2015 was my year of Hulk Smash. My resolution for 2016 was Less Hulk Smashing, More “Talk Less, Smile More.” But, alas, I am more She-Hulk than Aaron Burr by nature.
Today, at the very quickly losing every last shred of credibility Horn Book, the Editor Roger Sutton posted this on his quasi personal blog (it is a blog or just a place for him to show his ass? I have no idea):
From the Editor – January 2016
Well, a few years ago the Caldecott Medal went to what many people thought was a novel (The Invention of Hugo Cabret), and this week we have the Newbery going to a thirty-two page picture book, the first time this has happened since A Visit to William Blake’s Inn in 1982 and only the second picture-book winner ever. I do like surprises, and even if Sophie Blackall’s Caldecott win is not a complete surprise, it is both well deserved and justice poetic. (A friend cracked that they should serve blackberry fool at the banquet this summer.) We have rounded up all of our reviews of the ALA award winners; go have a look.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Roger Sutton is a clueless asshat.
Now, let me say that there are lots of asshats in the world. Asshats come in a number of colors and sizes. I myself have been on occasion been an asshat (and I will be again, no doubt). But Sutton’s asshattery is unique in its particular brand of self-involved importance and deliberate cluelessness. Because it is obvious from his comment “even if Sophie Blackall’s Caldecott win is not a complete surprise, it is both well deserved and justice poetic” and “A friend cracked that they should serve blackberry fool at the banquet this summer” that Sutton JUST. DOESN’T. GET. IT. Whether it’s caused by an inability to empathize beyond his own life experiences or because he’s a member of the Meg Rosoff Big Fat Jerk Club, I don’t know.
And, I don’t care.
He, like so many other willfully clueless folks within kidlit, persists in thinking the outcry and criticism around A Fine Dessert was about Blackall’s art or Blackall herself or about a Personal Agenda (always an agenda), instead of the part her behavior played in sustaining much larger evils in the world.
Let’s be clear: no one cares whether Blackall’s art is good or not. The quality of her art is irrelevant. What is relevant is that her smiling slaves are part of a narrative that erases the cruelty and impact of chattel slavery. No one complained because her slaves were lopsided, they complained that because in a year where a textbook manufacturer changed slavery from a brutal institution into immigration for work this was One More instance in which the complexity of the black experience in America was erased and black suffering was minimized for the comfort of a white audience.
An audience that will watch the shooting of a twelve year old black boy on repeat on the evening news.
An audience that will refuse to indict the man who killed that boy.
An audience that, by either their complicity or their apathy, will stand idly by while a system that puts a premium on white lives and a price on black ones continues to thrive.
The criticism around A Fine Dessert wasn’t “Sophie Blackall is a bad person” it was “even good people like Sophie Blackall can fall into this trap. We must all be vigilant.”
Asshats like Roger Sutton choose to turn this into an Us versus Them discussion. They chose to ignore the valid criticisms of people in the kidlit community, minimizing their critique in order to quip about a dessert.
And he’s just one of many.
It makes you wonder how people so unwilling to examine their own biases, how people so confident in their ignorance and narrow point of view can be responsible in deciding which books are good for children.
One of the things people always gush about is how nice the kidlit community is, how supportive. And for the most part, that is true. As long as you’re white. For the rest of us, people like Roger Sutton are a constant reminder that many would rather those of us vocal about quality representation take a step down, be tractable and amenable.
But the price of silence is less representation, less empathy. It’s watching a few think their experience is the universal one, with the rest of us cast as bit players in their epic journey.
And honestly, the price of silence is another dead black kid, somewhere, somehow. Dead because he lives in a system that erases his humanity and his lived experiences, distilling his history into a single, smiling narrative.
That’s just not a price I’m willing to pay.