About the Numbers
Of the notably small number of books depicting Middle Eastern, North African, and Arab characters at all, most are portrayed in stories about cultural particularity (Beautiful Life) or in traditional tales (Folklore). Perhaps more notable, they are the most underrepresented characters in books that do not make race, ethnicity, or culture a part of the plot (Any Child).
Similar to books about characters of Asian descent, a focus on cultural stories and folktales can provide excellent windows and mirrors* into Middle Eastern/North African/Arab cultures, histories, and experiences. However, an overemphasis on these kinds of stories risks suggesting that Middle Eastern/North African/Arab people are "exotic" and exist in a land far away. This is troubling, considering the long history of exaggerations and distortions of difference to portray the Middle East and Arab people as backward and a threat to “the West.” This perceived threat is reinforced in the sparse representation of Middle Eastern/North African/Arab characters in Any Child books, so that these characters are never allowed to stand in for “everyone everywhere.”
*The commonly-used metaphor of “windows and mirrors” was originally articulated by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.
As with our hopes for depictions of characters across all of these racial/cultural categories, we argue for a balanced portrayal that makes visible the rich diversity and full humanity of Middle Eastern/North African/Arab people, cultures, histories, and experiences.
We invite you to consider the other meanings and effects these numbers may reveal.
Of the 113 books featuring Middle Eastern/North African/Arab characters:
|7% 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.|
|36% 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.|
|17% are Biographies, featuring the life of a particular person or group of people from a historical or contemporary perspective.|
|21% portray relationships between named characters across racial or cultural difference. We call these Cross-Group books.|
|31% are Folklore books, featuring tales, proverbs, songs, or legends and myths that transmit the values, knowledge, traditions, practices and rituals of a people.|
|4% feature a racially diverse cast of non-primary characters or a white or animal main character(s). We call these Incidental books.|
|9% 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.|
|12% are about group-based injustice and/or struggles for justice. We call these Oppression & Resilience books.|
|2% 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.|