Ebony Joy Wilkins is a writer and educator. She is the author of SELLOUT (July 2010 Scholastic Press).
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
I have heard people say, ‘I don’t see in color,’ and I believe that is admirable. Unfortunately, because of my experiences with racism as a child, I do see in color. I grew up in a fairly diverse neighborhood outside of Chicago, Illinois, but experienced a culture shock after a move to a predominantly Caucasian town in Central Michigan during middle school. I could count the number of families-of-color on one hand. Most memories of this time in my life are fond. However, the day my father found a noose in our front yard is never far from my mind. I could tell my parents were upset, but when the reporters showed up for an interview, my parents displayed only strength and courage, and spoke about a promising future, seeking knowledge, and acceptance for all people. I was able to stand strong after experiencing reverse racism from my own peers later in life because of this strong foundation my parents set for me. Although there haven’t been many examples of racism, the few I can remember have changed my view of our diverse world.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer?
I learned early about the impact that racism can have on ones life. After experiencing acts of racism firsthand, I looked at the world very differently. Racism has impacted my professional work, as well as, my personal life. I’m an avid reader and I love to write both fiction and nonfiction. I believe my life experiences so far have impacted the types of literature I choose to read, and have impacted my personal writing significantly. My first novel SELLOUT (July 2010 Scholastic Press) tells the story of an African American teen that experiences racism from other African American teens. I believe children relate to the characters they see on the page. When I was a younger reader there were not many books with African American central characters that I could relate to. As I read more and more, I began searching desperately for characters who told my own story. In my professional experience, I have found that the best way to find these stories was to pick up a pen and write the story myself. I encourage everyone to read, research, and write their own stories.
In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
Literature can educate those who don’t understand, inspire those who care, and motivate those who are aware. After experiencing racism as a young reader I began to understand the power of spoken and written words to shape, change, and impact lives. The right words can encourage the discipline of early reading and writing in young learners and can also foster self esteem. Literature that deals with racial issues is important and can serve as a window and a mirror for young children to shape the way readers view the world and themselves.