About the Numbers
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the large majority of books featuring brown-skinned characters and/or characters whose race is unspecified do not make race, ethnicity or culture a part of the plot (Any Child). These characters are also frequently featured in interactions across racial or cultural difference (Cross-Group) and are very rarely featured in books about oppression or in biographies.
These numbers may reflect what scholars have identified as a “post-racial” and “colorblind” ideology in the U.S., in which racially ambiguous characters stand in for the belief that color, race, culture, and ethnicity don’t or shouldn’t matter to the lived experiences of people of color. That these characters are also featured more frequently in Cross Group stories risks contributing to the assumption that (even a perceived) lack of racial/cultural/ethnic identification is ideal for fostering relationships across difference.
While it’s important to reflect the existence of people of color who do not have strong racial, cultural, or ethnic identifications, it need not come at the expense of stories in which the surrounding culture and ideas about race/culture/ethnicity impact and shape their experiences nevertheless. Also, the call for racially- and culturally-diverse pictures books is not adequately answered by simply publishing more books that feature racially ambiguous characters.
We invite you to consider the other meanings and effects these numbers may reveal.
Of the 627 books featuring Brown-Skinned and/or Race Unspecified characters:
|67% are books in which race, ethnicity, tribal affiliation, culture, im/migration, and/or religious, sacred, or origin stories ARE NOT CENTRAL to the story. These elements may be present, but they are not essential to the plot and could be changed without altering the storyline. We call these Any Child Books.|
|10% are books in which race, ethnicity, tribal affiliation, culture, im/migration, and/or religious, sacred, or origin stories ARE CENTRAL to the story. These books explicitly focus on the diverse expressions of human experience, depending on these elements to drive the storyline. We call these Beautiful Life books.|
|1% are Biographies, featuring the life of a particular person or group of people from a historical or contemporary perspective.|
|24% portray relationships between named characters across racial or cultural difference. We call these Cross-Group books.|
|5% are Folklore books, featuring tales, proverbs, songs, or legends and myths that transmit the values, knowledge, traditions, practices and rituals of a people.|
|9% feature a racially diverse cast of non-primary characters or a white or animal main character(s). We call these Incidental books.|
|8% present factual information (with or without a storyline) that does not always have to do with difference. These books may be encyclopedic. We call these Informational books.|
|2% are about group-based injustice and/or struggles for justice. We call these Oppression & Resilience books.|
|4% explore and/or compare specific aspects of human difference, inviting readers to consider varying perspectives related to race, ethnicity, culture, or tribal affiliation. We call these Concept books.|