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The other Other: Smashing Identity Boxes, a guest post by Paula Chase

Kids lead secret lives outside of the eyes and ears of adults. Often those secrets seep out innocently when they’re engaging with one another. Some of my favorite memories of my two girls’ childhood revolve around moments where I was allowed a tiny peek into their world when they were with friends.

One day, while playing chauffer to my youngest and her best friend, their chatter filled the car. I don’t recall what they were talking about but, her friend casually mentions how one of her classmates was an Oreo. My neck snapped as I looked into the rearview, shocked at the ease that she made the statement.

If you don’t know the term, an Oreo (besides being a cookie) is person who is Black on the outside, White on the inside, mostly applied to Black kids who talk “too” proper or take up an activity that is usually enjoyed predominately by white people. It’s equivalent to saying that a Black person is “acting” white.

It’s silly and demeaning, erasing the very existence of a person based on stereotypes.

No matter how a Black person lives their life, they’re Black. As my friend, Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas tweeted recently along the lines of this matter – If I’m doing it, it’s Black!

Amen.

By the time I was in the 4th grade I’d been teased, by my Black friends, for having white friends sleep over and called the N-word by a classmate. Essentially, I wasn’t Black enough but I absolutely was not white. Where does a kid go with these mixed messages?

Being forced to define or defend one’s Blackness is a residual of racism, especially insidious because it breaks Blackness into checkboxes. Checkboxes that are, ironically enough, defined mostly by whiteness.

It flip flops between defining Blackness in derogatory terms or generalizing it to a random hip vibe to attain.

If to be white is talking grammatically correct, then Blackness is talking incorrectly. Which explains why it’s taken so long for code switching, alternating between dialects, and AAVE (African American Vernacular English), a shared dialect among many Black people, to be respected as legitimate forms of linguistics.

If to be white is wearing certain clothes that are seen as mainstream and uninspired, then Blackness is edgy and cool.  Which explains why the style and work of Black creatives in fashion are stolen over and over, only legitimized when a white designer appropriates it and eventually monetizes it.

The popularity of Designer Nareasha Willis’s Ghetto Until Proven Fashionable sweatshirt scratches the surface of appropriation with a turn of phrase that too often sums up the net result of Black contributions to society.

There was a dangerous precedent set in place with America’s founding that white is default, even if white culture itself is a patchwork of many other cultures. Within the precedent, Black children have been erased a thousand times over led to believe their very existence is either not enough or too much.

In Keeping it Real, the dynamics of class and culture flow beneath a story about Marigold Johnson, the child of moguls Manita and Marshall Johnson. Mari’s wealth (or rather her parents) has its privileges and burdens. The lifestyle her parents’ status affords her makes her a target for her peers from the neighborhood her family remains rooted in. She’s never called an Oreo, but the sentiment is the same.

Meanwhile, her white classmates assume the Johnson’s wealth was accumulated by illegal means. Even though it wasn’t, the school’s hierarchy still puts Mari among the “new” money – which comes with a stigma of its own. Her parent’s wealth is not enough to relieve her of her classmates’ assumptions of what being Black should mean.

The reader finds Mari at a crossroads, desperate to prove to her close friend and crush, Justice, that she’s “down” i.e. aligned with the same views he holds about being Black in a white space. But their experiences at school put them at odds. While Justice sees the summer trainee program, they’re both in, as an escape, Mari sees it as a chance to show him how real she is.

As Marigold takes her own journey of self, I’m reminded the strength teens need to remain true to themselves in spite of pressure to conform to one identity or another. Being [fill in the blank] enough becomes a game many play to remain a part of a circle or to find comfort. We all should be mindful of helping teens find a way to feel that they are enough, by ridding their world of boxes.

Meet the author

Co-founder of the award-winning blog, The Brown Bookshelf, Paula Chase is a longtime Inclusion Jedi and advocate for diversifying the type of fiction featuring Black characters that’s highlighted among educators, librarians and parents. She’s presented and blogged about the need to expand the focus beyond children’s literature that centers the pain of the Black experience.

Chase is the author of nine children’s books. So Done (Greenwillow/HarperCollins), her critically acclaimed middle grade debut, was named a 2018 Kirkus Reviews Best Book. So Done and its companions, Dough Boys and Turning Point are blazing the trail for books that tackle tough and sometimes taboo topics for younger readers. You can visit her at paulachasehyman.com

About Keeping It Real

Marigold Johnson is looking forward to a future full of family, friends, and fashion—but what will she do when it all explodes in her face? When she discovers that her entire life is a lie?

Paula Chase, the author of So Done, Dough Boys, and Turning Point, explores betrayal, conformity, and forgiveness—and what it means to be family—in this stand-alone novel perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Rebecca Stead, and Renée Watson.

Marigold Johnson can’t wait to attend a special program at her family’s business, Flexx Unlimited, for teens who love fashion. But Mari quickly realizes that she’s out of place compared to the three other trainees—and one girl, Kara, seems to hate her on sight.

As tension builds and the stakes at the program get higher, Mari uncovers exactly why Kara’s been so spiteful. She also discovers some hard truths about herself and her family.

Paula Chase explores complex themes centering on friendships, family, and what it means to conform to fit in. Keeping It Real is also a powerful exploration of what happens when parents pick and choose what they shield their children from. Timely and memorable, Paula Chase’s character-driven story touches on creativity, art, fashion, and music. A great choice for the upper middle grade audience.

ISBN-13: 9780062965691
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/19/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

tltbutton6Publisher’s description

This charming and bittersweet coming-of-age story featuring two girls of color falling in love is part To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and part Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like the fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California, she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy…what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

it's not like16-year-old Sana Kiyohara has recently moved from Wisconsin to California. Her parents sort of dropped the bomb that the family was moving and expected her to be fine with it. Her mother’s motto is to endure things and bear them without complaining. Sana isn’t sure that’s exactly the best or healthiest way to go about life, but it’s not like she has a lot of other options. Life in Wisconsin wasn’t great, but it was all Sana knew. She had a crush on her former best friend (who’s now too popular to really be her friend) and always stuck out as one of just a few Asian kids in her otherwise very white school. Her peers say crappy things to her like that it’s cute that she went “woohoo” to the “Midwest farmer’s daughters” part of “California Girls” because it’s not like she looks like one (says her “friend”). Her former bestie says it’s like Sana forgot she’s Asian, but that’s okay, because they forgot she is, too.

 

Now, in California, Japanese-American Sana is surprised to find that her new school is super diverse. This different student body brings different problems. There is a lot of racism and embracing/believing stereotypes going on, from a lot of people. Sana’s mom makes a TON of racist comments about the Mexican kids in Sana’s school (and, eventually, Sana is forced to confront the fact that she believes some of these same racist ideas). Teachers make assumptions about kids because of their race. Sana is instantly befriended by a group of Asian girls (Vietnamese American and Chinese American), just as her new friend Caleb (a white goth guy) predicts (a prediction Sana finds silly). She likes feeling like her new friends understand her in ways her white friends didn’t, but negotiating the new groups and attitudes takes a lot of adjustment.

 

Sana’s biggest adjustment to everything comes from her relationship with Jamie Ramirez. She goes from telling herself it’s just a “girl-crush” to admitting (to herself) that she likes her but doesn’t “need this” right now to dating her. Jamie is out to her friends and Sana tells her small group of friends they’re together, but she’s not out to her parents or the school population in general. The girls are really into each other and have a sweet relationship, but issues of race and identity keep coming up and making them have to recalibrate things. But when Jamie hangs out with her ex-girlfriend, Sana gets some mixed messages about what may be going on and makes some questionable choices (at the urging of her friends who pull the whole “yeah, but how do you really KNOW you only like girls?” thing). Everything seems like it’s falling apart and Sana no longer feels certain about anything–not her new friendships, not things with Jamie, and not her life at home. As mistakes and secrets and lies pile up, Sana has to have many big conversations to help set things right, going against her upbringing of enduring things in silence.

 

There is SO MUCH packed into this book about race, culture, family, identity, silence, and truth. I do wish some of the secondary characters had been allowed to develop more fully and to feel less like they were jut there to teach Sana about racism and race beyond her own. Though the second half of the book felt less tightly plotted, overall this is a book worth adding to all collections for its look at intersecting identities, grappling with racism, and finding your way to your truth.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
ISBN-13: 9780062473417

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/09/2017

 

Rethinking How We Think about Cheerleaders

trampolineMy 8-year-old keeps saying she wants to be a cheerleader, something The Mr. keeps routinely saying no to. And when he says no, you can hear it –  there is an edge of disgust to his voice. The truth is, we have a lot of animosity towards cheerleaders, thanks in no small part to the ongoing media depiction of them as vapid, social climbing mean girls who just want to shake their booties in a short skirt and attract the attention of the star quarterback. And so many of us buy into it.

The Bestie is a cheerleader and I have watched her work hard to perfect her craft. She just spent months taking extra gymnastics classes to learn how to stick stunning acrobatic flips that could harm her body if she doesn’t perfect her technique. She has put in as much blood, sweat and tears as that star quarterback everyone lauds in the bleachers. And the truth is, many girls start their pursuit of cheerleading in the local gym long before their male counterparts ever think about walking onto that field. Gymnastics, dance lessons, running, stretching, conditioning – these are all a part of the behind the scenes life of a cheerleader.

This what the trampoline is used for when they're not perfecting their flips.

This what the trampoline is used for when they’re not perfecting their flips.

Are some cheerleaders vapid social climbers? Yes. And some football players are dumb jocks and some band geeks are, well, geeks. But the truth is, that like any group of people, stereotypes are harmful and counterproductive. Cheerleaders are cheerleaders, but they are also sons and daughters and friends and siblings and cousins and students and and and. . . They are multidimensional people and it’s time we stopped perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Yes, even about cheerleaders.

So here are 2 must read books that help break down those harmful stereotypes about cheerleaders, both of which I am making sure The Bestie reads because we love and support her and think she’s awesome. I’m proud every day of who she is and all that she has accomplished, both as a cheerleader and as an amazingly complex young woman. And when they 8-year-old is old enough, she’ll be reading them too as we support her pursuit of her passion. If you have more books you would like to recommend, please add them in the comments.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston

exit-pursuedThis is one of my favorite books from last year. It presents a strong female friendship and a look at how we should respond when a girl is raped (as opposed to the awful ways people often actually respond). And it happens to feature an entire group of cheerleaders as strong, hard working, multi-dimensional people. This depiction of cheerleaders is one of my favorites because it highlights the sportsmanship and teamwork that goes into this sport.

Publisher’s Book Description

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

Moxie by Jennifer Matheiu

moxieThis book doesn’t come out until September of this year, but I have already read it and it is one of the best books 0f 2017 in my opinion. Moxie highlights a social revolution at a high school as the girls (and some boys) begin to realize how much toxic power certain groups of guys have at their school. They begin to stage a revolution calling out toxic masculinity, dress codes, and sexual harassment in their hallways. One of the characters is a cheerleader who becomes an important part of the movement and is presented as a fully fleshed out, complex and interesting character. Her peers eventually realize that the stereotypes they may hold about her are just that, harmful stereotypes.

Publisher’s Book Description:

An unlikely teenager starts a feminist revolution at a small-town Texan high school in the new novel from Jennifer Matheiu, author of The Truth About Alice.

MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!