I attended Dr. Cherrell Shelley-Robinson’s talk A We Dis? at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, yestereve (Thursday, Oct 14th) It was well attended, and quite stimulating.
She dealt mostly with the images and information in social studies/information books on the Caribbean written for children. Using power point illustrations she showed how the images were often uncomplimentary and the information sometimes wrong, giving one-sided representations of just who we are in the Caribbean. The images tend to focus on the exotic and old-time situations – cane cutters, market scenes, broken - down houses (huts) zinc fences, the happy –go-lucky ‘native’ and so on.
This, she said, has adverse influence both on the children in other lands who assimilate this misrepresentation as well as on our own children, who get distorted images of themselves as well as wrong information. She gave several examples of the wrong information in the books.
Most of these books, she said, are published in the UK and the USA to fill the demand for multi-cultural information for their schools. Many are not even distributed in the Caribbean. Sometimes the authors have never visited the Caribbean and obviously are perpetuating the stereotypes picked up elsewhere.
To change this, she recommended that persons can write to publishers and point out the errors. She also suggested that persons can publicly discuss the errors by reviewing books on sites like Amazon which allow reviews. If enough voices are raised, the publishers will have to begin to take notice and be more careful to get their information authenticated by ‘experts’ who really know the Caribbean. Also librarians should be careful not to place such books on their library shelves.
She seemed to have given the audience so much food for thought that very few comments were made or questions asked in the after period.
Some of what she said has implications for the fiction, as well, especially for the younger children, who haven’t yet reached the point of questioning what they read. This makes it even more important for us to have a great body of literature about ourselves written from our point of view. Fortunately, there seems to be growing interest among Caribbean writers and illustrators in publishing material for our children. If only we could solve the problems of high production costs, and distribution and access to this material.