Any of you know that great Nina Simone song, Oh, Baltimore, http://www.lyricsdepot.com/nina-simone/baltimore.html; here’s an MP3 file, http://www.music-free-download.net/mp3/Nina-Simone/Download_Baltimore–_mp3_981522.html. Well, courtesy of Deb Taylor, http://www.standardcatalogs.com/committee_member.htm I am going down to Baltimore this week to talk with teenagers about race.
Some of you with long memories may wonder about this association — since Deb and I were on opposite sides in a big fracas some years ago. Prompted by the rules for the Pura Belpre award, I wrote a piece in the Horn Book http://www.hbook.com/magazine/articles/2001/may01_aronson.asp criticizing the idea of ethnic-based awards, which also, then meant I had to consider the Coretta Scott King award. Deb wrote in fervently disagreeing with me. Why, then, are we working together now?
My feeling is that we need to air, discuss, debate our differences — that, in fact, is how we come to appreciate and understand each other — not in polite agreement and muttering to friends. Deb and I would disagree every time we met. She uses my essay and Andrea Pinkney’s response http://www.hbook.com/magazine/articles/2001/sep01_pinkney.asp in the YA lit class she teaches. In my second collection of essays, Beyond the Pale, I included some of Deb’s arguments, and my responses to them. Rather than pushing us apart, our debate brought us closer — we became more aware of, more engaged with, each other.
Friends, this is the heart of my view of nonfiction and teaching — we don’t avoid controversy, we don’t avoid disagreement, we use differing views to open up discussion, to engage, as an opportunity to grow.
So as I head down to Baltimore, I urge all of you to read this front page article from yesterday’s New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/us/11dna.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1194872597-jaqtkz1KiKeN9Cl6QuFyRA and think about what a great chance we have. Instead of ending discussions of race with "we are all the same under the skin" we and the young people we meet can talk about history, about DNA, about anthropology, and Eugenics — we can thrash all of this dangerous material out together, and grow.