Diversity in Children’s Books

If you’ve paid attention to any suggested reading lists, the one word you’ll hear over and over again is diversity. While I understand that we are a diverse people with many different backgrounds, I don’t feel that diversity is really what is being extolled at this time.

When I look at the current lists, I’m seeing exclusionism.

Children see differences starting around 3 months, and babies will show a preference for others that look and sound like the group they are familiar with. In psychology this is known as the ‘in-group’ and is reserved for close family and friends. Children see the in-group as a collection of individuals. Everyone else is in the ‘out-group.’ There isn’t any natural negative association for the out-group, it’s simply the group that is less familiar.

As children grow, they are constantly trying to figure out where they fit in the bigger picture. They continually form and re-shape their opinions based on generalities, and they complete leaps of logic that don’t always make sense to adults since they have less information to work with. We tell our children to find the similarities in different people, but they can’t understand vague notions with no visible evidence. So, they form their opinions based on what they experience.

Many books and shows for young children focus on family, so tend to show one race or culture. If our children never see various peoples mixing, they assume it isn’t right. We reinforce this idea when we push a ‘color-blind’ approach by not speaking about differences. Of course, we also reinforce this idea when celebrating diversity without stressing our similarities.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with stories about ‘the brave [enter race] little [enter gender] who overcame [enter socio-economic hardship] through bravery and courage’, I think we are effectively showing our children that our differences are much more important than our similarities. This only reinforces the biases we are trying to minimize.

Industry wide, book publishers are seeking diversity books. But, when authors are told their story can’t be published because it’s either not about a minority group or not written by a minority author, there is something wrong. This is exclusionism. The publishing industry is now actively discriminating in favor of anything that is considered a minority, regardless of the quality.

There are groups voicing the opinion that we need more authors of non-Caucasian background. I think that is a laudable goal. But instead of raising up people of different backgrounds to a level of success, they are lowering standards to make people feel included. In fact, when authors such as Lionel Shriver speak out against lowering education standards, they risk reprisals from the very firms that extol diversity.

Reducing quality standards to include people just to make them feel better only fosters failure.

I fully believe in diversity of thought and will continue to seek out strong stories by good authors of any background.

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