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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best arts magazine in the UK“, great importance lies in the diverse representation in literature, especially when it comes to young minds. Find out what our experts have to say on the topic.
Given a global population of roughly 7.8 billion, the diversity we witness day-to-day is vast and dynamic. We regularly interact with people from a wide range of backgrounds as we go about our lives. And every day, our awareness about the importance of celebrating shared humanity and the beautiful differences that define it grows a tiny bit more. But that’s in the “real world”; what about books? Literature is an indispensable part of our lives. So, shouldn’t our library shelves be just as diverse and dynamic as our communities? How can storytellers help this majorly significant cause, and what’s the true importance of diverse representation in literature? That’s our talk for the day!
What do we mean by diversity in literature?
When we say diverse representation in literature, we mean recognition, respect, and inclusion of true-to-life characters. These are characters with a wide variety of human traits, intersecting various social and economic settings and identities, and who live within or come from diverse contexts. These are characters that are traditionally under-represented. We tell and illustrate stories to reflect and celebrate the depth and breadth of human diversity. For this reason, authors passionate about diversity will not stereotypically showcase minority characters. Instead, they’ll get down to the real nitty-gritty of their character’s livelihood.
Why does it matter?
We live in a world that is greatly ruled by the media. Inclusion in the fictional realm of literature is just like appearing on stage or on television – it signifies social existence. Being systematically excluded, minimized, or condemned by the media as a particular group means, as professor G. Gerbner would put it, symbolic annihilation. It (further) disenfranchises this group, sends a symbolic message about their value, and even perpetuates society’s undervaluing of the excluded group(s). That’s why it matters whose stories get told.
The importance of diverse representation in literature
Everyone deserves to see themselves in the books they read and to feel accepted and loved. Not the whole world is white, abled, straight, cisgender, male, and with a nuclear family structure. So, when people read books and see characters in a similar position or who look, act or think the same way, it anchors their perception of how they fit in society. They feel relieved and less alone knowing other people are like them and who experience life the way they do.
This is especially important for children because it reinforces a positive view of themselves, helping them develop healthy self-images and feel comfortable with who they are.
It brings visibility to cultures different from our own
A more significant part of the answer to the question of why diverse literature is so important comes down to education. As children and adults, it’s normal to anchor our ideas about the world and the people in it on what we see around us and what we’re told. So, without exposure to diverse books, we have no way of learning about other cultures and the problem of marginalization embedded in our society today. Sure, a lot of people travel a lot, and it broadens their minds. And according to a2bmovingandstorage.com, those who have moved and lived in lots of different places swear by the fact that it has made them more trusting and less prejudiced. But not everybody can travel all the time or relocate.
That’s why the books that serve as windows into different cultures and people deserve a big nod. They help us, especially children, open our minds to those who are different from us, change our attitude toward those differences, and shed light on the challenges minority groups experience daily.
Developmental psychology research has shown time and time again that storybooks can be incredible empathy-building vehicles for children and adults. The simulated, abstract experiences and narratives can influence kids’ awareness of what different people in different situations may feel. As a result, they can better identify with someone outside of their Self and their own circle. They get to see outside their own little world, walk in another’s shoes, and see things from a perspective they may never encounter. This not only minimizes fostered bias and prejudice but also helps cultivate compassion, awareness, and understanding.
Not every read with diverse characters underlines diversity as a different experience. Some of these books simply spotlight a slice of everyday life that discloses one simple truth of the human experience: ultimately, we’re not so different after all. In fact, we are all so much more similar than we are different. And by getting to know the characters from our books, we become more aware of that.
Curiosity in children is inspiring and infinite. It’s one of their characteristics that should be carefully cultivated, which is why we have this enormous responsibility when choosing community reads. The right choice will create an opening for discussions about current events they hear in the classroom, on the news, or at home. And when these little sponges read about an experience in a book, it readies them for a larger discussion in a safe place.
Builds critical thinking
The main point of a well-written book on diversity is not to cause discourse among readers. However, development is not possible without it. Wanting to protect our children is perfectly valid; however, recent research has shown that censorship actually works against us. It discourages open discussion and authoritatively controls information when children should actively build the capacity to think for themselves. By encouraging diversity in the materials that we consume – regardless of how controversial the topic – we are promoting awareness, inclusiveness, and empathy. We are cultivating our children’s ability to decide on their own what’s right and wrong. We are giving them tools for growth and putting our faith in them to make the right decisions.
Check your bookshelf!
For decades now, there’s been an ongoing discussion about the importance of diverse representation in literature. However, it is only over the past few years that it has become more visible and weighed with importance rather than as a hindrance among publishers, researchers, and readers. Everybody realizes it’s no longer something we can afford to ignore as a society. Books are unbelievably powerful, so they inevitably play a major role in this global problem. We must seek change and work hard to make the world a safe and equal place for all!
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