Wednesday, September 26, 2018
WRITER 2 WRITER: DIVERSITY - WHAT IS IT AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Clergyman and long-time Civil Rights activist William Slone Coffin Jr. once said, “Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.”
Diversity refers to recognizing people with varied experiences, including gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, and religion.
The term “diversity” is a hot-button topic in publishing right now, particularly in the children’s book industry because of the gap between the numbers of young readers from diverse backgrounds and the books that represent them.
For example, in 2014, 51% of children enrolled in American schools were of diverse ethnicities: black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, and so forth. And yet out of the 3200 books for children published that year, only 12% featured characters of color. A decade earlier, that number was only 9%. The stats are even more dismal for LGBTQ characters and those from different cultural and religious backgrounds
Why does diversity matter?
Think back to when you were a kid or a teenager. What was your favorite book? Chances are once you opened its cover and started reading, you got completely absorbed in the story. Even when you weren’t reading it, you thought about it a lot and couldn’t wait to pick it up again. The emotional high from that story, whether a fast-paced adventure, a heart-pounding romance, or mind-boggling mystery has stuck with you all these years.
People who read, especially children, often experience what is called mirroring. When we read a compelling book, our brain literally responds as if we were experiencing the events in the story ourselves. That is why we can feel transported into the books we read. In an emotional sense, we become those characters. We feel what they feel, as if the story were happening to us.
Mirroring is fundamental to helping children develop their imaginations, discover their own identities, and foster empathy and compassion for others. This is why it is essential that children have access to books that feature diverse characters. Not only do kids need to read about characters who are like themselves (ie. similar race, gender, etc.), but they also need exposure to cultures and backgrounds that differ from their own.
Fortunately, thanks to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign (founded in 2014) and other grass roots movements, the publishing industry now recognizes the lack of diverse books and is taking steps to correct it. Unfortunately, their efforts often result in white authors writing books about kids of color, or straight authors writing about gay kids. Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that the publishing industry itself suffers from a lack of diversity.
In 2014, 88% of all children’s books published were written by white authors, and 79% of industry professionals (editors, publishers, publicists, etc.) were white, which forces us ask the questions: Why aren’t more people of color and diverse backgrounds writing books for children? And how can we reach today’s diverse youth and encourage them to become tomorrow’s storytellers?
It’s a complex problem that includes issues such as high school drop-out rates, poverty, and the inaccessibility of books in low income communities. Motivating white authors to write books with diverse characters is just the first step to correcting a problem that has existed for more than a century. But our true aim is to increase the number of diverse authors who write these books.
How can you help?
– If you are an author, write stories with diverse characters.
– If you are a teacher or librarian, stock your shelves with diverse books and recommend them to others.
— If you are a parent, grandparent, or guardian, purchase and read diverse books to your children.
— If you care about kids and about books, visit http://WeNeedDiverseBooks.org and either donate to support their cause or volunteer.
The most important thing you can do to make a difference…is to do something. It’s as easy as reading…or writing…a story.