November 20, 2020
As the Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, you could have acknowledged the minority group that was hurt by the Scbwi Minnesota group — that of mixed-race Black/Asian American children. Seeing a racist image that reflects their ethnicity is harmful to adults and children. This is why Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and I reacted so strongly to the image. And, that a white man drew the image, to capitalize on the market hunger for BIPOC/minority images without understanding the Lived Experience of being Black or Asian or mixed race. This is exactly what children’s book publishing is grappling with right now, in a nutshell. Who gets to tell the stories or draw the images? If this is what the market is rewarding, who gets to cash in?
By siding with the white audience and telling them that the illustrator was not at fault. That a learning curve for him that harms minorities and creators of mixed race Black/Asian is acceptable and even laudable. That the audience that said that the original image and the corrected image were both fine WINKY FACE IMAGE shows how the majority does not acknowledge racism or the harm that it does to those who experience it.
As the Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, I had hoped that you would stand up for the minority group. As a volunteer that has spent a lot of time promoting diversity on behalf of Scbwi and therefore doing your work for you, I would have hoped that you would have supported my position or even acknowledged the validity that a mixed Asian American would find this image harmful and that her voice matters.
Someone from that Zoom contacted me because of what you said referencing my post. This person took considerable time to track me down to let me know. This doesn’t feel safe to me that your words result in strangers tracking me down to let me know about possible legal action because of my post which serves as a voice for Asian Americans and our fight against racism. This is a terribly hard fight, especially in current circumstances when the COVID-19 is called “Kung Flu” or “China Flu” or Asians everywhere are accused of causing the virus by eating animals such as dogs and bats. Asian Americans, as a result, have faced an alarming rate of racist violence, currently clocking in at one per day. Did you see the Asian family in Texas that were knifed in the face? The entire family was attacked and required dozens of stitches. My father used to live in Lubbock, Texas by the way.
You speak up in this instance for a white creator who you say has every right to create BIPOC images even if they are harmful. That his learning curve is more important than the harm he does. As Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, I ask that you do better.
I am on the Northeast SCBWI Equity and Inclusion Committee so this hit close to home for me. The SCBWI Minnesota branch apparently chose an illustration for their Facebook banner. The illustration depicts an Asian girl with slits for eyes.
Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen, a professor of Library Science and Korean American, called them out for this racist image, the response was that the illustrator would edit the illustration so that the child would be “sleeping.” Needless to say, this was not an acceptable solution. The response from MN SCBWI went from bad to worse. Now, the entire MN SCBWI has resigned.
She tweeted a series of tweets on February 28, 2020 in objection to this image. Because Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen’s Twitter account is now private (most likely due to harassment), I decided to capture her tweets here:
From the SCBWI main office:
SCBWI has accepted the resignations of the Regional Team (Regional Advisor, Co-Regional Advisors, and Illustrator Coordinator) of its Minnesota chapter, effective immediately. SCBWI thanks the team and truly appreciates the time, energy, and hard work they have put in as official volunteers. Volunteering for SCBWI is important and challenging work. We hope that SCBWI members, especially those in Minnesota, will join us in reorganizing the regional team in a way that will best serve all members.
The illustration has since been modified such that the eyes are now ovals.
According to a tweet by Cheryl Blackford of @Blackford Books, “The national org has now told us “we feel that further dialogue on Facebook around the contest illustration is no longer productive” Really?”
That really concerns me, particularly as someone who has spent quite a bit of time volunteering on a regional SCBWI Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
What tweets or posts am I missing? Please send me a link and I’ll update.
Here are the tweets:
Other friends immediately commented, adding their concern about the image (thank you!). MN SCBWI leadership got in touch with one of my outspoken and amazing ally friends,
SO THEN they update the banner image with a child who is not “sleeping” and does not have racist slanted eyes and allllll these people comment about how great it is. And one person comments, “Looks great! And it looked great before!
” I kid you not, she added a wink.
The MN SCBWI FB page remains a mess. When they deleted the first racist image, they also deleted our comments – fine, we know deleting an image means everything under it gets deleted. But then they also deleted all our comments under the “And it looked great before
Okay, I have to get back to work. My day job is working with future children’s librarians on how to be awesome youth advocates, which includes being anti-racist. We have amazing students (and alum!) and I’m thankful for their support and allyship in this. #StayAngry, friends.
This is really sad. So much energy spent skirting around and avoiding admitting fault. The picture was not sleeping and the organization needs to wake up. Thanks for posting @readingspark and for all the work you do. Do better #mnscbwi
I was one of the commenters whose posts were removed. I’m deeply disappointed in the actions of @mnscbwi and @scbwi The national org has now told us “we feel that further dialogue on Facebook around the contest illustration is no longer productive” Really?
Scbwi hired April Powers as their first Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer on June 3 2020.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators announces today that April Powers has joined the organization as its inaugural Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer, effective June 3, 2020. Powers brings over 15 years’ experience in diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging, training, recruiting, community outreach and leadership to the position. Her latest role has been running her own global inclusion consulting and training firm, First Impression Rx, which serves Fortune 50 government and nonprofit organizations. Her previous diversity roles at Nestlé USA and Amgen, as well as her nonprofit clients bring a depth of knowledge to the role on a global scale, with a nonprofit lens. from Scbwi website
This topic of Asian slant eyes for the Scbwi MN because a topic that came up when I objected to Matt de la Pena as keynote speaker for Scbwi Midwinter Conference in February 2021. There were a series of emails and a length group phone call that centered around Matt de la Pena and three allegations of sexual misconduct towards him.
During the nearly 2.5-hour Zoom meeting, April Powers, Scbwi’s Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer, brought up this post (even though it was off-topic).
I updated my post with this section:
As I noted in my post Racism in Children’s Books: Asian Slant Eyes:
This illustration from SCBWI Minnesota chapter is another example. SCBWI Minnesota Racist Illustration and Gaslighting Response. Here, the illustrator who is white depicts an African American girl who is ostensibly asleep. The issue is that it’s not clear that the girl is asleep. Another interpretation is that this is a mixed-race African American and Asian American girl. Without the benefit of words, the interpretation of an illustration is up to the viewer.
Context is also important. If the girl was in a bed or covered in a blanket, most viewers would likely see her as asleep. For some, the lack of mixed-race Asian/Black representation might be seen as a plausible excuse. Notable examples include Naomi Osaka (tennis player), Tiger Woods (golf professional), Kimora Lee Simmons (model and fashion designer), Kelis (singer/songwriter), Patrick Chung (football player), Apl.de.ap (singer and producer of Black Eye Peas), Naomi Campbell (model), Ne-Yo (singer/actor), Karrueche Tran (actress), Michael Yo (comedian), Tyson Beckford (model), Chanel Imam (model), Cassie (singer), Ayesha Curry (chef), Amerie (singer).
The follow up to the Zoom meeting included A LOT of email communication. These are my final three emails on the Scbwi MN Facebook banner ad. April replied to the many emails in the chain but she did not respond to these final three emails. Instead, Lin Oliver, Executive Director of Scbwi, responded.
November 20, 2020
I want you to know that SCBWI has received your emails. Going forward, we will not be responding individually to each of your emails, as we know and understand your position, and we have already articulated SCBWI’s position. Please know that we have heard your concerns and appreciate all the work you do on behalf of equity and inclusion.
Even though I know you disagree with SCBWI on some choices it has made, SCBWI remains committed to equity and inclusion, and achieving a new and better children’s book world in terms of representation and justice.
LIN OLIVER, SCBWI Executive Director
During this long period of communication, I was asked what the illustrator of this image should do? Here’s my advice:
- Post a public apology. State that you had no intention of creating an image that depicted harmful racist images but that you were not aware that it could be viewed in this manner. As a white man drawing BIPOC characters, promise to do better.
- Partner with a female illustrator who is mixed-race Black and Asian. Redraw the image together. In this way, you are elevating a female illustrator and addressing the harm that was inflicted on this particular BIPOC group.
- Ask Scbwi MN to update their Facebook page with this new image. Make sure the illustrator is credited on the image.
- Post publicly what you learned from this co-illustration effort. I think the learning is important to share because others will benefit from your experience.
p.s. Related Posts:
Racism in Children’s Books: Asian Slant Eyes
White Fragility Books for Kids
Rethinking & Examining Dr. Seuss’ Racism
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.
7 thoughts on “SCBWI Minnesota Racist Illustration and Gaslighting Response”
It’s sad that this is still happening, Mia. The thing that’s most frustrating is the non-acknowledgement, and calling Sarah’s expertise into question by making excuses. It’s racist. Just apologize, acknowledge responsibility, change it and take the necessary steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Do the research, consult the experts, get educated and make sure things are right before it goes public.
Well despite we being in a modern and progressive society there are still cases of racism which need to be curbed. It was a good step by the committe to ask the team to resign because such things should have zero tolerance.
I completely understand the situation about the problem with racism in this country. It does need to be faced and dealt with.
There is something I’m confused about. As an illustrator who has been told by publishers to add more ethnic variety to my illustration (in the past I tended to make kids all white, without even realizing it. I grew up in a very Scandinavian culture, so tended to depict kids in a familiar way), how do I make kids with different ethnic backgrounds if I could be called racist for doing so? Isn’t it our differences that make us all so beautiful. I have a beautiful guy friend from china who has such amazing eyes. They are definitely a different shape than mine, but I prefer his exotic eyes over my rather boring eyes. I appreciate your thoughts. I’ve been loving drawing kids of different ethnic backgrounds but don’t want to be offensive.
Your use of “exotic” to describe your friends’ eyes in problematic and offensive here. Admiring someone’s physical features is one matter. But fetishizing them as “exotic” is an entirely different issue and one rooted in decades of historic “othering” of eastern culture by western societies.
As a librarian, I think it’s absolutely critical that children see a realistic representation of their diverse world, encompassing identities, cultures, physical ability, families, and more. It is our responsibility as authors and illustrators to share the truth with children, not a stereotype or fetishization of the truth. The encouragement by publishers to include greater representation of diversity in children’s books should not be at the expense of those represented or depicted in the stories. Therefore, we each must create with great responsibility and respect toward those who will see themselves in the characters we create. And if we are not qualified to create the art or story (for whatever reason), we need to call others in who are.
I have one other question for you. Did you ever speak to the illustrator and find out their intent? What if they were actually trying to honor a race different than their own? Maybe they heard Trump’s horrible comments about Chinese people and wanted to do what they could to honor maybe a friend who is Chinese? I don’t know, but I think we need to have dialogue. That illustrator might not be racist at all but now has a stigma on their head. What are your suggestions for an illustrator who does need to depict a child as Asian?
I do appreciate your concerns about racism. My heart breaks every time I speak with a Japanese friend who has a connection to the history of the time during WWll when Japanese Americans were shipped to the camps. How can people be so cruel. My thought is how can we honor all of our differences and appreciate the beauty that they are and not create more hate?
In this case I think that outcome is more important than intent. The outcome is that this illustration hurt people in its stereotypical depiction of a child of Asian descent. Regardless of intent, the resulting product that was shared with confidence by the artist, selected with confidence by a panel of MN SCBWI members, and the posted with confidence to a public forum was problematic and the problems within the depiction were blindspots to those who viewed it (which, in turn, is also quite problematic).
Did the artist consult others before submitting this art? Did he show the image to any Asian American individuals for input? Did he check the image against his own implicit biases to make sure he was honoring the person or people he was depicting? Diversity and representation are not boxes to check before sharing stories or art with the world.
Also, asking Mia, the author of this blog, to give advice on what the illustrator should do to do better is also, in my opinion, problematic. As is any time when a white person who has caused harm over a racial issue asks a BIPOC individual how to make it right. The best way is to have these difficult conversations with other white individuals to better understand how to do better, and then acknowledge and apologize when you do harm.
“The best way is to have these difficult conversations with other white individuals to better understand how to do better, and then acknowledge and apologize when you do harm.”
Ummmm what? When they want to understand how to do better, they SHOULD be listening to BIPOC individuals, not asking other white people who have the same privilege and blindspots they have, as you pointed out in your own post. The problem is white males like you who feel the need to lecture others on what’s problematic or not.