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 entirely absent 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 absence 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 79 books featuring Middle Eastern/North African/Arab characters:
|5% do not make race, ethnicity, or culture part of the plot. We call these Any Child Books.|
|52% take readers into the everyday world of characters in countries around the world, with specific cultural components such as language, food, celebrations, traditions, and/or other elements. We call these Beautiful Life books.|
|8% are biographies.|
|16% portray character interactions across racial or cultural difference. We call these Cross-Group books.|
|24% introduce readers to traditions, activities, languages and experiences, and includes all types of retellings and adaptations of traditional folktales. We call these Folklore books.|
|1% have a white protagonist. We call these Incidental books.|
|6% are nonfiction books that may not have a story line and do not always have to do with difference. These books are factual and may be encyclopedic. We call these Informational books.|
|9% are stories of prejudice, mistreatment and discrimination based on race, ethnicity or culture. We call these Oppression books.|
|5% invite readers to consider new perspectives related to racial, ethnic, or cultural commonalities and differences. We call these Concept books.|