The month of February is a time when many communities pause and celebrate the great contributions made by African Americans in history. At Lee & Low we like to not only highlight African Americans who have made a difference, but also explore the diverse experiences of black culture throughout history, from the struggle for freedom in the South and the fight for civil rights to the lively rhythms of New Orleans jazz and the cultural explosion of the Harlem Renaissance. Continue reading
In August we wrote to you about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Our publisher said then that the matter of representation was urgent; now, four months later, we see that urgency for what it is: a matter of life or death. Michael Brown’s name now sits alongside new names like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Akai Gurley. How many more names will need to be added before things change?
The following is a note from our Publisher, Jason Low, published in this month’s e-newsletter:
It’s been a hard few weeks for those of us following the news out of Ferguson, Missouri. While the exact details of Michael Brown’s death remain unknown, we can already see how this latest incident fits into a larger narrative in this country in which people of color are routinely discriminated against and subject to violence based on the color of their skin. Healing and change cannot begin until we as a country acknowledge the role racism plays not just in events like Michael Brown’s death, but in the everyday lived experiences of the 37% of America that is not white.
Shana Mlawski is a native New Yorker who writes educational materials and tutors middle and high school students. She has written more than a hundred articles for the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com, some of which have been featured in The Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Ms. magazine. Her first novel, Hammer of Witches, was published by Tu Books in 2012.
Bring up FOX’s Sleepy Hollow and you’ll probably get one of two reactions. The first is, “OMG, guys: black people! On network television! And there’s a Hispanic guy! And John Cho! It’s almost like TV has finally entered the twenty-first century.”
The second, more common reaction goes thusly: “Wow. This show is COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS.”
Both reactions work for me. Sleepy Hollow does have an impressively diverse cast: of the eight major characters in its lineup, five are people of color (POC). More importantly, the main character is a woman of color.
As for the claim of ridiculousness… well, watch this:
What’s most interesting to me is how the two reactions intersect. That Sleepy Hollow is racially diverse doesn’t make it unique. Want a show that isn’t all white people all the time? You can watch Scandal or Elementary. But Sleepy Hollow is something different, something rarely seen on mainstream television: a program with a non-white lead that is also a work of camp.
In her famous “Notes on Camp,” Susan Sontag defined the genre as “art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ‘too much.’” Not a bad definition for a show that features a Headless Horseman carrying a machine gun. Sleepy Hollow takes itself seriously enough that it can quote Milton and Edmund Burke with a straight face, but its heroes also exclaim things like, “The answers are in George Washington’s Bible!” It may not be John Waters, but that sounds campy to me.
It’s been 59 years since Brown vs. Board of Education overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine in schools, but that doesn’t mean discrimination has disappeared from the classroom. Teaching children about race can be a tricky topic, but luckily, there are many great resources and books out there. Our new picture book, As Fast As Words Could Fly, takes a unique look at school desegregation, following an African American family in North Carolina in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Based on the experiences of author Pamela Tuck’s father, it’s proof that just one young person could – and still can – make a big difference.