“At Rich in Color, we want to showcase a wide variety of multicultural books so that kids will be able to see themselves as more than just the sassy best friend, the very special lesson, or the extra in the background.” This was one of the most powerful statements I read this week. In our continuation of learning about the importance of diversity in young adult literature, I was able to see how the lack of diversity impacts people more directly, rather than just why it is necessary. I guess I had never really thought about how the non-white characters in my favorite stories all had something in common – they were not the main characters.
This got me thinking, why do we find books about people like us so much better? Yes, relating to the story makes it more enjoyable, but there are so many more things we can have in common with characters than race. We can be the outcasts, the children of divorce, the high schooler stuck in chemo at prom, the traveler lost in an international airport, or the face waiting for bouncing dots on a screen to become a message from a crush. Race does not discriminate against life. So why do we, meaning society, keep publishing white characters in these roles? Let me tell you, I could read a novel about an African American male who loves books, school and skateboarding and still be able to relate to him. It doesn’t take a mirror to relate to a character, it just takes a common interest or two.
My other pondering was how we got to this position. Looking at history, we can see we are practically conditioned to live non-diverse lives, so of course it is going to show up in our reading. But the looking at the past fifty years of civil history in America, people are calling for a difference. Now it is time art follows life and shows readers the lives of all, not just the expected. How are we supposed to lead students to believe we are all equal regardless of race, sexuality, socioeconomic difference or any other assumption when they can read about are average white people? Everyone is important enough to be in a book. Historically, art was used to critique politics, not emphasize them, so let’s get back to revealing what is really going on, not reinforcing downfalls.
I believe what we read plays a huge part in our character. We need more diverse books so our youth can become more accepting and learn as much as they can about others.