Dearth of Diversity

Olivia Ybarra

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In a nation full of diversity, we seem to lack a positive representation of variety in our media. Many children are colorblind when it comes to the actual possibilities that are out there for children’s literature. They grow up trained to expect white characters in their books because that is all they have been exposed to. An English teacher for elementary schools by the name of Darren Chetty had his students write their own stories. After suggesting that the students use a character from their family, Chetty noticed that only one student had taken up this opportunity. He was a new student who had just moved from Nigeria, eager to tell his classmates about his uncle. When the young boy said his uncle’s name, “he was interrupted by another boy, who was born in Britain and identified as Congolese. ‘You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people,’” according to Chetty’s article, “Young Writers of Colour”. It is a bit surprising to hear this statement come out of a child’s mouth, yet it is understandable. Children are not getting the presentation of diversity that they should be.

In my opinion, diverse literature would be a book that exemplifies characters of minorities when it comes to multiple subjects such as race, religion, disability, LGBT+, gender, and culture. Some examples would be Young Water Protectors by Aslan Tudor and White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman. So books including diverse characters have been published, yet they usually stick to the stereotypes of that diverse quality. For example in the article, “Can diversity in children’s books tackle prejudice”, Katy Scott refers to Horning’s statement that when there are children’s books about African Americans published, “they often fall into broad categories: slavery, books set during the civil rights movement and books that tell ‘gritty, contemporary’ stories about children growing up in struggling families or teens dealing with violence.” Although, this is presentation, it is limiting the aspects of diversity to society’s expectation. How are children expected to oversee prejudice when authors are blindly minimizing the opportunities for diverse individuals? The adults’ perspective is what needs to change. Teachers or tutors, librarians, and parents need to be introducing new varieties of books and not only books reflecting themselves.

“Imagine a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.” This is one of the main messages the We Need Diverse Books organization conveys. This organization strives to promote children’s literature that presents diversity in religion, LGBT, disability, race or ethnicity. Their website includes information about panels to further the discussion of presentation in diverse children’s books. The non-profit organization has created multiple programs to mentor writers and illustrators, support diversity publishers, and to bring these books to classrooms nationwide. As most of us are not authors of diverse books, or if you aren’t able to get involved through volunteering for events and programs, you can simply donate through paypal at their website, to contribute to their project.

The lack of diversity presentation in literature for children has made it unable for kids to see themselves reflected in what they read, but also unable to see the possibilities of their future. Through the stories children are given, they create their own outlook on the world with their relationships to others, their purpose, their opportunities, etc. Without diversity representation in these books, children of color are inevitably out of reach when it comes to their imagination. After getting involved in the discussion of diversity in literature, I have gathered some important points and possible solutions. The main solutions would be for the adults to promote stories with characters of diversity, get the conversation started in your own organizations to further the support of representation, and create events or contribute to already established events by utilizing discussion panels to educate others.