Tuesday I saw an article in Smithsonian. “The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys.” Whoa. It was a surreal moment because I grew up knowing all about these cowboys.
An electrician by trade, my father was a history buff. We toured every fort we passed, scoured museums and walked paths reading signs. I grew up hearing about these cowboys as well as the buffalo soldiers. We discussed the African American families that moved West after the Civil War as well as the escaped slaves that found homes as members of various tribes. Lesser known? Honey, I grew up on this history.
But the problem is that what we KNOW may not be well known by the dominant culture. A friend of mine wrote a mystery set in a small, fictitious Missouri town. She has a four way stop in the middle of town and now I’m trying to remember what was there. Post office, bank and something else maybe? Her editor, a New Yorker, challenged her on this. “These things don’t exist.” This same editor had never heard of the New Madrid fault let alone the New Madrid earthquake. Missouri reality is apparently not “mainstream.”
Not everyone you deal with from either coast is going to be so immune to other realities. But some people truly have not heard of the things that we assume are “known.” That’s why making sure that diverse books are available is so important. Books on all cultures and time periods and different types of science need to be out there. Thta way the kid who comes home with a bag full of books every week has access to a wide range of stories. In twenty years, she’ll be the one looking at Smithsonian saying, ” Little known? I read about that when I was 8!”