Diversity for Diversity’s Sake

A friend showed me this video and it inspired me to make this week’s Book Club Thursday to be about the books that intimidate me.  But we do not create in a vacuum and there are more important things to talk about even in the world of books.

At some point in high school, I realized that 80% of the books we were assigned were about guys.  Sure, we read some Jane Austen and To Kill a Mockingbird…but isn’t Atticus Finch kind of the main character of that one?  Once I saw it, I couldn’t not see it.  It felt like the message was: your stories, as a woman, are not as important as the men’s.  Ergo, you are not as important.

It took me longer to consider what skin color most of those protagonists were.  Because I’m white and I have the privilege of being the “default” in that matter.  In books, if race isn’t specified, we as readers assume white.  It’s why there was such an uproar about black Hermione.  As consumers, we should question those assumptions.  But as creators, we should be explicit.  This goes for color, sexuality, gender identity, etc.  As long as society has a default in mind, the creators must go out of their way to define those minority representations if they include them.  And they should be including them.

Yes, I believe in diversity of the sake of diversity.

First of all, thinking diversity in stories is just “political correctness” or “sjw-talk” goes back to the idea that white is default.  “Diversity should add something to the story.”  Well, what does the character being white add to the story?  “Why does that character have to be black?”  As opposed to what, exactly?

The arguments that diversity “isn’t realistic” or books are “fantasy/sci-fi/escape” implies you either think you live in a world of only white people, or you wish you did.  The first is statistically inaccurate.  The second is just scary.

Diversity in stories is especially important because we, as individuals and a society, internalize our stories.  Just like reading only books about boys tells girls they matter less, telling only stories about white people tell people of color the same thing.  And, bonus, it tells white people that too.  Thinking of ourselves as default leads us to think of others as, well, “other,” creating the groundwork for us to think of them as lesser.  It’s especially easy to do since we come from a long history of doing so.

Thinking about that, it occurs to me that, of the African-American stories we do read in school, they’re almost all slave narratives.  It is absolutely something we need to study, but why do we stop there?

I’m white.  I’m speaking from a place of privilege that I’m still learning to acknowledge.  And no, I don’t think changing our stories is the magical, overnight solution.  But I do believe stories are powerful and I do believe they can have a major impact on the people who read them – or listen to them or watch them.  And since nothing is going to change until we do, I think it’s one step we can and should take as a society.

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