Within this age of America, our national demographic is made up, more than ever, of people of various nationalities, ethnicities, body types, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc. Yet, for the longest time, mainstream literature has not corresponded with that reality, presentation white, cisgender, straight, able-bodied protagonists as the norm.
In Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s (CCBC) 2017 Multicultural Statistics Report, out of “the approximately 3,700 books they received at the CCBC in 2017, most from U.S. publishers, here’s the breakdown:
- 340 had significant African or African American content/characters
- 72 had significant American Indian/First Nations content/characters
- 310 had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content/characters
- 216 had significant Latinx content/characters”
- Partial percentage of these books were written by #OwnVoice authors, meaning people who share the same identity/background of the central characters
However, in recent years, numerous authors and agents in the publishing field have reacted against these biases, utilizing social media to create a widespread movement.
In 2014, following the announcement of an all-male, all-white children’s panel at BookCon, various authors, such as Young-Adult author Ellen Oh, created the #WeNeedDiverseBooks, calling out the lack of diversity in books while advocating for more inclusive representation.
The hashtag soon generated a mass online discussion, eventually developing into an official, non-profit organization, advocating for “essential changes in the publishing industry.” The company’s aim “is to help produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people,” their vision to create a “world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”
One may question the importance of such a movement and organization, questioning why more diversity in literature is necessary. In her essay, “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors”, author and educator, Rudine Sims Bishop, utilized metaphors, “windows and “mirrors”, within reading.
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.
When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
Authors such as Bishop understand the vitality of literature, recognizing that within fiction, readers may be able to recognize and see their personal backgrounds authentically reflected, feeling less alone in a world that may unconsciously or consciously erase their identities. Reading also allows others to connect with people from different backgrounds, with science studies suggesting that reading triggers areas within the mind correlated to empathy.
Without a doubt, one of the most important purposes of writing is not merely to entertain but to enlighten. James Baldwin once wrote,
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”