Books help children to understand who they are, and to understand who others are. I really enjoyed the metaphor in Bishop’s “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” which states that books are windows that show us other worlds. These windows can become reflective, and books can become mirrors that show us ourselves. Books are sliding glass doors because the reader must engage their imagination and walk into the world that the book is showing. Ignorance promotes hatred. Being exposed to protagonists of color, of different sexual orientations, and of different cultures allows the reader to understand that these people, though different from the reader, are humans that have emotions and face problems. Being exposed to diversity allows children to feel empathy for others; it promotes good-will and open-mindedness. What does simply not showing characters of color say to our children? That people of color do not exist? That people of color are not worthy of their own stories? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Young black people need characters that they can identify with, and young white people need to be introduced to characters of diversity in order to relate to people who are different from them.
I think being white made the facts about the lack of diversity in children’s book very surprising to me. I never had troubles finding stories that were revolved around a white teenage girl. I never had problems identifying myself in popular fiction books. I was bewildered by this piece of data in Walter Dean Myer’s blog post “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books:” Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people. Children need books that they can identify with in order to find themselves in these books. Children need character role models in order to identify what they want to be. Now that I think back to all the books I’ve read, I am surprised to think that a vast majority of the books do not include a single character of color, and if they do include a character of color, then it is always a background character. I do believe that the problem of the lack of diversity in children’s books has nothing to do with the readers of children’s books. Lovers of books read without even considering the race of the author or the race of the protagonist. I believe the problem resides with the publishing companies that turn away black authors or books about black people because they “do not think they will sell” or “there is a not a market for them.” They will sell. There is a huge market for these books.
Christopher Myers says, in his blog post “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature,” that when talking to a young black bog, the boy said that he wanted to be in the NBA and then become a rapper. Myers states that he does not think that these are actually the boy’s dreams, but the only role models he has seen of successful black men. Books present us with character traits that we want to live up to. When I read books about strong women, I found traits in the characters that I knew I wanted myself as a woman. The lack of role models for young black people in today’s literature results in the children looking to the media to find role models in rappers and basketball players (I’m not saying these are bad role models, though I could make a case that both are not the greatest of role models. I simply mean that young black people should have more variety of role models to look to than basketball players and rappers). They do not have characters in books to relate to, and they need these characters in order to identify what it means to be black and who they are in this world.
So, what do we do? How do we stop this? We promote books by people of color and about people of color. We buy books about people of color and by people of color to show the publishing companies that there IS a market for these books. We continue to write books about people of color. We do not let publishing companies dictate what we read. We become more interested in self-published books instead of sticking to books that are popular. We diversify our reading.