Do Books Lack Diversity? by Julia Callini

What are the most popular books we read? The classics, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, Lord of the Flies, William Golding, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne. And we have today’s bestsellers, The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, Me Before You, JoJo Moyes, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins, Paper Towns, John Green. What’s up with this? Many people are facing this problem, while few publishers are doing anything to change it.

What are the perks of having books by diverse authors?
For starters, children (or anyone for that matter) is more likely to feel more understood, and when they feel more understood, they become more empathetic. When you have someone you can relate to, you are more likely to turn to them when you are in need of help. Many excellent readers don’t realize this, but when upset, they turn to reading, to someone who understands what they are going through.

In 2014, there were 393 books published about people of color, of which 225 (57%) were by people who were not from the group in which they wrote about. This can be quite problematic, in some cases. Authors can often abuse or carry out stereotypes with the culture. For example, I read a book by a white author about a young latina girl growing up in a small town in southern California. Her parents are poor, illegal immigrants who are illiterate and own a taco restaurant. Oh, and her brother was arrested for dealing marijuana. Every Mexican stereotype right there people. It was a little insulting, honestly. I have a few friends who are latina, and yes, their parents do make delicious tacos, but they are not poor, illegal, illiterate immigrants. They are very nice, kind people who have worked hard and live in a nice neighborhood and are genuinely caring. I do not think for a millisecond that my friends brother would try to sell me pot (he works as a therapist at a rehab center, so the chances are extremely low).

Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Books
I was babysitting my cousins, and they asked me to read them a bedtime story (which I was more than happy to do, of course). They chose the book “I’m Glad I’m a Boy, I’m Glad I’m a Girl”, by Wendy Darrow. It was chock-full of stereotypes like “Boys are doctors, Girls are nurses”, “Girls can cook, Boys can eat”, “Boys invent things, Girls use things that the boys invent”. As a feminist myself, I was extremely insulted. I come from a family of hardworking women and won’t dumb myself down to “just” be a nurse, instead of a doctor. I’m afraid that if little girls read this book, they will only think that they have to be the cook, and the boys will think that a) they don’t have to learn to cook; girls will do it for them, or b) that cooking isn’t “manly” enough.

After all, we are promoting empathy and respect for all people, but why aren’t we putting that into books?

 

Statistics from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2015/03/05/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-publishing-2015/

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