Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Committed to Diversity - Heather Murphy Capps



We've got Heather Murphy Capps as a guest blogger for the #WriteInclusively series. This post is amazing and I love it. Hopefully, you will too.

Enjoy :)
I am the melting pot.

My maternal family’s narrative comes from our ancestors who were slaves and displaced Iroquois. My father’s people escaped poverty in Ireland.

All this racial mixing means my ethnicity is hard to peg. I have facial features that are more white than black, but my skin is light brown.

Getting in a taxicab is usually fun – I’ve been spoken to in Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic based on the driver’s snap judgment.

When people ask, “What are you?” I often reply, “I’m American,” which angers those who want to know what I “really” am. Usually all this makes me laugh.

The times I don’t laugh are when people assume I am nanny rather than mother to my son, who has blue eyes and fair skin. One woman even challenged me. “He’s not really yours.” When I replied, “Yes, I am his actual biological, genetic mother,” she looked at me like I’d kidnapped him. On the other hand, my daughter looks more like me than he does, which also causes a rather ridiculous amount of confusion when we are all together.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that this is what happens when you mix up the races. You get a grab bag for a family, with different skin tones, eye and hair colors, even bone structures. There’s a lot of gene pool in there to draw from.

There are a lot of people out there just like us, but here’s what bugs me: I don’t see us reflected in the books my children and I read together. Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles feature among the highest profile mixed race kids on the market, yet they’re not nearly as popular as his wildly successful Percy Jackson series.

The dearth of characters of color was even worse when I was a kid. I read All. The. Time. And although I did find kindred spirits in the white children and their magical or adventurous worlds, I wondered why there weren’t any books about kids who looked like me and my family.

Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, the children of Narnia, Margaret and Fudge, and all the rest – their worlds were (basically) like mine in that I was a middle class kid growing up in a middle class world. But looking at the books on the market then – and now – you’d think middle class black or mixed families are rare or non-existent.

So, partly because of who I am and partly because of that gaping hole, I write.  I focus on kid lit because children of color need to see their faces alongside Percy and Harry and Anne.

But NOT just in books about being a person of color. While we most definitely need to talk and know more about the experience of being a minority, we also need to just read more about what all of us minorities do when we’re not busy being different. (And surviving being Black at night in New York and Missouri and everywhere else)

We need books about non-white kids who are magic. Non-white kids who are wimpy but hilarious, or who are brilliant and travel on tesseracts. These fictional kids shape us and our attitudes about real life from an early age. If we grow up expecting to see all kinds of kids in all kinds of stories, maybe we’ll also be a step closer to truly believing in the worth and universality of all those colors.
We as authors must be leaders – we must #writeinclusively in order to raise readers who are inclusive. Sadly, our kids won’t get the full benefit of a serious push to diversify the books they read, but it’s crucial we not wait so long to act that our grandchildren miss out too.

Heather writes MG and YA. When not writing, she’s wrangling her most important beta readers, her son and daughter. Well, her daughter is too young to beta yet, but she’ll get there.

She was born to write fiction, but she loves the fast-paced world of news too, so she started her career writing about real people, not the ones that talk to her in her head. She was a television news journalist with military and political beats for nearly two decades, then a mayoral press secretary.

She decided to change careers when her children came along, and is now happily raising readers and writing diverse books for them to read.  She’s fascinated by fringe science, pop culture, and quantum physics. She loves music, poetry, the ocean, and laughing.

You can reach her on Twitter and on her at blog.

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  1. Then you need to be the one to write those books!
    I don't know why mixed families are such an issue. I have at least a dozen friends in mixed marriages with kids and I've never even thought twice about it.

    1. You're right, Alex - it shouldn't be a big deal. And I am definitely writing those books. Thanks for reading!

  2. One of my favorite books when I was a kid was called Corduroy. It was about a bear who...I can't remember, lol. It was either waiting to be bought or was in a repair shop. But his owner was a little black girl, and I remember being so excited and saying her name was Deborah so that I was the girl in the book.

    1. Yes!! I love the Corduroy book too! He's waiting to be bought, but all the kids who see him want a train or a doll or something else, until the end. I read it to my daughter all the time and YES I too love the fact that that little girl who loves him and takes him home is black.

  3. Nice post! I definitely want to see more diverse magical kids and MCs from backgrounds the majority culture/race thinks little about. It's all about exposure and pushing the publishers to understand that readers are open to any character who is well-written. Publishers should never assume that only white kids buy books and that those white kids only want to read about people exactly like themselves. So not true.

    1. Heather - Ex-act-ly. Especially the part about "Publishers should never assume that only white kids buy books..." - such an important point to make in this dialogue. Thank you!