Non-White Protagonists Not Allowed

By Casey Wilson

On last night’s episode of The Daily Show, Al Madrigal visited Tucson, Arizona to examine their recent decision to ban the Mexican-American Studies program at their high schools. As so often happens with The Daily Show, the segment manages to get a few good laughs even as it uncovers a rather skin-crawling level of ignorance.

The New York Times has also written about the situation, describing how school officials voted to destroy the Mexican-American Studies program for “using an antiwhite curriculum to foster social activism” and for teaching “critical race theory”. Never mind the fact that one of the newly banned books – Matt de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy – meant so much to one of the high school’s students that she raised $1000 to bring him to her school to speak. The program teaches children to think critically about their past and present, and that’s intimidating to those in power.

If it were any time but the very end of the semester, I’d go on for another thousand or so words about the implications of this decision. The historical lack of diversity in major children’s texts, the recent increase in non-white protagonists, the impossible separation the district wants to maintain between the individual and the collective…As it is, I’ll save most of that for another day and instead leave you with a quote from an essay Matt de la Peña wrote recently about the importance of YA fiction:

I was at a school in Los Angeles last week, and a kid in a hoodie waited until everyone else had left before approaching me. “I read your book ‘We Were Here’ like three times,” he said. His eyes were glassy and he kept fidgeting with his backpack straps. “Yo, that’s my life in that book,” he said. Then he took off.

A kid in a hoodie, finding a reflection of himself in a book. Right now, I can’t think of anything more important.

Casey is a PhD student.

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