Unless you’ve been living under a rock or off the grid, you no doubt have seen the HUGE discussion on diversity in books and why we absolutely, positively, definitely need it. I’ve chosen, for the most part, to not participate in a lot of the discussion. I do believe there needs to be more diverse characters in books, especially those that we are pushing on other readers, be they adults, teens, or kids. But for me, personally, I don’t like “diversifying” my reading just for the sake of diversifying it.
I know this is a super unpopular opinion so let me ‘splain.
When I was in college I took this hybrid history/literature class on Mexican and Native American um… history and literature. It was, honestly, super boring. Basically we had to read a million pages of history and literature for each class session and then sit in a circle and discuss what we’d read. As a somewhat narrow-minded 19 year old, I did not care about either culture and their history and literature. (Please note: this was not me being racist. I did not care about Swiss or Lithuanian history and literature either). I was not doing very well in the class either by mid-term, and was also in the middle of transferring to a different school, so I decided to drop the class in order to salvage my already mediocre GPA. I had to go see my advisor to drop the class but he was MIA. I then had to go to the head of the history department to drop the class. He basically chewed me out for wanting to drop it and accused me of being narrow-minded and I should care more about broadening my viewpoints than my GPA.
From here I have gone back and revised this post because I was feeling like an ass about it and realized it’s because it’s not saying what I want it to say.
Since then my world view has broadened and I’m interested in more cultures’ and races’ histories and literature. But I don’t feel like I seek out books on different cultures and races. And again… it’s not that I’m racist (seriously, I think having to say this is lame but I feel like it’s been so ingrained into my head that I have to say it) or hate other cultures. It’s more that I feel like I’m part of a race and a culture that I don’t know enough about. Yes, I realize I’m white. Yes, I realize the majority of literature has white characters as the MCs. That’s not really what I’m saying.
What I’m saying is that I am drawn to books that help me gain a better understanding of where I come from. I want to read books that I can see myself in or see my friends in or find better understanding of events that have happened in my life. I believe everyone, no matter their race or culture, deserves the opportunity to do this.
For example: I’m from the South and I love my home. I have fierce pride in where I am from and I want to read books that encourage reasons to feel pride in my home (which is why I try to stay far far away from books that deal with Southern racism). I have friends who are of Hispanic and Filipino origins (backgrounds?) and family who are Moroccan. I want to read books that help me better understand what their lives were like growing up, what their families might have been like, what challenges they may face. My favorite uncle was murdered and I am still deeply grieving. I want to read books that help me rationalize and come to terms with loss, fear, and anger.
But to pick up a book just because it features a MC minority character? That’s not who I am as a reader. I don’t want to read about a character just because she’s black (or Asian, or Hispanic, or Slovakian or Hindu or Jewish or or or…). I want to read about a character who is funny, spirited, courageous, tough, weak, smart, pretty, exceptional, ordinary, and a huge plethora of other traits who just HAPPENS to be black (or any of the above mentioned races and/or cultures). This is how I like learning about diversity. I like finding similarities as well as finding differences because I think this is what makes our world so great. We all go through some of the same things (in general terms) but seeing how other races or cultures react to them or experience them is interesting to me.
Aside that doesn’t really match the rest of this post but is along the lines of diversity: With all the talk about diversity it made me think about one diversity problem I have with literature and that is weight. I have always struggled with mine and while I’m fine with myself, there are some days I feel like a blimp and the ugliest girl in the world. Not trying to evoke sympathy, just being honest. I have yet to find a book about a girl who is overweight that doesn’t make her weight the main focus of the book and how she tries to lose weight. Yes, I know for women that’s a huge thing and even when we’re the ideal size we still think we’re fat. But not all books are about girls who have the perfect waistline, who are tall, who have long hair, who have unblemished skin. Some of us are short, heavy, short-haired, with pimples. And I know there are writers out there who aren’t the “ideal” body type.
So why don’t they write about people who look like them? Okay, I get why we don’t write about “ourselves” a lot of times, but it would be nice to read more about girls who aren’t perfect who have good things happen to them, is comfortable with who she is and happy with her life and gets the boy who likes her just the way she is.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are some topics, cultures, situations, themes, etc. that I’m just not interested in. I don’t want to read about them just to make myself look better or feel better or whatever. When I seek to diversify my reading (or anything in my life actually) I like to start with things that are close to me that I want to learn more about and give me a better understanding of my own life and the lives of those around me. Maybe I’m selfish like that. Maybe that history professor was right and I am narrow-minded. Maybe that’s not even what diversifying actually is.* But I want to find MYSELF** in books… just like everyone else does. And everyone deserves to find themselves and their friends in books. And thank goodness for increasing opportunities to do so. Let’s keep up the efforts!
*I think we owe it to ourselves and to others to learn as much as we can about our close surroundings to create a better community. My community is not made up of only white, upper-middle class, Republicans with 2.5 kids and a dog.
**Myself = me, my friends, my family, my education, my work, my interests, etc.
Here ends my edits. Hopefully my words are a little more coherent this time around. If not, oh well… I tried!
Wanted to share some of my favorite “diverse” books that have helped me gain better understanding about myself, my friends, our world, events, and some other things.
I really hope you don’t think I’m a horrible person and that this post doesn’t come across as horrible and mean-spirited. Promise, it’s not! I’d also like to know what books you’ve read that have helped you gain a better understanding of your own diverse surroundings/community!