For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
June 15, 2006 - Divisiveness Can Start Young
by Demetria Heath
[Ms. Heath is a library patron who recently challenged a children's book, "Princess Buttercup."]
I appreciate Douglas County Libraries' Director James LaRue for offering me this forum and I will provide a list of the reference material used in this writing to anyone requesting it. I ask that you read Princess Buttercup before making the request.
A researcher studying race relations in Chicago records the following quote from a five-year old girl. I have removed the name of the ethnic group that she refers to.
"I don't like [them]. [They] are dirty. [They] talk so funny. [They] don't talk like us. [Their] talk doesn't sound like ours.î
Many adults believe that our precious children do not discriminate against others. However, children as young as toddlers can perceive physical differences between themselves and others. By the time they enter the first year of primary school they are forging a place in their culture and behaving accordingly. The quoted young girl from Chicago was speaking of Italians during the early 20th century.
Almost a century later, children of the same developmental age gather and apply information about others and their world. Their libraries provide resources for book clubs, research, and storytelling. Douglas County Libraries offer a book entitled "Princess Buttercup." It is a whimsical story about fairy creatures. Yet, in its pages, it also suggests to the impressionable reader, "The people who look like this [of African descent] are lazy non-contributors."
It is concerning that a thirty-two page book could plant the seed for divisiveness in the mind of a young child. While preparing for the Board of Trustees meeting I researched cultural awareness and racism during early childhood and what I discovered was startling.
When children are singled out and excluded from activities with their peers based on their physical appearance, it can lead to aggressive behaviors such as bullying, rivalry, and resentment. It introduces children to "us" and "them" discrimination. As they grow into adolescence and adulthood, they arbitrarily discriminate against groups and individuals who are not like "us." The seed for divisiveness has grown. In one of its vicious forms, an adult shouts "N[racial slur] -lover" at the mother of a biracial child at a gas station. This happened recently in Colorado.
Additionally, I researched picture book authoring and publishing. From this I learned that developing picture books for young readers is not easy. The chances of being published are very low and, once published, the book competes with environmental distractions while entertaining the young reader. This must be accomplished within 32 pages using less than 800 words, the standard format for picture books. Phrases and illustrations are carefully created to meet these guidelines.
In the interest of fairness, James LaRue, Douglas County Libraries Director, contacted the author and publisher, and informed them of the issues surrounding Princess Buttercup. To date, the author has not replied and the publisher merely acknowledged receipt of Mr. LaRue's letter. Either they are aware that the book contains a racial stereotype and don't care; or they are unaware of the racial stereotype and are not concerned.
Since the author and publisher express such indifference to their audience, I ask community members to read the entire book. Not to young children but for themselves. There is no need to check it out of the library as it can be read in less than five minutes. It offers one example of covert racism which can be applied to other media that we are exposed to.
Not long after the Princess Buttercup debate entered our home, my spouse, a European who is rational about all things -- except soccer -- viewed a beer commercial, then turned to me and asked, "why is it that the only [person of color] in the advert [isement] expresses indifference?" It was a valid observation.
Who knew such a large issue could take the form of a fairy?