On the Definition of Diversity

Over the last few months, diversity has been the topic of discussion among librarians and book lovers. And for good reason. With campaign hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks  , the conversation about diversity in books has been strong. More readers are seeking out diverse characters and diverse stories, and that is awesome.

But the question remains: What makes a story diverse?

It seems that, for most readers, people are talking about diverse literature as having people of color. And that’s a great starting point for defining diversity. It’s a much needed starting point, because this is the biggest GLARING under-representation in literature.

But that’s not all diversity is about.

(Before going any further, I understand that I naturally come from a place of privilege. I am white. I have the privilege of picking up most any book and finding myself among the pages. But as a librarian, I strive for each and every patron to be able to do the same thing.)

 

During the YALSA symposium, this topic was discussed pretty much the entire weekend! There was a lot of talk about diverse literature, from the panels to the poster presentations. And SO many conversations turned to diversity in books, and what types of characters/situations are missing.  And you know what? There are quite a lot of stories not being told.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign has been a great starting point for conversations about diversity in literature. But based on conversations on Twitter that happened during the symposium and other comments I have seen and heard, there are some assumptions about the definition of diversity that kind of irks me. So my plea, as a reader and a librarian:

Can we all just agree that diversity is more than just race?

According to Dictionary.com, diverse “includ[es] representatives from more than one social, cultural, or economic group, especially members of ethnic or religious minority groups”.  Diversity encompasses so many different types of stories, and we need ALL of these stories. We need stories about people of color. We need stories about LGBTQ characters. We need stories about people with disabilities or mental illness concerns. We need stories about characters living in poverty. We need stories about adopted characters, or characters in foster homes. We need stories about Jewish characters, and Muslim characters, and Hindi characters, and Buddhist characters. We need stories about Atheists and Agnostics. We need stories about black gay characters, and a Muslim character with OCD, and a white family living in rural poverty, and an adopted character with LGBTQ parents. We need diverse stories about diverse characters, period. 

Don’t get me wrong: we DESPERATELY need more equal representation of all races. We need more persons of color in ALL literature. But if we are going to campaign so hard for racial diversity, we need to campaign for ALL types of diversity in literature. We need ALL types of diverse stories, because our country is made up of SO MANY types of people with SO MANY diverse qualities. And I FIRMLY believe that each and every reader that walks into a library or a bookstore should be able to pick up a book and find him/herself in it. THAT is what diverse stories means, and THAT is what we should be striving for.

~*~*~

This is a conversation that I am wanting to continue having. I will be continuing it next semester, as I am taking an Issues in Librarianship: Gender, sexuality, and race. I am really excited about this class, to learn more and be able to education myself even more. So there will probably be more discussion posts like this from time to time.

Love and Broccoli Cheddar Soup,
Jennifer

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