- “Rumpelstiltskin” A Picture Book Multicultural Retelling
Multiculturalism is a term that educators in the United States have embraced and have continued to use to describe our diverse experiences as a people in America and now as a people in our global community. This notwithstanding, there is still little consensus on how the term should be applied to the school curriculum. While educators like Diane Ravitch advocate for multiculturalism that encourages the assimilation of cultures to form a unique American culture, others such as James Banks and Cherry McGhee Banks, Christine Sleeter, Maxine Greene, and Sonia Nieto argue for multiculturalism that recognizes and respects American cultural diversity.1 These educators believe such a brand of multiculturalism taps into the strengths of the different cultural groups, thus expanding what it means to be an American.
Children’s literature scholars have also theorized possible definitions of this term as it relates to this specific discipline. To Violet Harris and Rudine Sims Bishop ethnicity should be used as a major variable that distinguishes between children’s literature considered multicultural and literature that is perceived as non-multicultural. Although their argument sounds convincing, Mingshui Cai draws attention to the fact that there are indeed several scholars who think otherwise. To this group of scholars the ethnic criterion seems limiting. As Cai points out further, they would prefer a much more inclusive definition that takes into consideration geographical boundaries (the region of the country where the story takes place), cultural content (the culture of the group in question), and audience (general versus the specific cultural group in question). This way multicultural literature as a genre reflects the pluralistic nature of society, emphasizing regional, race/ethnic, gender, class, and other socio-cultural diversity.
Maria Botelho and Masha Rudman, while acknowledging the validity of these views, posit that any definition of multicultural literature should also factor in ideologies of power. They believe that “moving beyond the limited definition of multicultural children’s literature as literature by and/or about people of color,” and instead embracing an expanded definition that examines how ideologies of power play out not just across racial/ethnic and other socio-cultural groups or between these groups, but also how they are reflected within these groups would reveal how people can be “othered” in their racial communities by age, class, disability, gender, or sexual orientation among others (259). For example, an impoverished female in a capitalistic patriarchal society regardless of race/ethnicity would most probably always remain on the margin of her immediate cultural [End Page 430] group. Botelho and Rudman propose then that since children’s literature “is a product of cultures as well as evidence of power relations . . . [and] a social transcript of the power relations of class, race, and gender” (71), we do need to use what they describe as a critical multicultural analysis to challenge “fixed and bound notions of culture, identity, class, race, gender, and power, and make visible the social construction of culture, power, genre, focalization and story closure” (260).
While I agree and have advocated in the past that critical multiculturalism is an appropriate lens through which multicultural literature can be examined, I also do believe that retellings of traditional tales such as Virginia Hamilton’s The Girl Who Spun Gold—a Caribbean retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin,” which privileges what I refer to as an Africana (Africa and the African diaspora) Afrocentric perspective—would benefit more from an analysis that is grounded in a comparable multicultural school of thought that is linked to Black traditions.
According to Reiland Rabaka, an Africana Afrocentricism “draws from critical thought and philosophical traditions in the realities of continental and diasporic African history, culture, and struggle—which, in other words, is to say that Africana critical theory inherently employs an Afrocentric methodological orientation” (134). Thus, while the term Africana itself, as James Turner admits, “posits fundamental interconnections in the global Black Experience” (94), the theory itself advocates an Afrocentric perspective that puts at its core of inquiry what Molefi Asante refers to as “African ideals and values” (71). Such ideals take into consideration language use, myths, symbols, and ancestral memory embedded within an African tradition, while paying attention to...