Did you catch the announcement of Joseph Fiennes playing Michael Jackson in an upcoming project? A thought of “seriously?!?” perhaps crossed your mind. Then the photo still surfaced. You thought, “no, seriously?!?”
The problem with these occurrences, if it wasn’t already obvious, is that not only is there already a lack of diversity in casting, but the message is sent that the few roles meant for non-whites can actually be played by whites, too. But, don’t think this extends to just the silver screen films of Hollywood.
We have a real problem in our literature, especially in our children and young adult literature, as well. Would it surprise you that of children’s books published in 2015, 73.3% had white characters? This compared to around 15% depicting diverse characters.
What will you, as an educator, do about this?
Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Doors
It is vital that our students see themselves represented accurately and in compelling form in the world around them. For a school, books are a driving vehicle of providing depictions to students.
We must face the difficulty of finding accurate and robust depictions of diverse characters and make it a key component when selecting and analyzing our collections.
Not only do students need to see themselves reflected, but they need literature that offers a window into others’ experience as well as the chance to feel welcome to join a new space. Bishop speaks about this when she speaks of Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Doors. Grace Lin, a current children’s author, speaks of the effect of not seeing herself mirrored in the books of her youth and furthers Bishop’s point.
Analyzing your “Collections”
I urge you to seek out the spaces where students see representations of themselves: library, classroom bookshelf, curriculum, reading nook, etc. Take a look around and analyze what you see. Then, respond.
- Could each of your students find an accurate* depiction of themselves?
- Is there a wide variety of diversity** represented in your collection?
- What do people with purchasing power see as the role of diversity in decisions? How can you learn from them or support them in growing?
- How well can your students be given “window” experiences? For example, you may have a school that’s 90% white, but those students, perhaps more so, need to read the experiences of diverse characters.
- How would you describe the variety of authors presented to your students?
- Challenge: How often are diverse characters represented in books as just being a person, rather than a representation of their diversity?
*non-biased, not over generalized
**Diversity includes (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities —as defined by #WeNeedDiverseBooks
Programming and Further Reading
- Take a look at my list of titles for an NEA-Diversity-Grant-Books. Not included on this list would be titles that are what you might consider the standard, introductory texts or ones making the awards list, as I have already purchased those titles, such as: All American Boys, Beyond Magenta, Walter Dean Myers titles, March Vol 1-3, Out of My Mind, Sherman Alexie titles, I’ll Give you the Sun, It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
- I have created a display case, a bookmark and a scratch ticket system for reading diverse books. Make diversity part of your everyday speak and part of your mission.
Display Case Banner
Display Case Close-Up: Book Covers, Next Reads
Students love taking bookmarks for any of their reading. My district has a print shop that I can use to create bookmarks for various programming.
I came across scratch ticket programming over the summer. Students read a book by a diverse author or featuring a diverse character and earn a ticket, which can either win a drink at the student store, prize in designated classrooms, new book, piece of candy, or a “no luck” drawing entry.
- I’m hoping in March, timed with Read Across America Day, that I can get my staff during one period, or all my English teachers, to read an opening chapter of a diverse book of their choice, or if I get another grant, they can read the opening of All-American Boys to advertise a book club reading of the book.
- We Need Diverse Books (#weneeddiversebooks) has a wealth of information about the growing call for diverse books, especially for children and teenagers. They have a comparable list of awards that focus on diversity and lists compiled, found here.
- More about the infographic found above, here.
*Infographic: Huyck, David, Sarah Park Dahlen, Molly Beth Griffin. (2016 September 14). Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 infographic. sarahpark.com blog. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/picture-this-reflecting-diversity-in-childrens-book-publishing/ . Licensed with Creative Commons.