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Part Two: Diversity is not Racism--Producing Three Beautiful Black Sea Sisters

Shirley Gale

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Continued from Part One

In order to give life and purpose to the three faceless mermaids that hang on my wall, I had to first give them names. Shimmer, StarFire, and SeaStar came to life in my literary vision. I could see them at long last and they were beautiful, brown-skinned,orphaned, mermaid sisters. They reached out to me every time I passed their stilled images on the wall. I had to tell their story. The voice that continually awakened me up in the middle of the night, beckoned me to write a book. Always three and four o’clock in the morning, I could be found in my dimly lit bedroom frantically writing. The question that plagued my thoughts was this: What were my mermaids doing out there in the vastness of the mighty ocean? Of course, they were hunting. But, hunting for what? Well, in my mind, since they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, they were hunting for magic. Why magic? Because, magic had to be found in order to protect them. Protect them from what? They needed protection from predators. What kind of predators? The Great White Sharks, of course. So, where would this magic come from? And why would they need protection? So many questions popped into my mind. I often looked into the vastness of their blank faces for the answers.

Now, that I had the beginning of the plot for my fantasy, I still needed to see the three mermaids on the pages of the book that I’d titled The Hunt for the Magic Pearl. With pencils and paint brushes in hand, I set out to give my half human, half fish their faces—beautiful brown faces. However, each time, I contemplated making them African-American, something inside of me cautioned against it. I had to keep telling myself that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Why shouldn’t they look like me in skin color, hair texture, and body build--strong hips and thighs? Why at my age and cultural experience was I having trouble with my own skin color and reflection? Could I, me, still be subconsciously brainwashed in some way--influenced by a horrible history that should be relived only in my past?

I know that I loved me and I also knew that I wouldn't change one single thing about who I am--especially my skin color... My struggle served to let me know what our children are still experiencing in terms of acceptance of their African-American features and identity. This realization also warned me that there is not nearly enough diversity in our children's literature. I was in a battle to resist my warped concept of beauty.

Despite my unfounded reluctance, I did it. I drew samples and painted them to have brown skin. But I still did not like these images as much as I liked them with White skin. I forced myself to move ahead with illustrations and had my illustrator to produce exactly what I was visualizing. My three mermaid sisters came to life at long last on the pages of my book. They are beautiful renditions of myself. I am pleasantly pleased that they are very much a part of the audience that I seek to reach and teach. I am still drawing and painting my mermaids--turning them from blank, penciled images on white sheets of paper to strong, dark, powerful princesses that protect the Kingdom of Merland.

Please see Part Three for the conclusion of this story.

Part Three: Diversity is Not Racism—The Difficult Road through Publication for Three Mermaid Sisters

“Why didn’t you make the mermaids White?” he said. “You would sell more books if they were white.” These words still echo in my head.

Support diversity in Children’s Literature. Please visit my website, www.readtoachieve2.com to purchase The Hunt for the Magic Pearl today.



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