This series includes some of my favorite images from the #weneeddiversebooks campaign, author/blogger posts, and my own insights (obvi). In Part II I explain why diversity is just the tip of the iceberg in this conversation and include my own observations about the danger of “distancing ‘the other'” through culling the literary herd and censorship. Should be a pretty light read . Warning: ink (or…pixels?) will be spilled. In Part I, I discussed my personal and professional connection to #weneeddiversebooks, and why I value the initiative. I wrote,
I worry that without exposure to diverse experiences and populations, it’s too easy to take life at face value. Diverse characters question my view of the human experience. If I think everyone lives like me or faces the same obstacles as I do, I would have a narrow, limited view of life. Books show me a worldview other than my own, and make me think about life outside my little slice of the universe.
Let’s pick up that thread, but expand it just a touch. We often talk about the value diverse books have for underrepresented demographics, but as this HuffPost piece points out, “Seeing only white characters in books can turn children of color off of reading, but it also keeps white children from getting a clear picture of the world they live in.” Limiting our exposure to people “like us” and reading books that reinforce our own worldview can have implications and consequences. For example, we may perceive experiences as shared, or assume there’s common ground when there isn’t. Even the Bible contradicts itself and includes differing perspectives of events – and that’s okay! People who live in a bubble – like I did, for the most part – can use books as a vehicle for seeing other lives and cultures; kids have an opportunity to recognize other problems and other sources of happiness. When you look at something solely from your POV, you’re limited by your own blinders – to plight, but also to joy. If those books aren’t available, that opportunity for understanding is limited. Without any kind of connection, we may distance the other.
“Distancing the other” is a phrase I encountered back in my Gender Studies days. In this post, I’m using it less as a physical descriptor (think pogroms) and more of a sociocultural one (enclaves) – though, I guess, the sociocultural could lead to the physical. It’s not quite xenophobia, but it is getting there.
If we only expose ourselves to things that reinforce our perceptions, we won’t know there can be a difference. We may not respect those with lives other than our own. We may issue judgment based on unrealistic expectations or perceptions. After all, you have a good life – so why shouldn’t someone else?
Going a step further – what happens when those kids grow up? What happens when they make choices beyond themselves? Voting, budgeting, leading – all acts of power (great or small), and all susceptible to biases created by our own constraints. We can argue causality and correlation all day, but keep in mind that I’m not using this blog post to drag out statistics and quantifiably prove why diversity is a good thing (I left my high horse Metrics in the stable today). Frankly, I’m not sure myself – does a lack of diversity reinforce that xenophobia is acceptable, or does distancing the other create a lack of diversity? It gives rise to another “chicken or the egg” idea that I have, that I want to put out there for discussion and more research. It’s a tenuous claim made by someone who believes literature can be subjective and open to interpretation, and conversations about the role of literature may be subjective as well.
When we talk about diversity and distancing the other, I’ve seen few posts touch on censorship and banned books. However tiny, I think there’s something worth exploring in that conversation. We should be asking why we challenge books that make us uncomfortable. We should be asking why we push away books that lead to difficult conversations. We should respect that parents want to protect children from a harsh, cruel world, but we also have to acknowledge that sometimes in the desire to speak louder, we don’t just drown out the other voices – we silence them. Tune in tomorrow for Part III, a discussion of ongoing initiatives and avoiding the fetishization of diversity in literature.
Have more questions, answers, or flat-out refutations of the points above? The only things I censor are spam and comments that throw shade on my sweet style.