For context, please read this post.
Below please find the letter I have written to my agent and editor. I feel insecure about it for a lot of reasons- is it angry enough? Is it too angry? How can change actually be effected here? Please leave thoughts, criticisms, and advice. I am not looking to be reassured of my role here but for constructive ways in which I can best refine my approach to this situation.
I agree that [Publisher] has not offered up a concise rule about the racial and ethnic makeup of their workbook scenes. The lack of an explicit rule is serving to obscure the reality here: that this company has an implicit rule that a scene with characters of color requires at least one light skinned person.
The world is more and more a global village. The need for Korean children to learn English in the first place, the very impetus for the creation of the ESL materials you and I have been working on, proves how much the world is shrinking. Learning English brings the audience of the [Publisher's] workbooks further into the global village.
The fact that [Publisher] has repeatedly requested racial and ethnic diversity in their workbook scenes proves to me that they understand this in part. Korean children don't need to consume materials that only show children who look just like them- in fact it's critical that they see children of all backgrounds represented in positive ways, even getting along with each other. I believe [Publisher] is interested in fostering displays of diversity for a reason. They believe in the intelligence of their audience, they believe in their capacity for love and learning, and they are offering up what they believe to be complex representations to foster that love and learning.
But there is a disconnect here. Calling for ethnic diversity and then rejecting any scene without a light-skinned character is actually a way of using people of color as props. It relegates them to the background. What should be obvious but what plainly isn't: people of color live complex rich lives even when unaccompanied by light skinned people. Probably without even noticing, [Publisher] is undermining this message with their edits to the art I submitted.
In a previous assignment, this [Publisher] told me that their audience was not ready for something so "progressive" as a biracial family. Now they are telling me their audience would "like to see" light skinned characters. These are two instances that insult the intelligence and emotional capacity of the children that make up their audience.
What we teach our children shapes how they see the world. Sometimes this is explicit- as in, we are teaching these children English through ESL workbooks. Sometimes it is implicit- as in, this scene is only safe or comfortable if it includes someone with light skin.
Let me know what you think.