Any child might tell you that blacks and whites don't belong together. That's because they aren't seen together in children's books. "The social distance between blacks and whites is persistent throughout children's picture books -- even today," points out Elizabeth Grauerholz, associate professor of sociology at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. "Books show children what their world is like, and the world depicted in children's literature is largely void of interracial cooperation."
Grauerholz and colleagues Bernice A. Pescosolido of Indiana University and Melissa A. Milkie of the University of Maryland studied the portrayal of blacks in U.S. children's picture books from the late 1930s to the 1990s. They found some interesting peaks and valleys in how often blacks appeared. "At the times of greatest social conflict between whites and blacks in this country, blacks disappeared from children's books." Virtually none appear in children's picture books during the seven-year period of 1958 through 1964. ". . . When blacks were most visible in other media -- during the years of civil unrest -- they were absent from these books."
In the late 1960s, blacks were reintroduced as characters in children's books, but in safe and socially acceptable ways. In a few instances, books were reissued with blacks replacing some white characters. "Books with all-black characters also started to emerge -- but they were not contemporary American black men and women. Rather, they depicted distant, historical images of blacks in Africa."
Grauerholz says this reliance on African themes in...