This is not about you

School-library-014 edcan-v54-1-peck.png 6972143_orig Multicultural Britain

Multiculturalism

Diversity

Celebrating Difference

Mosaic

Melting-pot

Assimilation

All these terms have been variously used to describe the way in which immigrant minorities are regarded in majority Western, white societies and even in cases where the immigrants (settlers) are now the majority and the minorities are indigenous.

There is a whole lot to unpick about all these terms but I’m going to concentrate on the (you’d think!) fairly non-inflammatory words:

Diversity in Children’s Books

Nice words, aren’t they?

‘The state or quality of being different or varied.’ is my plucked-from-the internet dictionary definition of diversity.

Different or varied is good, right?

And in children’s books? Who doesn’t love a bit of difference or variation in a kid’s book?

Well, you’d be surprised.

Despite the fact that when googling ‘Diversity in children’s books’ approximately 16 trillion articles come up, telling us

  1. why more diversity would be a good thing
  2. how little diversity exists in children’s books

SFAP-stat-block1

(info graphics too!)

Take a moment to read  and reflect on the fact that by 2020 more than half of US children are expected to be of heritage that includes a ‘minority’ ethnic group)

The proportion of the population that is non-white is smaller in the UK but is still 14% and in the 2011 census 6% of children under 5 were of mixed ethnicity more than any single ethnic group

We don’t have  figures for the UK children’s book market, but a  glance at any library  or bookshop shelf will show  few books with main characters of colour. Even in London where the proportion of self-identified people of colour is well over 40%, you will not see a children’s book event or book selection reflecting these figures. Malorie Blackman our lovely previous (to Chris Riddell) Children’s Laureate even commented on it.

Here’s a handy FAQ that may be useful before you plunge into a discussion or even a ‘social media spat’ as I believe they’re called:

Q: What about  (x, y and z) minority group? Shouldn’t they have books representing their own experience too?

A: Absolutely. By saying kids of colour need books reflecting their existence in our society we are not negating the very real requirements of other kids.

Q: But won’t we just have bad books if we specifically write books with POC? Won’t they be all PC goody-goody boring  and yawn ?

A: Unlikely, because publishers, booksellers librarians and other gatekeepers do not have an interest in promoting books that kids won’t read. We will have excellent books, good books and probably bad books too. Just like we have books about white children that are excellent, good and bad.

Q: Why are you making me write characters that are P.O.C.?

A: Please refer to the title of the post. No one is tying you to a tree and making you do anything.

Q: I want to write  P.O.C. but I’m scared of being criticised.

A: As with anything else in writing (or indeed life) expect criticism if you do it badly. Are you writing from personal experience? Or do you have friends and family from that particular ethnic/cultural/religious/other group? If the answer is no and no then treat it like anything else you know nothing about. Do your research. If you are criticised you will at least be able to cite your sources. N.B. There are myths in certain cultures which are held to be sacred and  I suggest you consult experts from those cultures for guidance.

Q: My Art is a Sacred Expression of my Inner Being. Why all these stupid rules?

A: Please see the title. You are free to write as you wish and others are free to criticise you.  Art does not exist in a vacuum, it is the product of an individual’s history, world view, time, place, gender, race, religion and culture.

Q: Mirrors! Huh! Why should books be mirrors

A: No one is saying books should be mirrors.

It is a metaphorical expression of the phenomenon whereby books may act for children as mirrors (of their own life/experience ) windows (into another life/experience) and doors (into a wider world/life/experience) If a child never sees characters resembling his/her self they see only windows and doors. No mirrors. Also if there are few books about people of other culture/race religion in the marketplace, majority children are not seeing many windows or doors.

Q:  Who cares? I don’t remember reading about another child who was exactly 4 ft 3 at 10 with red curls/brown eyes/ six brothers/ living in a circus. YET I still related to my favourite character who was a grasshopper/an Eskimo/an evil fairy and NOTHING like me.

A: Perhaps this is something you can only understand if you are someone who grew up as a minority in a majority culture.  Someone who has received racial taunts as a child, or grew up seeing only negative or stereotypical representations of their race/culture in books/TV/ films. Someone who has been there.

Q: Why is everything all about diversity all the time now? Sure, diversity is OK in its place but why is it getting, like, everywhere?

A: Because it is everywhere. See the statistics above.

Q:Why is everyone being so mean and aggressive towards me for questioning this diversity stuff! I’m a good person!

A: This is not about you. Really, it’s not.

This is about them

Children reading books in classroom

Children reading books in classroom

About g.r.del

reading, writing and the rest.
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