The United States is supposed to be a melting pot or a salad bowl or whatever metaphor you what to use to describe a country made up of may different immigrants and races and familial traditions, right? That’s why it’s so important for various mediums, like books, to reflect that diversity, whether you’re American or not. It’s super important because everyone deserves to see themselves in the books they love, but also because it helps expose other people to different cultures or lifestyles or backgrounds. That is a huge reason why I need diversity in my books: I get so little of it in my everyday life.
I’m from a state that’s somewhere in the middle-ish of the United States, and my area is definitely lacking in non-white citizens. Add in the fact that I went to a local private, Catholic school for my whole pre-college education, and you get a bunch of white, Catholic/Christian, straight (or at least not willing to come out in an environment that definitely isn’t the most open) peers and teachers and parents. There was one lone African American girl who started in my grade in fifth grade and remained with us until high school, when she was then replaced with a lone African American boy. They weren’t the only black students in the school, but they were one of the few, and I think it’s safe to say that they were stuck representing their whole race at times. There weren’t many other non-white students, either – I don’t remember any Asian or Hispanic students in my own grade. The closest we came to minorities were quite a few Italian students whose grandparents were all immigrants, but in a Catholic school, it didn’t seem like that made a huge difference.
Even now that I’m in college, I went to a university near my hometown, and there are still always a handful of minority students in each class. I was in an African American literature class where the majority of the students were white. When I visit the large city where my younger sister goes to college, I’m always kind of surprised by how many non-white people I see, which is really, really sad, since it’s probably not that many, just more than I’m used to.
So, basically, I’ve lived a very sheltered life where most people I meet are just like me or very similar. If I wanted to see a Disney princess who looked like me, I had a variety of blondes to choose from; children’s show ensembles always had children that looked like me; and there was a super-high chance that any movie, book, or TV show that I consumed would have a white protagonist, if not always female. And this is all really, really sad.
The world is made up of so many different kinds of people! There are so many interesting cultures, traditions, and lifestyles that I could have been learning about for two decades now! Instead of seeing more of the same in the books I read, I could have learned more about children in Africa, South America, Asia, Europe, and Native American reservations that are different and yet the same.
It’s also sad how long it took me to realize that I didn’t have to stick to my own perspective when I’m learning about different things. I don’t think there’s an exact point when I realize “hey, there are other cultures to learn about! I can stop rereading the same ideas over and over again!” but by the time I reached high school, I was slowly starting to search out different perspectives.
At a Catholic high school, it’s hard to get a look at other religions, for example, but I got a tiny bit excited when I decided to take World Religions for my senior year (it was either that or a class about “Life and Death” that involved thinking about death (obviously), which I don’t like doing at all, and going to a mortuary, which did not sound like something I wanted to do at all). I wanted to learn more about other religions – I mean, I barely know anything about non-Catholic Christian faiths, let alone religions there are completely removed from Christianity. I was ready to learn – which is why it sucked even more when the priest (yes, I’ve been taught by two priests, one deacon, and one nun, plus had a nun for my elementary school principal) teaching the class cared so little about other religions. The majority of the class was focused on Catholicism (like we hadn’t been learning about that for twelve freaking years), then Christianity, then Judaism, which Christianity grew out of, then however many other religions he could cram into a day or two of classes. We had the perfect opportunity to learn more and it just didn’t happen.
So, I’m determined to do that on my own. I wish we could say that race isn’t an issue anymore, but it obviously is, especially when readers have to try to find books with diversity rather than pulling a book from a bookstore out at random and discovering new worlds and cultures and protagonists. Until my own world and bookshelves reflect the diverse world we live in, I’m going to try my hardest to seek out the diversity I need.
This post was written for the first month of the Dive Into Diversity challenge – check out Estelle’s own post and other links!