My Rainbow World is official today! While I’ve shared how the book came to be, re-imagining and re-purposing art from a different project to fit a new story, I haven’t talked about how I chose the model for my main character.
In 2007, I started a job in the most ethnically diverse group I’d ever encountered. Before I worked there, I would have told you I was well aware of how things like racism, prejudice, and privilege play into every day interactions for both myself and the people around me. By the time I left, I would have told you what an ignorant git I had been two years prior.
After working for that company, and in particular, working for an African American woman, I set myself to learning, and I was–the only way to phrase this is so base, but I was GROSSED OUT by myself. I was grossed out by my ignorance. I was sick at myself over my ignorance. I was disgusted by how I had allowed that ignorance to color every interaction I’d had, and was beside myself at how that ignorance had probably caused me to hurt people without ever even thinking I was close to “the line” much less four feet over it.
I purposefully started reading about the history of slavery in our nation, the Civil Rights movement, and the period between Restoration and Today. It took me literal weeks just to get my head around the fact that I’d never heard anything about the Freedom Riders, other than that they had done a lot of marching. I was 38-years-old when I learned what a lynching really was, and I still haven’t been able to reconcile that with the still-awful but criminally white-washed (yes) version of it I learned in school. I was 38-years-old when I learned why jokes about Mississippi after dark weren’t funny. And, I was 38-years-old when I realized that when I walked into Target to look at haircare product, there were aisles of things for People With Hair Like Mine and a tiny strip of shelf for People With Hair Not Like Mine.
Since my then-boss had mentioned hair to me, I asked her about it, and I went home that night feeling sick that I was nearly forty, and had only just realized that when I walked down the hair aisle at Target, I was having a different experience from a woman I greatly respected. I was having an experience that normalized everything about me and my color, and she was being marginalized. Everywhere I looked, the world looked like me. She had to find the tiny strip of shelf to find anything that looked like her.
Let it be known that I am still ignorant of a lot of things, but never willfully.
I started looking for diversity because of the wonderful inclusiveness that boss generated. I started trying to find ways I could be inclusive, which is sometimes messy because of feelings. I messed up a few times that I thought I was being complimentary, only to realize that from where I stood, my words sounded patronizing. I still struggle with where I fit in to building a world of equality, what my responsibility is, and when I am overstepping. I probably will until the day I die.
But, when I had the opportunity to re-work the art for this book, a few things had happened: Baltimore had happened. South Carolina had happened. Sandra Bland had happened.
I wanted to make a statement of support, and when the opportunity presented itself, I knew exactly how I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it like this:
I hope that doesn’t sound self-congratulatory, or like I think I’m being magnanimous. I’m not. I know I’m a drop in a bucket. But, I want to see all children represented. I see plenty of children in media, who look like my son. I don’t see children who look like my current boss’s granddaughter, so I borrowed her for a model, and I hope that representation does something toward change.
In the meantime, Happy Book Birthday! My Rainbow World is available from your favorite bookseller.