The Supreme Court outlawed

The Supreme Court outlawed
segregated schools in 1954,
but a decade later
the world of children’s books
had not even arrived
at “separate but equal.”

This situation damages
Black and white children alike,
since literature is one
of the important vehicles
through which we socialize children
and transmit our cultural values
to them.

White children,
finding in the pages of books
only others like themselves,
come to believe
in an inherent
“rightness of whiteness”
that grants
to other races
no important place
or function
in society.

Exposed only to ludicrous
or pathetic images
of Blacks,
white children absorb

even more deeply
the poison of racism—
and grow to perpetuate
this evil
for another generation.

For Black children
the absence
of positive images
in children’s books
was a clear signal
that they themselves
had little worth
in the society
that these books
reflected.

We are no longer
where we once were,
but we are not yet
where we ought to be.

/ / /

This is a found poem. Source: Sims, Rudine. “Whatever Happened to the ‘All-White’ World of Children’s Books?” Innocence and Experience: Essays and Conversations on Children’s Literature, compiled and edited by Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire, Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books, 1987, pp. 477-484.

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2 thoughts on “The Supreme Court outlawed

  1. This reminds me of a research project I did for a college professor. His specialty was Latin America. I went to all of the surrounding libraries and checked out all the story books on Mexico in the children’s sections. Brought them home, read them myself, then handed them to my then eight year old daughter. All but two of the books told a story about a very poor little Mexican boy who dreamed of having a burro to help him get money for food for his family. Through varying circumstances he gets the burro and it is supposed to be a happy ending. When asked what she thought of Mexico, my very intelligent eight-year old, cocked her head and asked me a question: “Wouldn’t most of the money he got be spent feeding that burro? I mean, how does that help all those poor people?”

    I turned in my written report to the Prof., who was giving a lecture in Mexico City. On his return, he told me my report and my daughter’s response was the hit of the conference, creating a discussion that continued throughout the conference. Very similar to the subject of your found poem.

    Elizabeth

    • Elizabeth,

      Wow! I love your story. And its implications. The stories we tell – and retell. And what they say about that culture – and our own. Thank you so much for sharing!

      Richard

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