The following ten guidelines can be used by teachers, librarians, and other educators to evaluate children's books and to help students detect racism and sexism in the books they read.
Look for stereotypes. A stereotype, which usually has derogatory implications, is an oversimplified generalization about a particular group, race, or sex. Some infamous (overt) stereotypes of blacks are the happy-go-lucky, watermelon-eating Sambo and the fat, eye-rolling "mammy;" of Chicanos, the sombrero- wearing peon or fiesta-loving, macho bandito; of Asian Americans, the inscrutable, slant-eyed oriental; of American Indians, the naked savage or primitive brave and his squaw; of
Puerto Ricans, the switchblade- toting teenage gang member; and of women, the domesticated mother, the demure little girl, or the wicked stepmother. While you may not always find stereotypes in the blatant forms described, look for descriptions, depictions, or labels that tend to demean, stereotype, or patronize characters because of their race or sex. Another common stereotype of Chicanos (or Latinos in general; the general public is not often aware there is a difference) is the lazy, ever-napping peasant. A common stereotype of American Indians is that of the "noble savage" who shows no emotion and speaks in short, often grammatically incomplete sentences-- a stereotype reinforced by the 2009 American Girls doll catalogue in which female dolls of seemingly every race are ethnicity are show smiling—except, of course, for the American Indian doll. I've seen a number of "author's photos" of Sherman Alexie, and he's laughing in at least half of them. Indians have a sense of humor, as Mr. Alexie's writings so clearly show. Look for tokenism. If racial minority characters appear in the illustrations, do they look like white people except for being tinted or colored? Do all minorities look stereotypically alike, or are they depicted as individuals with distinctive features? Witness, for example, the furor over the introduction of the "black Barbie" which was essentially the same shape and form as the orginal Barbie, only molded in a darker-colored plastic. Look for active doers. Do the illustrations depict minorities in subservient and passive roles or in leadership and action roles? Are males the active doers and females the inactive observers?
2. Check the Story Line
Publishers are making an effort not to include adverse reflections or inappropriate portrayals of
minority characters in stories; however, racist and sexist attitudes still find expression in less
obvious ways. Examples of some subtle (covert) forms of bias include the following:
Standard for success: Does it take "white" behavior standards for a minority person to "get
ahead?" Is "making it" in the dominant white society projected as the only ideal? To gain
acceptance and approval, do persons of color have to exhibit extraordinary qualities, excel in
sports, get A's, and so forth? In friendships between white and nonwhite children, is it the
child of color who does most of the understanding and forgiving?
Resolution of problems: How are problems presented, conceived, and resolved? Are minority
people considered to be "the problem?" Are the oppressions faced by minorities and women
represented as related to social injustice? Are the reasons for poverty and oppressions
explained, or are poverty and oppression accepted as inevitable? Does the story line
encourage passive acceptance or active resistance? Is a particular problem faced by a racial
minority person or a female resolved through the benevolent intervention of a white person
or a male?
Role of women: Are the achievements of girls and women based on their own initiative and
intelligence, or are their achievements due to their good looks or relationships with boys? Are
sex roles incidental or critical to characterization and plot? Could the same story be told if
the sex roles were reversed?
3. Look at the Life-Styles
Are minority persons and their settings depicted in ways that contrast unfavorably with the
unstated norm of white middle-class suburbia? If the minority group in question is depicted as
"different," are negative value judgments implied? Are minorities depicted exclusively in ghettos,
barrios, or migrant camps? If the illustrations and text depict other cultures, do they go beyond
oversimplifications and offer genuine insights into other life-styles? Look for inaccuracies and
inappropriateness in the depictions of other cultures. Watch for instances of the "quaint-natives-in
costume" syndrome, which is noticeable in areas such as clothing, customs, behaviors, and
4. Weigh the Relationships Among People
Do white people in the story possess the power, take the leadership, and make the important
decisions? Do racial minorities and females of all races primarily function in supporting roles? How
are family relationships depicted? In black families is the mother always dominant? In Hispanic
families are there always many children? If the family is separated, are social conditions --
unemployment and poverty, for example — cited as reasons for the separation? Are both sexes
portrayed in nurturing roles with their families?
5. Note the Heroes
For many years books showed only "safe" minority heroes — those who avoided serious conflict
with the white establishment. Today, minority groups insist on the right to define their own heroes
(of both sexes) based on their own concepts and struggle for justice. When minority heroes do
appear, are they admired for the same qualities that have made white heroes famous or because
what they have done has benefited white people? Ask this question: "Whose interest is a
particular hero serving?"
6. Consider the Effects on a Child's Self-Image
Are norms established that limit any child's aspiration and self-concept? What effect can it have
on black children to be continually bombarded with images of the color white as the ultimate in
beauty, cleanliness, and virtue and the color black as evil, dirty, and menacing? Does the book
counteract or reinforce this positive association with the color white and negative association with
the color black? What happens to a girl's self-image when she reads that boys perform all brave
and important deeds? What is the effect on a girl's self-esteem if she is not fair of skin and slim of
body? In a particular story is there one or more persons with whom a minority child can readily and
7. Check Out the Author's Perspective
No author can be entirely objective. All authors write from a cultural as well as personal context. In
the past, children's books were written by members of the middle class. Consequently, a single
ethnocentric perspective has dominated children's literature in the United States. Read carefully
any book in question to determine whether the author's perspective substantially weakens or
strengthens the value of his or her written work. Is the perspective patriarchal or feminist? Is it
solely Eurocentric, or are minority cultural perspectives respected?
8. Watch for Loaded Words
A word is "loaded" when it has insulting over-tones. Examples of local adjectives (usually racist) are
savage, primitive, conniving, lazy, superstitious, treacherous, wily, crafty, inscrutable, docile, and
backward. Scholar Debbie Reese has noted that when white soldiers win the fight, it's called a
"battle," but when Indians when the fight, it is almost invariably called a "massacre." Look for sexist
language and adjectives that exclude or ridicule women. Look for use of the male pronoun to refer
to both males and females. While the generic use of the word man was accepted in the past, its
use today is outmoded. The following examples illustrate how sexist language can be avoided:
substitute the word ancestors for forefathers; chairperson for chairman; community for
brotherhood; firefighters for firemen; manufactured for manmade, and the human family for the
family of man.
9. Look at the Copyright Date
With rare exceptions nonsexist books were not published before 1973. However, in the early
1970s children's books began to reflect the realities of a multiracial society. This new direction
resulted from the emergence of minority authors who wrote about their own experiences.
Unfortunately, this trend was reversed in the late 1970s, and publishers cut back on such books.
Therefore, although the copyright date can be a clue as to how likely the book is to be overtly
racist or sexist, a recent copyright date is no guarantee of a book's relevance or sensitivity. The
copyright date indicates only the year the book was published. It usually takes about two years
from the time a manuscript is submitted to the publisher to the time it is printed. This time lag
meant little in the past; but today, publishers attempt to publish relevant children's books, and this
time lag is significant.
10. Consider Literary, Historical, and Cultural Perspectives
Classical or contemporary literature, including folktales and stories having a particular historical or
cultural perspective, should be judged in the context of high-quality literary works. In many cases it
may be inappropriate to evaluate classical or contemporary literature according to the guidelines
contained in this brochure. However, when analyzing such literary works, remember that although
a particular attitude toward women or a minority group was prevalent during a certain period in
history, that attitude is in the process of changing.
http://www.kjodle.net/multicultural/10quick.php June 14, 2013