Coretta Scott King Awards

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

May 20, 2009 -- 12:59 a.m.

Tip o' the hat to Lee Ann for pointing out an interesting discussion over at Editorial Anonymous about the Coretta Scott King Awards, which are specially for black writers and illustrators. At the time they were established, Editorial argues that race-based awards were a good thing, but maybe the time has come to change it so that it's open to writers of all races who promote civil rights. She also feels that its excluding people who can write about the black community and black issues but don't happen to identify as black.

I don't know about this one. I think there's enough problems with literacy in the American black community to justify giving more attention to black authors, perhaps to draw in more black readers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average black American spends an average of $54 a year on reading materials compared to the average white person's $137 (which is ridiculously low. I spend that much just at Christmas buying books for other people...)

In 1996, the NAEP reported that 69% of black American 4th graders were reading below-level, in comparison with 40% from their white counterparts. I can't find any better statistics at the moment, and maybe the trend has completely reversed in recent years for all I know, but I'll make the possibly erroneous assumption that a smaller percentage of black kids are reading for fun than white kids. And as we all know, reading for fun must lead to a successful, awesome career, right?

(Ha ha ha, says the unemployed writer...well, there are exceptions to every rule...)

I admit that awards probably won't actually help young students get more interested in reading, but hey, anything that draws parents and kids to new black authors could be worth a try, right?

And Editorial Anonymous makes the point that you don't have to be black to write about the black viewpoint. True. Memoirs of the Geisha was written by a white male. On the other hand, when I tried to read Orson Scott Card's Magic Street, I couldn't get through it because I felt awkward. I have seen Orson Scott Card. I read his website. For me, I couldn't help but think every other sentence "A white man is writing this." It just got in the way of enjoying the book. Whether he portrayed the community accurately or not didn't matter, because I just couldn't get into it. Which was odd because I've read OSC's Chinese, Jewish, American Indian (which did seem fairly accurate from my experience as a white outsider on a reservation), Spanish and, heck, even Dutch characters without having a problem. I guess because I'm (perhaps overly?) sensitive to the unique position of blacks and black culture in America.

But the big point is, these aren't mutually exclusive awards. Someone could establish a general civil rights promotion award, as EA wanted, and the CSK awards could continue as they are now. Eliminating racism doesn't mean not admitting race exists and ending race-based awards. It means eliminating disparities, and one way of doing that is, one hopes, getting black kids better teachers, better schools, better jobs and better books.

But I'll admit that I'm not an expert on this topic by all means. That's just my two cents based on my gut reaction. And I may be biased because I think Octavia Butler deserved all the awards she could get. I always liked reading her and I wished she'd done better commercially.

Random factoid: The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that 17 more Ku Klux Klan chapters were added in the U.S. between 2004 and 2005, bringing the KKK a total of 179. That's almost a 10.5% increase in one year! Maybe they just split a bunch of cells or something. One can hope. Even if they're kind of like the Boy Scouts now in terms of civic projects (or so my Texan teacher told me) nothing good can come of building a foundation in the sands of descrimination (biblical pun...couldn't resist.)

Good thing I have about three readers or I'd probably have flames burning my eyes out about now.


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