Friday, May 11, 2007

Racial Identity

Picked up Beverly Daniel Tatum's "Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?" because I had seen a student carrying it around. What I took away from it, in one sentence, was that middle school students are trying to figure out who they are, and for black students, it often means hanging around with other black students because their white friends don't understand the challenges that come with race.

I've been trying to find books with black characters (and Tatum does use the term black), but it's hard. So many of the books are about inner city children struggling with gangs and drugs, and certainly a lot of my students like to read that sort of thing. Still, if children want to read books about children like themselves, where are the books about suburban black children wanting to find their identity?

Philana MarieBoles' Little Divas was especially good, because it had characters that were black, but the whole book was not about that fact. I guess what I want is a black Henry Huggins.

Janet McDonald's Brother Hood was good because it addressed the dicotomy of a boy who is from the inner city but who goes to a private school. He has two personas, and struggles with when to be which person. I am going to have to read McDonald's works again-- Tatum's book brought up the thought-- do I just not like these books because I am not familiar with the black characters? Are these books my students need to help them decide who they are and where they fit in the world?

Walter Dean Myers' Handbook for Boys: A Novel also addresses the issue of making choices. It is unabashedly preachy. Two inner city boys who made some bad choices get sentenced to community service in a barber shop where the elderly men mentor them and getting a good education and making good choices. If I can get children to read this all the way through, they might take something from it.

I'm also going to reread Christopher Paul Curtis' Bucking the Sarge. I thought the grandmother was described in very negative, stereotypical ways, but the boy in it was trying to distance himself from her, so it was about establishing identity.

What I am really looking for, though, is books with black characters just living their lives. Maybe this is what students need. Clearly, if students are trying to establish their identity, books would help. But, like Tatum pointed out, it's hard to start conversations about race.

Also read Hughes' Lemonade Mouth, which looks really fun but didn't pull me in. Oddly wordy, and nothing happened. The back cover describes Hughes' other book, I am the Wallpaper, as quirky. Seeking a second opinion, I gave it to my son (who loves comedic realistic fiction), and he couldn't get into it either.

1 comment:

  1. There are lots of books coming out with just what you're looking for, but they seem to be more for high school level. One that could work for middle school level, though, is So Not The Drama by Paula Chase. It deals with a lot. An affluent black girl trying to make her way into the popular crowd, falling out with her white best friend, it's full of many many things.