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“When We Were Fierce” is Not So Fierce

August 20, 2016

Below is my response to a Rich in Color post on E. E. Carlton-Trujillo’s  When We Were Fierce which was pulled from release by the publishing company due to the pushback in the children’s literature field.  I addressed another response by a black American author who took the critical feedback as an attempt to censor an author’s voice, comparing the reaction to events surrounding the black community’s negative reaction to the play he wrote, St. Louis Woman,  which included Pearl Bailey and the Nicholas brothers.  As a literary reviewer, Cullen was controversial too.  He didn’t want  black authors to sound black or include cultural vernacular in their work.  No one is asking E. E. Trujillo to not be authentic.  That, in essence is what the critique is all about.   The author angrily stomped off the page saying she will no longer read any more Rich in Color posts.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 2.57.00 PMTo not involve yourself in dialogue whether you agree or not is to deny yourself knowledge and insight. I have read E. E. Carlton-Trujillo’s book and the issues are authentic and relavant. They were however being portrayed through extremely stereotypic one dimensional characters, which in my opinion, fed the media’s decades old portrayal of urban POC. In a society where a Donald character can trumpet out to masses of white Americans that most black Americans are poor and with little hope to succeed, and need to vote for him; where young Olympian Danielle Douglas was lambasted across the Internet because the media caught her in melancholy post-competitive performance moments accusing her of being nonAmerican thus bringing her to tears in an interview, while no one has attacked the white swimmers that lied about being robbed by black guys with guns as being nonAmerican…I’m finding it incredible that anyone cannot see this blatant double standard.

The narrative that cries out for writers to be more responsible when they write language for our youth of color to read is nothing new! In contemporary times, about 51 years old Nancy Larrick brought this issue to national attention when she looked at 5000+ books published between 1962 and 1963 to seek positive portrayals of black Americans. She found with the exception of one book, blacks portrayed as buffoons, servants, and Africans in their traditional indigenous bush settings…in other words wild heathens. There was no excuse then and today there still is no excuse for the lack of people of hues, but to purposely make an effort to promote a blanketed misrepresentation of urban POC is irresponsible.

Freedom of expression is an inherent right to our country’s citizenry, but equitable and authentic accuracy should be the responsibility of children and young adult authors in their expression. To have to consistently keep this narrative alive against pub-houses, as well as authors with their heads in the sand, school district curriculum planners, as well as the general public who have never participated in dialogue with the counter narratives that are supportive of POC in YA and children’s books…the repetitiveness over the generations is at ad nauseum level.

The above response to this much needed article is yet another example of someone who walks with eyes wide shut. To deny the consistent outcries that say something is wrong with the portrayal of youth in literature OR the absence of youth of color, is an act to maintain the marginalized status and relevancy for the culture and lived experiences for well more than half of the American population. As K. Imani has said it is not just about one group of color…when one group wins we all win: Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, white, and black. Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 3.36.50 PMAlso, To compare the critical feedback on “When We Were Fierce” to the works of Countee Cullen is not an accurate analogy of the assault on this great writer. He was not irresponsible in his authenticity of lived experiences or language. Beyond the cardboard pigeonholed characterizations, the vernacular in “When We Were Fierce” was made up and reinforced widely preconceived notions for blackness in urban settings.

Larrick’s Research Article:  http://www.longwood.edu/staff/miskecjm/384larrick.pdf

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