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  • Writer's pictureGrace Saadi

A Different Type of Diverse

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

Next time you’re at home, I want you to look at your bookshelf or the stack of old DVD, or VHS’s. Maybe? (that is, if you still have those).But take a moment to ask:

Do you remember the first time you saw yourself in a character?

This is an easy question for me- it was Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Despite the fact that I cannot even recall the first time I had ever watched the movie, little brunette me adored all things yellow, making Belle an obvious choice. But she wasn’t the only option for me, not by a long shot.

It’s easy to answer because so many Disney princesses look like this:

Because that’s just another one of the privileges I had growing up the color that I am. So much of the previous and current media is about characters that more or less “look like me”. Across all genres, demographics, and platforms, it would probably take me mere seconds to find a character that is in some way a physical representation of myself.

To put it bluntly, it far too easy to find a character that’s white.

You don’t need me to tell you that lack of diversity is an issue in almost all forms of media, especially children’s book. It’s an issue that has been present a rather unfortunate constant. And though ethnic representation has gradually increased over the years, many believe that it has not been done so in a proper manner. And that’s because its current manner illustrates POC characters that are almost exclusively defined by their race.

I wouldn’t consider these books bad, in fact, some of them are very necessary and are a definite step in the right direction. But there’s more we can and need to do, as authors, publishers, and especially parents.

I was enlightened on the matter by ethicist and adoptive mother, Brynn Welch. Prior, I thought the concern lied only in the genre’s lack of representation, but with her story, I came to believe otherwise.

Welch tells of when she encounters the book “I am Jackie Robinson”, a purchase she would have happily made for her son if she hadn’t noticed something. Right next to it, was this:

Of the Ordinary People Change the World book series, Welch describes this as a subtle, and hopefully unintentional message. In her words:

"One person changed the world through sports, and another who was a genius… the genius happened to be a white guy.”

After a quick glance online, her suspicions were confirmed. Rather than finding books that also present black intellectuals and white athletes, she found a representation of the multitude of ways a white individual has changed the world.

And how those who were black had only done so through civil rights and sports.

Do not misunderstand the message Welch is presenting, as all of the people are rightfully deserving of being celebrated. But she asks to think about the message that is sent- When we tell these stories about people of color, their race becomes their identity. But isn’t there so much more that these people are capable of? Isn’t there more that we should be telling these kinds no matter the color of their skin?

Alongside this, there has been some rather unfortunate representation with books such as this:

A Birthday Cake for Washington received so much backlash that it was actually recalled from Scholastic back in 2016. The distribution was then halted because many believed it to be a misrepresentation of America’s history with slavery, despite the book’s original positive intentions. There was also the concern that it would give children a false impression of the reality of those slaves.

Another thing Welch brings up is just how effective inclusivity in youth media can be. She references Harry Potter, a series that could really use more diversity as a whole- I’m looking at you J.K. Rowling, this doesn’t count…

Despite the series lack of said representation, the books still create quite an impact on the reader. Why? Because these kids encounter character that look nothing like them, illustrating the message that differences don’t have to be threatening.

But the underlying issue still remains- why is it that white children get so many opportunities to see themselves in these characters?

Children of color deserve to have the same representation they do, to see black characters going on interstellar journeys, or Asian characters venturing on magical quests and so much more. These books do so much to shape each new generation’s imagination, the minds that then grow up in a world we’ve presented to them and it’s up to us to make it one that’s optimistic to everyone no matter their differences.

So, how do we do that?

This issue lies not just in children’s books, it’s in all forms for media. And in a society so keen on staying up to date with the up-and-coming, its rather surprising to me that white is still the default. So, across anything you put your money towards, whether it be books, movies, games, anything, put it towards something that goes against this norm and fights this social issue.

And this goes to parents especially- you’re going to by children’s books, not saying that you need to buy more, but next time go for books like these! As opposed to reaching for one of the classics, try Please, Baby, Please by Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee, Ish or The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. Go for something new and different and diverse!

The everyday consumer can make an impact with these purchases, as it also gives a message to publishers and authors to create more inclusivity. And it also opens the window to authors of color, allowing their message to heard more than it has been in the past. Because these children are capable of achieving anything no matter their differences, as that is not the only thing that defines them.

I, admittedly, have not been as considerate towards this issue, I may never have been if I had not had hopes of publishing my own book one day. Welch admits the same, that it was her son that sparked this desire to see more characters like him. And not just him, but also people of various religions, sexualities, genders, mental/physical abilities, and more.

In all honesty, it’s the least we could do for the next person to change the world, whomever they are and however they look.

Side note: these posts were created for and during a class in college- if you see any images that you recognize or may be your own, please let me know! I will happily give credit or remove any images!


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