Let’s look to a world of inclusivity
The world has changed dramatically in the past three months. Are we more aware of the precipice upon which we stand? There are so many matters requiring our attention that it can feel overwhelming. Where do we begin? What do we do?
Black Lives Matter has propelled a long overdue discussion. Mr Bookwagon and I have talked constantly as we’ve sought to evaluate history. and the way forward.
Even within families, histories are considered differently by different family members. It can seem as though the loudest voices create definitive memories- even when they’re wrong! It means that history is a fluent force.
In recent years, for example, Hilary Mantel has reformed opinion of Thomas Cromwell through her Wolf Hall trilogy. Meanwhile there’s consensus that it is high time that we confront Britain’s racist and colonial history honestly.
What we do
You’ll be aware the Bookwagon home page holds a tag cloud. You’ll have scrolled down that page to a flurry of pink gift tagged words. Maybe you’ve made a selection of titles by using that tag cloud when you’ve readers with particular interests, e.g., dinosaurs, graphic novels, or inclusivity.
After much consideration, Mr Bookwagon and I have elected to include a BAME tag section. I have been resistant to this because it seems separatist and reactive. However, Bookwagon has fielded a flurry of enquiries from families and schools about specifically Black Asian and Minority Ethnic titles. Furthermore, it has coincided with something I realised from watching television.
Professor David Olusoga is Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester. We have enjoyed watching his programmes called A House Through Time as he’s researched houses in Newcastle, Liverpool and, most recently, Bristol. That programme revealed the associations of two slave owners to 10 Guinea Street. Alongside this programme Professor Olugosa presents BBC Black and British: A Forgotten History. Throughout the first episode, I exclaimed, ‘But we need to know this! Why didn’t I know this!’ Thereafter, I searched for children’s history books about featured people, including Francis Barber and John Blank. However, there is little available.
I had considered that the ideal tag is inclusivity. This is an umbrella for different ages, gender groups, colours, interests, economic-socio backgrounds, abilities and creeds. However, after watching Professor Olusoga’s programme I realised that this action is idealistic and unhelpful. We need to draw people to what they are searching specifically.
I seek titles that are representative, informative and worth recommending. Our concern has been one that Professor Olusoga expressed, in that in creating a BAME tag, we were jumping onto an inevitable marketing bandwagon. Bookwagon has seen this happen in its history, from #MeToo, Mental Health, gender issues to unicorns. I am aware of publishing houses’ marketing departments leaping toward a new trend of titles. The majority of society’s concerns require a more responsible approach than this! They do not deserve tokenism. Furthermore, Bookwagon is in the interests of recommending ‘forever’ books rather than participate in a disposable book culture also.
While we are a business, Bookwagon is in the market of seeking out books that matter and are representative. That’s why we read every book we sell.
Finally, I’m concerned that reactive movements mean our focus from important concerns wanders and they are lost and forgotten. Climate change is not something for a moment, a year, but urgent.
However, as days have passed I have become increasingly aware that there are too few BAME books. In addition, of those books available too many of them are created by a small number of authors and illustrators. It seems like we need a fuller representation of writers and illustrators within this industry. Furthermore, where are the BAME stories, histories, those that we need to read and learn about and share? Isn’t it time for real inclusivity?
What we can do
Therefore, within our BAME tag, Bookwagon is proud to recommend books we’ve read that recognise and reflect our world. It may be twins with a surgeon mother such as The Cure for a Crime. It may be a girl working to find out about her convict father in The Faraway Truth. Or it could be the little known history of a WWII Indian regiment in Now or Never: A Dunkirk Story.
Furthermore, we will seek out books that are representative of our collective history. Currently, many children’s BAME titles tell stories from American black history, such as Clean Getaway While it is important to know this history, it is essential that British children know the black history of Britain, including that of colonialism and the countries that formed and associated with Empire.
Meanwhile, many of our books share the representation of inclusivity that I know and love, such as Bloom, Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street or Sam Wu is NOT afraid of Zombies It’s not ideal, but it is representative and building. Books like these suggest our humanity, shared experiences, hopes and stories.