Oblivious 

ob·liv·i·ous

/əˈblivēəs/Submit

adjective

not aware of or not concerned about what is happening around one.

“she became absorbed, oblivious to the passage of time”

synonyms: unaware of, unconscious of, heedless of, unmindful of, insensible of/to, unheeding of, ignorant of, incognizant of, blind to, deaf to, unsuspecting of, unobservant of;

Oblivious. This is how I perceive many decision makers of the ethnic majority that hold leadership positions in large influential companies. It is a consistent pattern I have noticed over my three-plus decades on the planet. Certain issues are simply not on their radar, and often, the lie entirely beyond their realm of reality. For them, issues that affect those of us Of Color are nonexistent.  I could also generalize and include people at or below the poverty level and other “invisible” groups. The truth here is that all of us have a box of normalcy in which we reside and build blinders over time. And before we know it, we are completely ignorant to issues that are just out of reach of the edges of our Safe Zone.

And before we know it, we are completely ignorant to issues that are just out of reach of the edges of our Safe Zone.

Due to oblivious screenwriters, I passionately rejected TV shows like Friends, Seinfeld, Sex and The City, (and reluctantly slightly snubbed 90% of my beloved sci-fi/fantasy epic adventures) because not one of the main characters looked like me. I intensely avoided several apparel stores in the malls – which is hard to do as a teenager! – because people that looked like me or were shaped like me were never in their promotional images. These writing, editing, marketing and advertising teams were oblivious to what I needed to relate to for role models, life scenarios, entertainment, and fashion.

Even Hollywood leaders are sorely clueless. While much of Hollywood boasts forward-thinking inclusive agendas, when it comes down to actually taking notice of and rewarding our Brothers and Sisters Of Color, we still don’t seem to make the cut. They are oblivious to their inherent exclusion – unless a Person Of Color flawlessly portrays a character trapped in a nauseatingly negative image of blackness (i.e., abusers, slaves, servants – these roles are rewarded, glorified, honored).

While much of Hollywood boasts forward-thinking inclusive agendas, when it comes down to actually taking notice of and rewarding our Brothers and Sisters Of Color, we still don’t seem to make the cut.

This is why I write. This is why my characters are brown. This is why The Hibouleans Series is for all the little brown girl epic-adventure-lovers that have yet to see one of us take a Chosen One role in a bestselling novel or on the big screen. So what images, then are my little brown girls being shown?

A NYTimes article circulated on Facebook today, naming the recall of A Birthday Cake for George Washington (now of course a #1 Bestseller).

The book sounds cute enough. It sounds harmless enough. It even sounds like it might just be educational, too.

But when you’re a little brown kid reading a book about our first president’s slaves happily baking him the best cake ever, it is a subliminal suggestion that paints a sunny – jovial, even – façade over the disgrace and horror that was slavery.  Not only is it confusing because it implies slaves might have taken pleasure in being nonhuman objects of possession, but it also implies that everyone is still OK with that image today.

As an author, writer, illustrator, feverishly hoping to one day live on my book sales, I know the steps involved in this incredible process – from the twinkle of concept to hard copies on shelves.

What I find most disturbing about this whole thing is that not only is the book’s tone and feel a product the author is proud of as one of her creative babies (and honestly, congrats on having a concept, most people don’t even get that far) but through the hands of a DIVERSE team of beta readers, editors, illustrators, contributors and publishers, not one of them thought “hmmm this might be a bad idea…”

“hmmm this might be a bad idea…”

And yes, a diverse team let this happen. But according to NPR, this isn’t the first time a book depicting happy slaves made it this far, only to also be pulled; that one by a team of Ethnic Majority. Perhaps this second attempt was pushed to be produced by a more diverse team as if to get a “pass” with the public? If so, FAIL.

Did they really have no clue how this would affect readers? Were they that inconsiderate? Or did this one slip through the filter around their world of what is appropriate? Were they as oblivious as the college president that couldn’t acknowledge the mistreatment of his students until the issue cost him his job?

It takes exceptional leadership. And I mean truly extraordinary leadership – to be able to connect and empathize with their team, their partners, and ultimately, their audience to foresee issues that adversely affect those they are actually trying to serve.

The option to abort this project could have been enforced by several people at any point over the probable year-plus it took to bring this book to life. And not one of them spoke up.

So while I shake my head in disappointment at Scholastic leadership for letting this work slip through the net, I still applaud the company for responding to the public and accepting that the depiction of happy slaves is vibrantly destructive to the America of tomorrow.

Maybe they can further redeem themselves by publishing a foreshadowing book where 60% of Fortune 500 companies have Leaders Of Color by 2030

People, take off the blinders.  You have to TRY to NOT be oblivious to the pain of others. Compassion and understanding take real effort.

~OR

 

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