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White Mirrors

“It’s interesting to me that in the white imagination, the dystopian future involves white people living through the realities that people of color have lived or are living through right now! ”  

— Zetta Elliott

I came across the above quote on Sherman Alexie’s blog (  This quote came from a dialogue he linked to in Bitch magazine, a dialogue between authors Zetta Elliott and Ibi Aanu Zoboi ( They discuss the lack of diversity in young adult and children’s literature and the ever-so-slow change of literary mirroring.

In other words, the two women argue that what is being mirrored in literature is still predominantly white mirroring.  The quotation is smart and it kind of smarts, too.  Their reference is often The Hunger Games, and if you apply the above quotation to that book, you can see exactly what they’re talking about.

Really, The Hunger Games is supposed to make its audience reflect on how much the dystopian image of the novel reflects something truthful back to ourselves.  But when you think about it, as the authors discuss in their dialogue, why not go see 12 Years a Slave if what you want is dystopia?  They make interesting points about stereotyping and half-assed attempts at diversity in the phenom of the Hunger Games etc novel and movie series.

And though 12 Years a Slave will take you through agony on all sides of the story, it will spare you the agony of pretending that a neo-Romanesque chariot ride through the District 1 throngs replete with a cape that bursts into flames is a truly breathtaking cinematic moment.

I found it interesting also, when these two authors and scholars spoke about mirroring, to think of my own teaching and core subjects. While in one class, an IB literature course, the curriculum is fairly diversified, everything from Tartuffe to The God of Small Things to Persepolis, my other course is British Authors.

Now, if there ever were a course in dead white male authors, British Authors is it, although we do thankfully make it to some actual living authors by year’s end.  Keep in mind that the majority of my students are African American, a good portion are Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern and the minority are white, and that when it comes to the question of mirroring, you gotta wonder, what the hell are we doing still teaching the same old stuff?

Well, it is good, I have to admit.  I have a fondness for the likes of Beowulf, “The Pardoner’s Tale,” Macbeth, and “A Modest Proposal,” but if we are offering students the opportunity to respond in a genuine manner that has the potential to strike deep into their own core of thought, is a mirror whose reflection looks nothing like them the best choice of self reflective tools?

Please comment, let me know your thoughts.



One Comment Post a comment
  1. josephine #

    Love the comment about teaching literature of ‘dead white guys.” Good point. I am a teacher in an urban school as well and I often wonder why I am teaching the dead white guys – there is merit – great great literature, and in some ways, these dead guys are the epicenter of great literature, but how to make them interesting and relevant?

    February 16, 2014

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