Why I’m diversifying my reading
For those of you who don’t know, I am from England, in the UK. This week my country has been in the news for the disappointing behaviour of some of our football spectators.
This is a reading blog, so don’t worry – this post isn’t about sport! It’s about how diversity in books can help us replace hate with acceptance and understanding.
What went wrong?
The England football team got all the way to the final of the Euro championship this year. And actually came very close to winning it. Which should have been cause for celebration, something we could really use here now.
But there was a lot of bad behaviour around the final game. Including a small number of people who made racist remarks about some of the players. This marred the whole competition for the entire country. I’m not exaggerating when I say this. These guys are heroes to our children. And the competition lifted the spirits of our nation (and the rest of the continent).
These expressions of hatred made many of us feel helpless. But we are not helpless. There is always something we can do. Even if it is a small thing. An ocean is made of millions of drops of water. This is my drop.
The difference between representation and diversity
I’ve talked about representation in books before. In my post ‘All the People We Cannot See’, I focused on the need for everyone to find characters that are like them. This is important to help us all feel seen as people. But it’s just as important to find characters that are not like us. To help us see everyone else. And to show those around us that we support diversity.
Diversity is about understanding that everyone has something unique to offer. That the world is better because we are all different. It’s not about helping one group, it’s about supporting everybody. And not tolerating racism or any other form of hate.
It’s also about understanding that your country’s football team would have no chance of winning if the manager didn’t pick the best players. Whatever they happen to look like.
What’s a reader to do?
I’ve been asking myself how I can really see all kinds of people, when some of them are not physically around me? And how I can maybe nudge a few others towards behaving in a more appropriate and respectful way?
I write books celebrating diversity but I could expand what I read. Because what I choose to read says something about me. And I’ve realised that what I don’t choose to read, can say something too.
The first thing that sprang to my mind when I thought about the England team, was biographies. Biographies can help us get to know public figures on a much more personal level. If, like me, sport isn’t one of your main interests, there are biographies of all kinds of interesting people.
Another great way to understand real people is to connect with fictional characters. I talked about this in my recent post, The Booklover’s Guide to Empathy.
We care about the characters on our favourite TV shows and in our favourite books. We think about them as we go about our own, very different, lives. They affect us.
So a great way is really see different kinds of people is to diversify our reading. I’m building up my collection of stories with characters that are dissimilar to the people I know. Characters of different colours, ages, genders, sexual orientations, religions, and backgrounds. Neurodiverse characters, blind or deaf characters, and characters with disabilities. If you can think of more, let me know.
It doesn’t have to be the main character. It doesn’t have to be the theme of the story. I’m just aiming to have lots of different kinds of characters around, enriching my little corner of the world. Feel free to give me recommendations.
Small actions can, and do, influence those around us. So I’m going to display books with diverse characters, on my shelves or my coffee table. When people come into my home, I want them to know that – whoever they are and whatever they look like – they won’t find any hate here.
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