Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Question for Readers: What Makes it a #Diverse Book?

Diversity matters. It does. Well, to be fair: diversity matters if you are interested in higher achievement scores, thinking processes, decision making, interpersonal relationships, enjoyment, and developmental outcomes for those involved. I guess if you don't care about any of those things, you might disagree that diversity matters and might argue that it's not important.
This post isn't about talking anyone into believing that or about spouting off facts that make it true. I'm going to assume that we are all on the same page about that or that you don't need that underlying assumption to engage in a meaningful conversation about diversity in books. 

There's been a shift that I have noticed in the focus on making sure that there are diverse characters in books and other media. It may be that this shift happened 100 years ago and I've just opened my eyes to it. But I don't think so. At the very least, there seems to be a renewed interest in expanding what we think of as diverse characters (to include not just race and gender but also religion, class, sexual orientation, nationality) and to encourage and support authors who are from diverse backgrounds. Just go check out the #RepresentationMatters hashtag on twitter if you don't believe me. This is a THING. Writers who rely solely on homogenous, non-realistic/ representative characters are being called out for their ignorance and their seemingly purposeful attempts to thwart the benefits to all readers of seeing different points of view in their books and media. Interestingly, this shift is also happening in the job market, education, teaching, and training in higher education., here's my diversity problem of the month. I've decided to add a little WNDB sticker to my book reviews for books that count as having characters or author's from an "underrepresented" backgrounds. But, what counts as diversity? I'm still working on this for myself.

Is it enough that a character is not explicitly described as being a middle aged, white, cis-male, heterosexual with a job? Does it count if a "minority" character is described and is the secretary or running a shop that is visited several times in the story but has no development of their own? How important is diversity and the descriptions of diversity if they characters are elves and trolls? I mean, can it be considered representation if the characters are all mythical but have different skin tones and same- sex partnerships? Does an author count as diverse if they are white- appearing but from Spain? What if! What if, there are characters who are described as diverse but the fact that they come from different backgrounds plays no role in the story, at all? If you can remove a person's diversity and it doesn't change the story, does it matter? You see what I'm saying?
So, without considering these things, we really are left with very superficially diverse stories and characters. I'm still working on my criteria, so right now it's really like the difference between porn and art: I know it when I see it. And some things are much more obvious than others.

What's your minimum criteria to consider a book a #diverse book?

Related post on this blog: Diversity and My Little Free Library

Related posts elsewhere on the interwebs:

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