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We Need to Talk: An Interview with Wade Hudson, Cheryl Willis Hudson, and Brendan Kiely By Lisa Krok

“The Talk” seems to have become more needed than ever in the past few years.    Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson are the editors of the anthology The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, and Brendan Kiely is the author of The Other Talk: Reckoning With Our White Privilege. I owned and had read The Talk already when I learned that Kiely had The Other Talk forthcoming this September. I immediately thought it would be incredible to juxtapose these two books and have an important discussion.

Lisa Krok: It is so wonderful to be able to have these very important conversations with you and with each other. Wade and Cheryl, what led you to compile these valuable and necessary stories in your anthology?

Wade Hudson/Cheryl Willis Hudson:

In thinking about “The Talk” as a necessary conversation between most Black parents and their children, we realized that there are many kinds of talks that others had as well. Learning how to navigate the world with confidence and caring is an essential survival skill made more difficult by the challenges marginalized people often face. Who better to share these stories, these lessons than children’s book creators with first-hand knowledge and experience?

How do you talk about things that may be uncomfortable to discuss? How do you stay safe? How can you feel secure within your own body and personal space? How does one avoid racial profiling, police brutality or deal with bullying or sexual harassment? What can young people do when faced with systemic racism, name calling, religious intolerance, and cultural stereotypes? What about confronting the issue of white privilege? And how can these lessons, these necessary “talks,” be shared with children and young people?

That’s what The Talk tries to answer. We believed it was necessary to offer these lessons, these “talks” across social and cultural lines.

LK: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with the necessity of these talks! Brendan, can you share a bit about the Two Americas you saw while touring with Jason Reynolds, and how that influenced your writing of this book.

Brendan Kiely:

First of all, I’m honored and grateful to be here and to be a part of this conversation with you, Wade and Cheryl. I wrote The Other Talk after listening to many, many people of the Global Majority talk about “The Talk”they had in their families growing up—the myriad manifestations of “The Talk” Cheryl and Wade’s anthology highlights so beautifully. As their anthology points out, there are many different kinds of “Talks”, especially as to how racism affects people’s lives, but, as Jason and I have discussed over the years, there isn’t often a talk white families have that speaks clearly and directly about the privileges white families experience because of racism in America. And so I wrote The Other Talk to try to join the conversation Black families, Indigenous families, and so many families of the Global Majority have been having for so long.  

So, Jason and I met while touring our debut novels. We were thrilled and grateful, because our publisher was kindly sending us to conferences and festivals all over the country. We were having a ball—but it was also impossible not to notice that, as a Black man and a white man traveling side-by-side, we were having different experiences too. It was impossible for me not to notice the magnitude of racist undertones—the suspicious glances, the unkind greetings, the extra pat downs in security—all happening to Jason, not me. I talk more in depth about those moments in the book, but just as it was impossible not to notice what was happening to Jason as we traveled the country, it became startlingly impossible for me to not notice what was happening to me too. From a certain point of view, I recognized that conversely to Jason, I was experiencing welcoming smiles and zero suspicions as we walked into bookstores, schools, or through airports or hotel lobbies. People assumed I belonged wherever we were. It was as if we were experiencing (as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested back in 1968) “two Americas”, two different Americas. I’m not saying everything was terrible; like I said, he and I were having a blast—and I think it is really important to stress that, too—but racism undeniably affects life for all of us in America. It affects us in different ways, however, and I began to think about how this pervasive racism affects my life by undergirding my life with social privileges.

And this is why I wanted to write The Other Talk: to help inspire white people like me to engage in conversations about racism in America by listening more, and learning more, and becoming more self-aware about how privilege affects our lives, and to feel more motivated to act and co-construct a more racially just America in solidarity with people of the Global Majority, who have been having these conversations for such a long time.

LK: I am so glad you took this on, Brendan!Wade and Cheryl, how did you go about selecting the contributors to your anthology, and how do the varied forms/styles/illustration mediums add meaning to the individual stories?

WH/CWH:

We asked BIPOC friends in the industry whose work we admired and respected to contribute to The Talk. They had a variety of stories to share from their own personal experiences. Meg Medina for example, wrote about the advantages of being bi-lingual but being discriminated against because of it; Grace Lin wrote a letter to her daughter about recognizing the objectivism of being called a “China doll;” Daniel Nayeri wrote about the weight of silence in communicating across cultures and the value of not talking; Duncan Tonatiuh wrote about a school visit where a student actually asked the question “Why Are There Racist People?” Tracey Baptiste in her essay, “TEN,” gave advice to her preteen on how to respond if being stopped by the police when driving while Black. Whether written as a poem, essay, prose, or letter or created in cartoon/graphic digital format or drawn via a realistic watercolor, the diversity of writers and illustrators expressed thought provoking situations that young people find themselves in. The end result was a powerful and complementary balance of text and images.

LK: It is truly a glorious amalgamation of varied stories and styles!Brendan, your anecdote with the strawberry Nesquick really stood out to me. Could you share that please?

BK:

The Strawberry Nesquik story is a starker and more devastatingly tragic example of the “two Americas” I mentioned before, in that it juxtaposes Jordan Davis’s life with my own, but what I think is at the heart of the story is a deeper understanding of the “other America,” the “privileged America,” in which I live. I think some people hear the term “white privilege” and they immediately think about all the ways in which they are not “privileged” (not rich, not living in a fancy house, not taking vacations to far flung corners of the world), or they think that applying that word to their life takes away from all their “hard work.” This is why, in the book, I use the example of the benefits my grandfather made use of in the GI Bill when he returned from WWII. He had access to opportunities (higher education; further, specialized degrees; home loans; brokers who would show him real estate in areas where the property value was rapidly increasing). Everything he achieved he did through hard work—no doubt about that—and it is also true that everything he achieved he had access to in a way many, if not most, veterans of the Global Majority in America did not have access to. Did he work hard? Yes. Was he also privileged with more access to opportunity? Also yes. He benefited from the effects of systemic privilege, you might say; and two generations later, I too benefit from his (and my own) systemic privilege. But racism is systemic and also interpersonal—and so too is privilege. So not only have I benefitted from multi-generational systemic privilege, the Nesquik story highlights just how privileged my interactions are with other people I encounter in my life—store clerks, law enforcement, my teachers, etc. Because the word “privilege” leaves such a bad taste in some people’s mouths, the poet and scholar Claudia Rankine replaces the phrase white privilege with white living—it’s just the experience of living as a white person in America. And, in the book, I try to use many, many examples from my own life to spotlight and explain why so many of those everyday experiences of my life living as a white person in America are in fact privileged.

LK: You delineated white privilege perfectly! It is indeed misunderstood by many.Wade and Cheryl, is there a particular story in your anthology that stands out to you personally, and why?

WH/CWH:

All the entries are special to us because they spotlight a particular aspect of each creator’s experience or a particular concern or challenge. This adds to the breadth of the book. Adam Gidwitz’s story “Our Inheritance” is important to us because it is told from the perspective of a white writer. Often, anthologies or books that deal with social justice issues focus on the victims and imply that the victims must find the answers to the challenges presented. We believe that equality, social, economic and political justice, can only be achieved when all of us, together fight to achieve them. Adam’s piece is crucial because it brings everyone to the table for this important discussion, not just those from BIPOC communities.

LK: Absolutely! It is so important for allies also learn and do the work, rather than placing that burden on the victims. Brendan, I was fascinated by your statement that, “race has no basis in biological fact”. Can you elaborate on this, please?

BK:

I always return to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s line “race is the child of racism, not the father.” In other words, “race” is a social construct. I think it is important to reinforce just how strongly biologists want the rest of us to understand this. For example, this is from the American Association of Biological Anthropologist’s Statement on Race & Racism:

Race does not provide an accurate representation of human biological variation. It was never accurate in the past, and it remains inaccurate when referencing contemporary human populations. Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters. Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination. Because of that, over the last five centuries, race has become a social reality that structures societies and how we experience the world.

I apologize for the long quote, but I thought the whole paragraph was worth highlighting because I elaborate on these ideas, and how they relate to my life specifically, in the book.

The subtitle of my book is “reckoning with our white privilege.” To me, I think being clear and honest about how those “policies of discrimination” throughout history unequivocally impact our lives today is a vital part of the conversation (the “other talk”) white families like my own can engage in more deeply and discuss with young people. As the young, eight-year-old white girl from Traverse City, MI quoted in the Washington Post explained, although learning about racism in second grade made her feel bad, it also made her motivated to want to do something about it. In essence, learning about the truth of racism and privilege made her want to learn more so that she could do more—and I think we owe it to her and all young people out there to try to learn more, listen more, and act alongside them.

Many thanks to Wade, Cheryl, and Brendan for this essential conversation, which is just the beginning! Teen librarians, if you happen to be at the YALSA Symposium in Reno this November, please join us for a more in-depth conversation about these two books. Let’s Talk!

The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth is available now from Crown Books for Young Readers.

The Other Talk: Reckoning With Our White Privilege releases September 21 from

‎ Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

An author and publisher, Wade Hudson is president of Just Us Books, Inc., an independent publisher of books for young people. Among his 30 published books are the middle grade anthologies, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, coedited with his wife, Cheryl; AFRO- Bets Kids: I’m Going to Be; Journey, a poetry collection; and Defiant, Wade’s memoir of growing up in the Jim Crow South at the height of the civil rights movement. Wade has received the New Jersey Stephen Crane Literary Award, the Ida B. Wells Institutional Leader-ship Award, the Madam C. J. Walker Legacy Award, and a CBC Diversity Outstanding Achievement Award.

Cheryl Willis Hudson is an award- winning children’s book author and cofounder with her husband, Wade Hudson, of Just Us Books, Inc., an independent publishing company that focuses on Black-interest books for young people. Her published titles include the classic AFRO- BETS ABC Book; Bright Eyes, Brown Skin; and Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World. She and Wade co-edited the middle- grade anthologies We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth. A member of the PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee, Cheryl has been honored with the Madam C. J. Walker Legacy Award and Children’s Book Council Diversity Outstanding Achievement Award.

Brendan Kiely is The New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), and three other novels, and most recently a nonfiction book, The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege. His work has been published in over a dozen languages, and has received the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Meyers Award, and ALA’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults. A former high school teacher, he is now on the faculty of the Solstice MFA Program. But most importantly, he lives for and loves his wife and son.

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the Adult and Teen Services Manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians (ABC-CLIO). She reviews YA for School Library Journal, blogs for Teen Librarian Toolbox, and her passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. Lisa has served on both the Best Fiction for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s teams. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach


Book Review: Dig by A. S. King, an important reflection on white privilege in YA literature

digPublisher’s Book Description:

Acclaimed master of the YA novel A. S. King’s eleventh book is a surreal and searing dive into the tangled secrets of an upper-middle-class white family in suburban Pennsylvania and the terrible cost the family’s children pay to maintain the family name.

The Shoveler, the Freak, CanIHelpYou?, Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress, and First-Class Malcolm. These are the five teenagers lost in the Hemmings family’s maze of tangled secrets. Only a generation removed from being simple Pennsylvania potato farmers, Gottfried and Marla Hemmings managed to trade digging spuds for developing subdivisions and now sit atop a seven-figure bank account, wealth they’ve declined to pass on to their adult children or their teenage grand children. “Because we want them to thrive,” Marla always says. What does thriving look like? Like carrying a snow shovel everywhere. Like selling pot at the Arby’s drive-thru window. Like a first class ticket to Jamiaca between cancer treatments. Like a flea-circus in a doublewide. Like the GPS coordinates to a mound of dirt in a New Jersey forest. As the rot just beneath the surface of the Hemmings precious white suburban respectability begins to spread, the far flung grand children gradually find their ways back to each other, just in time to uncover the terrible cost of maintaining the family name.

With her inimitable surrealism and insight into teenage experience, A.S. King explores how a corrosive culture of polite, affluent white supremacy tears a family apart and how one determined generation can save themselves.

This book will be released in March 2019. I read an ARC that I received via the publisher. ISBN: 9781101994917

Karen’s Thoughts:

I just finished reading an ARC of DIG by A. S. King and my mind is blown, as it always is. And I mean I just literally finished reading it. I closed the pages and had to sit down at my computer and talk about this book. It’s a little early to be talking about this book, but talk about it I must. No spoilers.

A. S. King is one of those authors that adults always say teens aren’t reading, in part because they’re always underestimating teens. They say this at the same time that they assign things in class like Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Shakespeare or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. There is some real disconnect in the way that adults talk about teens. They often under-estimate them and have zero to little faith in them. Teens know this; they know that many of the adults who claim to love them or value them or be in the process of educating them are doing very few of those things because they don’t actually respect teens. They know this and they resent it. Yes, not all adults and yes not all teens, but on the whole, that’s been the history of adolescence. Adults complain about teens even though they did the same things as teens and we underestimate them even though we resented the ways adults underestimated us as teens and we keep repeating this vicious cycle.

Make no mistake, A. S. King writes seriously weird and trippy books. I mentioned Metamorphosis above for a reason, King does not write straightforward literature. She takes a trippy, winding path with allusions and metaphors and surrealism that takes a while to get to the point but when you get there, your mind is both blown and sure that you missed a lot of stuff along the way. You could read an A. S. King book over and over again and find something new and different every time. And you will probably walk away sure that you didn’t fully get it every time. It’s that type of literature. It’s bold and confusing and maddening and dark yet inspiring and profound and moving.

If I’m being honest, I will tell you that although I name A. S. King as one of my favorite authors, and this is a true fact, I find her books difficult to begin. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of each book, to find out what’s knitting this particular book together, to suss out what’s real and what’s not. This is true for Dig as well, it takes a while to figure out who is who and what is going on. This is part of the reason, I think, that adults think that King doesn’t write YA. And yet King really gets into the heart of what it means to be a teenager in current times. She writes teens more authentically then some of the bestselling YA authors. She isn’t an adult writing YA for the adults that buy YA, she is an adult writing YA for the teens that read YA because she cares about teenagers and the teenage experience. Teen readers feel this in the pages and relate, even when adult readers find the books unrelatable or unapproachable. When I read the thoughts and conversations that the teens have in this book, they correlate to what I am hearing my own teens talk about and in the ways that they talk about them. It’s an authentic voice captured in radically unique ways.

Now I’m writing this and worried A. S. King will stumble across this post and wonder why I keep saying that adults think that teens don’t like her work but the truth is, many YA librarians have said this to me. Every time I post about A. S. King I get emails and replies, “yes but, teens don’t really like her work” or “it’s too intellectual for teens”. I find that to be a worrisome thing for YA librarians to say, because it means from the get go we are underestimating the very people we serve.

Dig is a multi-generational novel that brings together a host of characters and talks about things like racism, abuse, family dysfunction and mental health. It introduces a bunch of incredibly weird characters who seemingly have nothing to do with a cohesive story and then it just blows your mind in the way all the pieces are woven together. Once that final piece of the puzzle is put into place, you see the complete picture and you are stunned. In some ways, this is one of her most accessible books because the topics these teens are facing are so relevant to current events and discussions. Also, some of the more surreal elements are rooted in reality in ways that ultimately make sense to the story. The part of the story that made the least amount of sense to me, that was the most confusing, became an important element of the story that really works. That’s some good storytelling.

A. S. King is also one of the growing number of authors who seek to include frank discussions about sex, sexuality and sexual abuse in their novels because they recognize that this is a very real part of the teenage years. Teens think about sex. They’re trying to figure it out. A lot of them are doing it. This is one of the few YA novels that talks frankly not only about masturbation, but about female masturbation. King’s honesty resonates with teen readers because they feel heard, valued, respected and understood. King acknowledges the truth of adolescence, which makes her books that much more authentic to teens as readers.

I also like that in Dig King shares a lot about the adults in these teens’ lives. They are real, raw, human and flawed, but they are there and an important part of the story. This is, ultimately, a story about family and dysfunction and secrets and finding your own way – of digging yourself out of your genes and your family history – and it is profound. That’s what all teenagers are trying to do, right? Trying to find their own place in this world, to find their own voice, to set their own path, to break free of outside expectations and desires to truly find a sense of self and future. That’s what these teens are doing, and that’s why teen readers will relate.

Some of the topics in this story that are touched on include: racism, poverty, domestic violence, death and grief, secrets, the long lasting effects of trauma, teenage pregnancy, family dynamics and dysfunction, and depression and anxiety. Just to name a few. King really asks the readers to consider things like privilege, especially economic and white privilege. Characters often talk about race and bias and privilege and I think it is valuable and needed, but also handled well in the context of this novel. Even some of the characters who may consider themselves “woke” have personal revelations that indicate that they may not be as “woke” as they seem. I hate to keep using the word profound, but I found it it to be truly profound. As someone who is also wrestling with white privilege and what it means to live in our world in 2018 and how to be a good ally, it is nice to read a book that asks me to think about these issues in real and honest ways.

I keep a journal where I write down a lot of my favorite quotes from books and I marked a ton of quotes that I will be adding to that journal. Dig doesn’t come out until March of 2019 so it’s far too early to share them with you, but I wish that I could. There are some very moving reflections on the nature of self and family that I will be reflecting on for a very long time. The Teen is currently reading this book and I’ll let you know what she thinks once she finishes.

At the end of the day, this is a book I hope that everyone will read as it genuinely asks the reader to reflect on the concept of white privilege and it does not shy away from that discussion. What other books on this topic would you recommend?

Book Review: Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality by Alison Marie Behnke

Publisher’s description

racial-profilingIn the United States, racial profiling affects thousands of Americans every day. Both individuals and institutions—such as law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and schools—routinely use race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense. The high-profile deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police officers have brought renewed national attention to racial profiling and have inspired grassroots activism from groups such as Black Lives Matter. Combining rigorous research with powerful personal stories, Racial Profiling explores the history, the many manifestations, and the consequences of this form of social injustice.

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Every single book that falls under the umbrella of addressing social justice issues and civil rights is always going to be both timely and timeless. They are always relevant. The conversation always needs to be happening. And this book is a great, thorough introduction to thinking critically about racial profiling, a topic that is certainly not new.

 

Told through historical examples, photographs, research, statistics, and personal stories, this book examines the history, manifestations, and consequences of racial profiling. It begins with the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, detailing the 911 call, how important information from that call got omitted in the dispatch call, and the eventual grand jury decision that the actions were justified and the officer wouldn’t face criminal charges. The text offers up the ACLU’s definition of racial profiling as well as Amnesty International’s. In the general background information discussion on profiling, Behnke notes that in law enforcement, some policies explicitly permit racial profiling at some level and in some cases. 20 out of 50 states have no laws banning racial profiling by police, and even if it’s prohibited, it still occurs. The focus of the book isn’t just on law enforcement; any institution or person can engage in profiling. The author points out that this is because of the system of racial bias in the US that allows and encourages profiling—a system with a very long history.

 

Topics covered in this book include: the roots of racial profiling; white privilege; arguments for “positive” effects of profiling (from perceived positive effects on safety to the financial gain of police departments); a look back at historical inequality—slavery and its legacy; the propaganda used to institutionalize stereotypes and engender racism; the Civil War; Reconstruction; voting rights; sharecropping; Jim Crow laws; the KKK; lynching; redlining; 19th century immigration; Japanese internment camps; the civil rights movement of the 1950s and on; Loving v. Virginia; the Black Panthers; the war on drugs; Islamophobia; profiling in schools; employment obstacles; income and housing inequality; microaggressions; environmental racism; health care; the school-to-prison pipeline; stop and frisk; traffic stops; police brutality; jailhouse deaths; hate crimes; incarceration; sentencing; watch lists; bans on immigrants; proposed reforms; racial profiling laws by state; speaking out; protest; organizations; media coverage; social media; Black Lives Matter; white allies; and ways individuals can contribute to the conversation about profiling and inequality, examine biases, and other suggestions for action.

 

Voices of Experience sections share thoughts on racial matters from people such as Sonia Sotomayor and James Baldwin to college students. Terms are defined in the text, with some getting longer explanations separately. Case studies delve deeper into important historical events. Some of the people in these case studies include Emmett Till, Rodney King, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner. A glossary, source notes, bibliography, further information, and index are appended.

 

A very thorough and powerful look at an important topic. Get this on display in your libraries and make sure US history teachers know about this title, as it would be an incredibly useful book to supplement curriculum. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781512402681

Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books 

Publication date: 01/28/2017