The lack of diversity in publishing has been hitting the headlines recently, and with good reason. The fiction market has been disproportionately white for too long. I’ve seen so many people on Twitter and elsewhere telling their stories of how their writing was rejected because it didn’t fit a particular mold, or how they’d love to be able to read stories about people from their own race, culture, or other group.
Children who don’t identify with the characters they read are less likely to become readers. And for those who do read, it’s not good for their self-identity. If the majority of characters they read about are white, or male, or cis, this is what they are going identify as the ‘default’ in society, which automatically makes them see themselves as ‘other’. The particularly sad thing is how ingrained it is. Most of them won’t even notice. They’ll just take that knock to their self-esteem and not even know why. It is essential for under-represented people to have their voices heard, and for them to be able to read stories about people like them.
I am pretty evangelical about reading. Anyone who knows me knows that. A love of reading and stories is one of the most important things we can instil in our children.
Reading promotes empathy. There are numerous studies that show this. (I’m too lazy to look them up, but have a google. It’s true.) Stories are one of humankind’s oldest and most effective ways of teaching our children.
Goldilocks? Don’t go running off alone into the woods. The Three Little Pigs? Don’t cut corners.
Stories, whether oral or written, are hugely influential on our psyche. We start with nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and progress to novels thousands of words long.
Stories teach us about each other. A reader isn’t just passively following a narrative. He or she is spending some time in someone else’s head, finding out not only how that character thinks and how they live, but also how the writer thinks.
We use fiction to learn about each other. We’ve all heard people dismiss racist, sexist or other incidents as not being realistic, or being exaggerated. The great thing about good fiction is it sets up context. A good book will suck a reader into that person’s world, and make them understand: ‘Oh, that’s how something like that would happen.’
Reading promotes empathy. Reading promotes understanding. The more books we have about different kinds of people, the better we will understand and be able to identify with the people around us, no matter what their background and identity.
Most prejudice comes from a combination of fear and ignorance. Reading a wide array of books with diverse characters from a young age can help prevent prejudice before it sinks its tentacles in.
We need more diversity, more books, more reading. The more we read about each other, the better our world is going to get.