Jacqueline Woodson’s life could be seen as one long encounter with difference. An African-American Jehovah’s witness, she didn’t grow up seeing herself or her own life mirrored much in the media and books around her.
Brown Girl Dreaming
She has made a career out of exploring similarity and difference across experiences. Woodson’s new young adult book, Brown Girl Dreaming, is a memoir in verse that is under consideration for a National Book Award.
But don’t let the title fool you – she’s not just speaking to brown girls. As an NPR profile observes, “She's been vocal about the need for more diversity in books to introduce young people to writers, characters and themes that might be unfamiliar.”
Woodson’s point – that she’s not just writing so brown girls may see themselves reflected, but so other girls and boys may find commonalities with their experiences – is one that resonates long after middle-grade fiction is left behind.
Teaching Cultural Competency
What Woodson suggests in the linked interview is that the ability to understand a culture outside of one's own - an ability that children of color are hard-pressed to avoid, given the fairly monochromatic publishing industry - can actually reveal itself as a strength. It's one that white children lose out on when all of the books, movies, and television shows marketed to them have largely white casts; this is something that Woodson wants to change.
But as adults, without the publishing industry targeting a shift in our thinking, what's the educational solution? On campus, in the boardroom: we live in an increasingly diverse and rich world. Luckily, there are still many avenues available to facilitate those encounters and changes in awareness.
The most important one? Conversation. Jacqueline Woodson’s books explore deeply felt issues, including faith and race. But, like the best conversations, they do so with honesty and grace – as well as belief in the fact that what unites us is stronger than the structural or historical boundaries that have been erected to keep us apart.
At World Trust, we believe that dialogue and relationships are the path from fear to change. We facilitate these conversations through diversity training supported by film and other curricular materials. To learn more about our latest project, which explores (among other things) how media and representation fuel unconscious bias, please click here.