Discussion: Diversity in Books

1000 Black Girl Books 2

A little while ago I came across this article on Buzzfeed about an 11-year-old girl called Marley Dias who was frustrated with the lack of books about black girls, so she started a campaign to collect 1000 books with black girls as main characters. 
This really got me thinking. Is it really true that most characters in books are white? And what about the authors, are they all white as well? I took a look at my bookshelf, and to be totally honest with you, I was shocked with the lack of non-white authors I have on my shelves. When I took a closer look at the books I own, I realised that I only had a few books with black characters in them, and only one with a black girl as main character. 
I did some research and I found an article that said that 88% of the books reviewed by the New York Times in 2011 were written by white authors. This means that only 31 of the 655 books were written by people of color (or POC). This is not okay. 
If I’m going to be totally honest with you, I had no idea that this was a problem until it was pointed out to me on the internet, and I feel bad about the fact that I couldn’t see it on my own. I think that if most characters in books would’ve been male, I, as a female, would have noticed. I am not saying that I’m a racist. I don’t think anyone here would. I just think that a lot of people, including myself, are partially blind to problems that don’t affect us. That doesn’t necessarily make us bad people, as long as we do something about it once the problem is pointed out to us. 
One thing I also noticed while doing my research is that this is not only a race-issue. Most characters we read about are able-bodied straight white people, and I think this needs to be changed. 



So why do we need more diversity in literature?

Representation Matters 1

Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on.  I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, hum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t a maid!’  I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be. 

Quote by Whoopi Goldberg.

When I first read this quote, I had tears in my eyes. As a white cis-female I see myself represented everywhere. Almost every fantasy YA-book I read has a white female main character, and because I can relate to them, I can think ‘Hey, this girl is just like me, and she is super bad-ass, so I can be too.’ When I read a YA-contemporary novel about a guy falling in love with a girl, I can feel wanted because whenever he described the girl (blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles, pale skin) I could feel wanted, because the girl was a lot like me, and if this dreamy fictional guy could love a girl like her, surely someone could fall in love with me. 
This is exactly why representation is important. I could built confidence from seeing myself represented in those books, but not seeing yourself represented not only takes this opportunity to build confidince away from you, it can make you feel like you’re not important. And be honest for a second, when is the last time you read a YA-contemporary novel about someone falling in love with a black girl? Or with a trans-boy who has a certain handicap? Chances are it’s been some time, because there just aren’t a lot of books like that out there. I find this troubling. (And reading about a guy falling in love with almost exactly the same type of girl in each novel is getting a bit boring to me.) 
There are many lesson plans and units on here about how to teach diversity in the classroom.

I’m getting a bit personal here, but I have a panic disorder and some days I can’t even leave the house. I’m not saying this because I want you to pity me, but because I want to explain that sometimes I feel really alone. I know I’m not the only one going through this, but it does feel that way sometimes, and that’s where books can help me. It would be amazing to me to read a book about someone going through the exact same stuff, showing me that I’m not alone and giving me hope. I think that this is the same way other people feel. A book about someone like you can help you accept yourself, be proud of yourself and where you came from, and help you get through the struggles you’re facing right now. Besides that, by reading a book you can also see what another person is going through and can improve your empathy greatly. Friends of mine who read Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (a books about a girl with anxiety issues) now know what I’m feeling and what I’m going through, and know how they can help me. This is really amazing to me, and I want to do the same for other people. 

“Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?”Quote by Walter Dean Meyers 

Books are such a great teaching method. I get a lot of my ideas and opinions from reading about certain things in books, but how are we going to teach kids about the fact that everyone is equal and that everyone is important, when they only read about white kids in their books? Of course there are POC placed in the background-pictures, but that just isn’t enough. This is the root of a certain type of thinking. I remember seeing the video of two kids who had a black doll and a white doll in front of them and then they had to point to the ‘pretty one’ and to the ‘ugly one’. Both of these kids chose the white doll as the ‘pretty one’ and the black doll as the ‘ugly one’. These kids are so young and they do not get these opinions on their own. They do not wake up one day and decide that white people are prettier. I really believe that not representing everyone equally is one of the reasons why kids can start to think this way, and by representing everyone equally we can really change this.

The most simple reason why we need more diversity in books is probably this one. The reality is that there are POC, people with a disability and LGBTQIA+ people in this world, and to reflect what the real world is like we need to include them in the story. Period.


What can we do?

First of all, I want to point out that, in my opinion, we don’t have to ban all able bodied straight white authors. I, however, do want to make an effort to read more diverse authors and books, because there are many great ones that just aren’t on my radar right now. I also want to educate myself more on this topic. I already read a lot about this while doing my research, but there’s still a lot to learn. 

Down below I have a few links that might help you if you’re interested in this topic.

Find out more about the topic


Where to find diverse books:

    Disclaimer:
    As I said, I still have a lot to learn about this topic. I am sorry about any mistakes that I might have made while writing this blogpost. 

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