- Brown Girl Dreaming of a New ChLA
"I'm not going to ChLA conferences anymore; not enough black people," an African American scholar once told me.
"Your not coming doesn't help!" I suggested.
If scholars of color refuse to participate in annual conferences sponsored by the Children's Literature Association (ChLA) or similar professional associations because so few attendees look like them, how will the organization ever make progress in terms of diversification? I understand this scholar's frustration; I, too, am underwhelmed by ChLA's demographics, but by staying and trying to effect change from within, I hope to contribute to making ChLA a more inviting space for people of color.
As the first and, to date, only African American president of the Children's Literature Association (2011–12, in the organization's forty-fifth year) and the first African American to host the annual conference (2014, co-chaired with Sara Schwebel), I feel uniquely positioned to send some words of encouragement and food for thought both to scholars of color in the field—seasoned and newer—and to scholars from the majority concerning the future of the profession. I write this piece because ChLA has been my academic "home association" for the past twenty-plus years, and likely will be for the next twenty, and I therefore care deeply about its direction. While my involvement in ChLA prompts me to write specifically about its dynamics, I would encourage readers to consider how much of this essay also applies to other associations of which you are a part.
In an era when #BlackLivesMatter has a new murder of a black man or woman to protest nearly every week, we are all likely thinking about race differently than we did five years ago. Social justice movements have impacted our field, too, and they should. Those who power #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #WeNeedDiverseReviewers, #OWNVOICES, and like-minded movements regularly let publishers and editors know that it's past time for children's and young adult (YA) books to better reflect the realities of the young people who read them—whether publishers and editors are [End Page 93] listening or not. Many of us advocate for this change not only in the public spheres where the books are produced but also in the educational pipelines where we prepare the next generation of teachers, librarians, education and youth professionals, and thinkers. This work matters because if we don't put the books of Zetta Elliott or Benjamin Alire Sáenz or Gene Luen Yang or Louise Erdrich in the hands of preservice teachers, librarians, and youth professionals, most will pass on to children only what they already know, which too often is the white canon. Then, when those children end up in our university classes, some are capable of writing evaluations of faculty like one I got early in my career: "I appreciate all this multicultural literature, but there is real literature too."
The demographics of ChLA have been slow to change. Marilisa Jiménez García and Sarah Park Dahlen address some of the reasons for this sluggishness in their essays in this issue. In addition, this slow pace of change may partially be a reflection of the fact that few American scholars of color earn doctoral degrees compared to their white counterparts. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, whites remained the majority of doctoral degree earners in the United States between 1999 and 2010 (77.9 percent in 1999–2000 and 74.3 percent in 2009–10) ("Fast Facts"). Given that the study of children's literature still makes up a narrow slice of the academic pie, the small number of non-white scholars in this area is perhaps not surprising. But these essays also attest to the fact that non-white scholars often feel unwelcome in ChLA. We all hope for changes in the culture and climate of the organization that would make it a space where scholars can feel they have a place, regardless of their background, research focus, or length of time in academia. Even though the organization has growing to do, ChLA is more diverse now than when I began attending in the early...