beast (SO excited for the new one coming out!)...Again, not your typical female who's just waiting on her knight and shining armour. Also, little girls love princess stories. So I say, let's put out more, just with independently minded all around awesome princesses. Another thing I've heard time and time again, is that girls are open to reading a greater variety of books, they don't care if the protagonist is male or female. But boys only want to read about boys. So perhaps there's simply more boy books in order to reach a greater audience. And as Will has said before - and it's totally true - most of the picture books he's done have animal characters! Who have no sex or race.

    I certainly hope that someone isn't chosen over me simply because of race and not because of talent. If I ever begin to feel that way I just may go the self publishing route and my fire will be fueled to get sales and prove them wrong.



  • @jimsz You are welcome to disagree but a white male in his forties is no way going to understand somethings culturally concerning other races and cultures and therefore would not tell it accurately or rather should not be, which is the debate I believe, tell that story. I am not sure why drama and deadlines etc are being brought up. Are you implying only white males can do these type of professional things? Do I think someone should get the job that isn't qualified, no which I believe I stated as well.



  • @Stephanie-Hider said in Own Voices:

    It seems economically injustice to not allow illustrators if they are just as talented to illustrate "their stories" if that makes sense.

    Very good point.

    This may or may not be relevant: but I think it's important to not mistake equality of opportunity with equality of outcome.

    In other words, if there is a discriminatory AD or agency or law or whatever, and it's keeping anyone (regardless of race, sex, religion, orientation, etc) from working--we should absolutely fight that.
    On the other hand, simply looking at any field and seeing a disparity in outcome doesn't necessarily mean there was discrimination.
    There are any number of factors that go into how well or poorly a particular "fill in the blank" is represented in any field--most of which are not "discrimination."

    I am not claiming that is what you are saying or implying though.

    I would also be very surprised if @jimsz was saying or implying that only white males can be professional. At least, I didn't get that impression from the post.


  • SVS OG

    Perhaps we should just breed until the whole world is just a nice shade of middle brown then we can just focus on the art instead of this complete insanity.......



  • @mattramsey Yes, totally agree. I worked in research science (drug discovery) and was one of 7 women (in a staff of nearly 100 scientists). I was involved in hiring many different times, and there simply were no women among the applicants. On one occasion we had over 300 applications (for a grant) of which 35 were from women. We honestly tried very hard to give these applications the higher priority - sometimes even beyond what was granted by skills and resume - but there was simply no way we could have an 50/50 distribution.
    So the question is more why there were no women entering science....and that, together with all questions around the relationship between gender or ethnicity and opportunity and professions, is a very very loaded question, which has no easy answer...



  • @mattramsey Definitely not implying that at all. I think in terms of environments, encouragement and so many other factors we see skewed numbers in a ton of fields of work for a variety of reasons. As an example seeing much lower numbers of girls participating in the science fields years ago efforts were made through a variety of different outlets to encourage girls to follow science based careers. I personally subscribe to a much broader philosophy in terms of opportunities and don't feel hindered by being bi racial or female etc at all. If I am supposed to do ____ fill in the blank___ then I will, I don't subscribe to a ton of the attitudes so prevalent here in the states concerning race, sexisim etc and have rarely personally encountered it. But I think seeing things from the other side of the perspective especially concerning culturally based pieces has merit.



  • @smceccarelli hehe we were on the same wave length there.



  • @Stephanie-Hider If you are hired as an artist for book project, spot illustration, game, greeting cards, etc it does not matter if you are a white male or an asian female or anything else. The artist's job is to deliver what the Art Director, publisher, graphics director, etc. want. My experience as a fill-in-the-blank person should not and does not matter.

    Are you saying as a female that you are unable to follow through if given a job to illustrate a white male child from the inner city? How about an asian from the suburbs, straight person, gay person, (where is the line?)?

    The majority of the art directors I have worked with could not tell you what color I am nor could I tell you what color they are. The gender is easier due to the name but other than that all of our correspondence is via email, snail mail and previously to that fax and fedex. Color, sex, whatever, does not matter.

    The job is to deliver what you are being paid to deliver.



  • I cant explain this any other way. If you are doing a cultural piece more often than not if you are not part of that cultural it will not be the same piece and ultimately, not only my opinion but of others, it will be inferior due to the lack of nuances it could otherwise display. Please also take into account which the numbers clearly state there is definitely an over representation of white cultural across the media vs other cultures. So in some sense it would be much easier for a non white person to illustrate something of this culture because it is everywhere. An illustrator brings much to a project not just a picture often times they are bringing life to the project in ways the author might not have ever imagined. This isnt a racist thing this a lack of knowledge about a cultural and how that ultimately would change the project. I am not sure why this isnt clear.

    Trying to search for an example. I have a heavy irish background racially and have studied quite a bit of gaelic and celtic history but if someone approached me about illustrating a book that was heavily rooted in their folklore for example I would not be the ideal person for that job. If someone approached me about illustrating a project like Moana the disney movie (not talking skill wise I am no way near there just in terms of project subjects) I would not be ideal for that either I know very little about their cultural, what they might find offensive, what they relate to. This last part is the big thing. Coming from a bi racial background I know very intimately that white people and black people are vastly different when it comes to cultural nuances. You can take the same middle class families from both races living in the same neighborhood, same schools etc and both families will relate to different things visually, music, food taste etc all of the things you would see in their home would be different.

    I think the disconnect here is if you are always seeing your own cultural represented you think that's it. Well other cultures see things vastly different when it comes to even colors. We view colors as having emotions tied to them and they are quite the opposite when you say for example view red or green from an Eastern perspective those colors means something different than a westerner might view it.

    Ok I am done defending this stance any longer I have said my peace. I know when I see a book that is illustrating black people and can most often like 75% know if the illustrator is of color or not just by the way it is illustrated. I am confident that I am not alone in this ability.



  • I'd like to take a stab at defining what we're talking about here - because I think there's two very different types of books that I think is causing confusion.
    @Stephanie-Hider is talking about books that are ABOUT a person's own experience (race, sexuality, etc.). As an example, Don Tate's "Poet":
    0_1489089273349_Poet.jpeg

    Whereas, if there were to be a picture book that isn't about any particular ethnic group (or otherwise) but happens to have multiculturalism shown in the imagery, then that would be fine to be illustrated by whomever (as long as they still be careful not to stereotype, portray everyone in a positive manner and represent them as best they can). I couldn't think of a picture book as an example, but found this image which could very well be found in a picture book. It's simply a story that happens to have a classroom of kids full of diversity.
    0_1489089545393_multicultural.png

    On another note, I've seen some AMAZING works lately by artists who are not part of that ethnicity. One of the best examples is "Thunder Boy Jr". It's an Aboriginal story, yet the illustrator, Yuyi Morales is Hispanic. There are a bunch of others too but that's just the one I recall at the moment.
    0_1489089814880_thunderBoy.jpeg



  • @Stephanie-Hider Ok I am done defending this stance any longer I have said my peace. I know when I see a book that is illustrating black people and can most often like 75% know if the illustrator is of color or not just by the way it is illustrated. I am confident that I am not alone in this ability.....

    So, what you are saying is the AD and Publisher are not doing their jobs since they are the ones who pick the illustrator, approve the sketches and approve, accept, publish and pay for the final.

    Citing your examples the artist has all the power in the world but the real world is quite different.



  • @jimsz Yes that is exactly what I am saying I guess to a point. If you are publishing a book that features the protagonist as a black child and expect it to represent their life in the ghetto for example and how they struggled to get out off the streets in chicago. Are you wanting to accurately represent this story? Are you wanting to inspire other black children to do the same? Or are you just wanting to sell a book and hope for the best? Ok you hire an illustrator from Portland Oregon who is white, male and 60 and has had limited contact with black people. My answer to that would be 1. The book will be less authentic. 2. The book is borderline appropriation 3. The book will not be marketable to black people and will not represent the story more than likely accurately to other races. It could be a beautifully illustrated book, excellent in all ways except the one way it really needed to be which is to tell the story from a black perspective.

    Just because publishing companies can and still do put out books that don't feature cultures does not mean it is right. Nor does it make it right if they blindly start marketing them to other cultures when they haven't done their "homework". In the early 90s companies realized latinos especially had more buying power and started marketing to them. And in the process started offending them with a mass of marketing mess ups until the executives realized they needed to hire someone to internally represent whomever they were marketing to, to do it right.

    The real world is full of consumers and I can bet you any amount of money if you had two children's books and one was mediocre in style but was written and illustrated by that person's culture and spoke them on a level they will choose it over a beautifully illustrated one that does not check those marks off.


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