Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thursentary: Why Christians Should Support #WeNeedDiverseBooks

It’s kind of ironic that “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC came on as I started to rewrite this post. I’m going to assume that it isn’t a message from God, and hope that He likes this song as much as I do—because if not, I guess I’m writing a damned post. I don’t believe in doing things halfway, so if we’re damned, let’s be good and damned, and get the ball rolling.

This is something I truly believe: We Need Diverse Books. More than that, I believe Christians should support diversity in books as well.

Now, I know this sounds weird, especially if you are a Christian and you know that WNDB actively promotes the presence of minority religions, LGBT+ issues, minority cultures, and people with disabilities, among other things. Because if you are a Christian, you know that we have some stuff to say about those things. If you’re willing, hear me out—sometimes these things aren’t fun to hear and aren’t fun to think about, but if we can’t discuss, then we can’t grow, and that is a problem.

via Mary Wilson Kerr
To begin, I think there are a few misconceptions that should be cleared up, just so we are all on the same page:

1. This is not a movement to shame non-minorities—maybe you are like me, and are a white, straight, mostly able-bodied Protestant; maybe you are not. This is who I am, and it’s not bad to be me, but what would be bad was if EVERY CHARACTER was like me. Majority rule works when you’re voting for pizza toppings, but when it comes to a cast of characters, then you probably want a variety of people represented, especially if you want a variety of people to connect to the story.

2. This is not a movement to shame existing books—okay, it’s called #WeNeedDiverseBooks, not #BurnBooksLackingMinorities. There are some books out there with a lot of diverse characters and crappy writing, and well-written books with few minorities represented at all. Yes, it’s lovely to see many people represented, but diversity alone is not the measure of a book’s value.

3. This is not going to become a publishing checklist—if WNDB gains popularity then we’re probably going to see more kinds of representation in books, but I seriously doubt that publishers will refuse to publish a book because it doesn’t meet a “diversity quota.” The story still comes first, and today’s ideas about diversity may not factor in depending on what you are writing.

4. This is not actually supposed to threaten you—I think I felt this way when I first heard about the movement. Since I’m not in a minority, does this mean all my values and things will be removed from the literary world? No, they won’t. This isn’t about destroying what was; it is about sharing the stage.

5. This is not an unrealistic expectation—fun fact: books are written for the people that can read them. For a long time (in the U.S.A., anyway), the people who could read were the (you guessed it) white, middle-upper class, Christian-ish, population. Due to some law things about people with different skin colors, religions, and economic circumstances going to the same schools, a lot more people can read than your average WASP. It makes sense to write books against the historical norms of race, sexual orientation, religion, and ability, if not because of the economic opportunity, then because authors are going to encounter people of different races, sexual orientations, religions, and abilities, and nobody wants to read books where they can’t connect to the characters.

To summarize: the point of WNDB is not to freak people out or exclude them, but to have our books reflect the world that we live in today.

via Reading Rainbow
As a Christian, I don’t think this is bad.

I mean, for one thing, trusting in God is not an excuse to pretend that the parts of the world you don’t like don’t exist—stay informed, people. You can’t change something if you’re ignoring it (except to maybe make it worse). But secondly, I think we should care that all kinds of people are written in books because we want to form relationships with all kinds of people.

Now, that sounds like secret code for, “we want to convert people,” but that is not really what I mean.

If we’re Christians, then our purpose is to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Translated, that means it’s our job, first and foremost, to demonstrate God’s love to anyone and everyone we meet with the same faith and love that Jesus showed us first. Serving people. Being kind to people. Offering people what they need at your own expense. Showing what God’s love means, even if his name never leaves your lips.

I’m not a theological expert or anything but I think it’s really hard to love someone looking down at them from a pedestal.

That’s why Jesus didn’t. He went to people in the temple. He went to people in their homes. He met with people on the roads and in the hills and all over the place—wherever they were, exactly where they were at. Dude, he went to freaking SAMARIA, and if you want to know about people who hated each other, look up Jewish people and Samaritans. Jesus reached out to people—to all people—and in getting to know them, he introduced himself.

Now, reading a book all by yourself is not really the same thing as going out and showing love to the masses—but it can prepare you for going out into them. When you read a book about someone who believes something differently than you, feels differently, looks differently, functions differently, you open yourself to caring about something that matters to them.

via Goodreads
That’s not to say that reading diverse books makes you an expert, or prepares you for every eventuality. Neal Shusterman’s  Challenger Deep isn’t the stock story of mental illness. Sold by Patricia McCormick isn’t every story of prostitution or enslavement. And reading Harry Potter doesn’t make you well-informed on British culture. I’m just saying. You will be reading a story. Someone’s story. And if you practice caring about someone’s story—someone’s battles, someone’s fears, someone’s challenges—then you can do it again when you’re looking up at a face instead of down at a page.

It is amazing how much it matters when someone invests their time and energy to care about something you care about, merely because they care about you.

And if you don’t believe me, let me ask you a simple question: who have you loved that tells you so?

Have you ever loved a gay friend, and listened to his stories, his fears, his beliefs? Have you ever loved someone from another culture, and practiced her traditions, her celebrations, her norm? Have you ever loved someone with a disability? Have you ever loved someone with another skin color? Have you ever loved someone of a different religion?

Who have you loved? I’m not talking about affection. Who have you loved more than yourself?

via Matt Rogers
I’m not going to say that I’m good at this myself—but I’ve had the privilege of watching a role model reach out to others my entire life. My dad has driven a mentally ill man we know to church, sometimes frequently, sometimes sporadically—this guy rarely has an idea of what religion he wants to believe in, but my dad listens to him and drives him to church anyway. He’s invited in Jehovah’s Witnesses in to talk about what they believe, even though he has no interest in becoming one. He’s gone out to lunch with people, he’s reached out on mission trips, he advocates an inviting website, and he loves that time at church when you shake everybody’s hand. If there’s one thing that guy has taught me, it’s that you have to be the one to take the first step.

For me, encouraging diversity is the first step to reaching out. To making new friends and to sharing ideas. I invariably learn something from the people most different from me, and funnily enough, I also learn to love them most.

When it comes down to it, these people who are so different from me in our diverse little world are meant to be my brothers and sisters. And if they care about something, then I want to care about it, too, even if it’s only so that we can have a conversation together. I’m not going to tell you what to believe about LGBT+ rights or whether your disabilities reflect your sins, but I will tell you this: if something as simple as a book can help me love another person, then hell yes, I’m going to read that book.

We need diverse books because we have diverse people—and more than anything, that calls for a diverse, all-encompassing love.

So, that was really long. Sorry about that. Let’s change the subject: why do you read books with diversity? What are some of your favorites?

14 comments :

  1. Oh, coincidence about that song. Which reminds me, it's always time for more AC/DC. *blares music while typing comment*

    I've actually never commented on a Thursentary post before, I think, because I generally stay away from religious discussions. But this really spoke to my heart. The line "it’s called #WeNeedDiverseBooks, not #BurnBooksLackingMinorities" was THE BEST. And really, even if we're privileged, I think we are exposed to diversities in ways we don't even notice. And it's important to write what we know, but more importantly, to write what we know but don't acknowledge.

    I'm gonna be cliche here and leave you with a quote from Virginia Woolf: "I want to write a novel about silence, the things people don't say."

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    1. You're right, it's always time for more AC/DC. Except I'm listening to the Firefly soundtrack right now so there is not time for AC/DC.

      Yeah, I know religion makes people uncomfortable sometimes. It's just that I like to talk about it. A lot. Anyway, I'm glad that you did get something out of this post, despite the religiousness, and I appreciate you taking the time to read it! #BurnBooksLackingMinorities went through a lot of phases before I felt I got the right hashtag, but I think I'm satisfied now. XD I think you're right—we do get exposed to diversity in a lot of ways. For me especially, I never considered how much diversity I see in my friend group online, even though I don't live in a super diverse place. Writing what we know but don't acknowledge difinately adds that extra dimension, though, and I think we should try to aim for it more often.

      Ooh, that's a good quote. Don't be afraid to be cliche, because as cliche as cliches are, I think there's some wisdom in them, anyway.

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  2. Lol, great coincidence. I know I felt a little intimidated at first when I heard about WNDB, because I worried I would be forced to portray stuff that I wasn't comfortable portraying (you know, if I get published). And I really like your message--pretending the world doesn't exist won't make it go away. I guess I'm just scared to voice my own opinions for fear of drawing flack--but Jesus wasn't ever afraid of that, so I shouldn't be. Also, along #WeNeedDiverseBooks, maybe we should have #WeNeedDiverseAuthors, because one of the best ways to represent minorities is to have the minorities represent themselves.

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    1. Indeed, I think when we're exposed to new ideas there's a fear of force in there that we don't like. But fortunately, I don't think it's going to be like that, even if we do get published. It's hard to share what we're afraid of saying sometimes, but I did that just now and I think it turned out okay. I mean, if Jesus got crucified for saying what needed to be said, I think I can share a blog post, or write a book. Diverse authors is also a great idea—I'd love to hear more stories from people who have experienced a life different from mine firsthand!

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  3. I do agree that diversity is important, and I love reading certain types of diverse books. Specifically I love reading about mixed kids since I'm a mixed kid myself. It's kind of nice to read about other kids who grew up constantly being asked if they were adopted. I also love reading about girls who are in STEM fields because it's just really comforting. So yes, I love diverse books, but I still really appreciate books that aren't necessarily "diverse".

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    1. Actively reading books portraying diversity should be a higher priority—I'll have to work on that. I myself would love to read about other religions, just because they're so fascinating! Were you asked if you were adopted all the time? That's horrible. What...? Anyway, books portraying diversity and those that don't both have merits, and they are super cool. :D

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  4. HEATHER YOU ARE RIGHT. I agree with this entire post. I live in a very Christian part of India (and there still isn't a majority) and I think being a Christian isn't about conversion or exclusion ever. Because Jesus didn't exclude people. People need to see themselves in what they read, and the world is more globalised than ever before and people aren't separated. Your dad sounds like an amazing person. Because really, what WNDB is about isn't the differences between people: Its the similarties. It's the fact that everyone feels the same emotions. But people won't understand that if they don't read books (or watch movies/other media) where people unlike themselves are represented. So that is why WNDB is SO SO SOSOSOSOS true.
    This post is made of awesome, Heather.
    -Shanti@http://www.weavingwaveswords.wordpress.com

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    1. I AM GLAD YOU THINK SO. Especially hearing this from you, I am really glad to hear that there are Christians out there who don't think this is all about 'conversion or exclusion.' Jesus welcomes everyone! Especially with the globalization of our nations, not only do people need to see themselves in what they're reading, but I think they need to see other people in what they're reading as well. I mean, look at us. You live in India, and I live in the United States. I would probably be way better off understanding a little more about the culture you're immersed in by reading about it instead of just assuming that the shots I see on the news are all there is. I like what you said about WNDB showing the similarities in people—it reminds me of Tarzan, actually. We may come from different places, believe or think different things, but when it comes down to it we all are just people, and we need to know that everyone else is people, too. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for reading!

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  5. The fact that you said #BurnBooksLackingMinorities just makes my heart HAPPY. YES. I feel like, during the shrieking flailing for diversity, we forget that books without diversity aren't bad. They maybe are a little focused, but seriously? I don't think a lot of authors dive in to their books with an intentional plan to white-wash things. HECK NO. I think a lot of time we write what we know sub-consciously and that's what comes out. *nods*
    I read to understand and learn and care, too.
    This was a super intriguing post, Heather!!

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    1. XD I'm glad that's a popular one because I did spend a little time thinking about that one. And I agree—I think, in general, authors are good people, and sometimes they may write about things they are familiar with, even if they don't realize that they're familiar with it. In some ways, it's what we're conditioned to think that makes its way onto our pages, unless we actively think about it otherwise. Thanks for reading, Cait!

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  6. I totally agree with this! So much! Yes! And I think it's important that people realise that it's not about excluding minorities. I also agree with Ana, since I am a mixed race, third culture kid. And this is just so true and ahhh it makes me happy.

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    1. Yay! I'm glad you liked it! It's definitely important that we don't exclude minorities—but I'm sure you know that a lot better than me. Thanks for reading and enjoying, Shar!

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  7. This post is so great. I feel like you've expressed a lot of my own views on this subject. I particularly love when you said this:

    And if you practice caring about someone’s story—someone’s battles, someone’s fears, someone’s challenges—then you can do it again when you’re looking up at a face instead of down at a page.

    I feel like this statement goes to the root of why reading is so important!

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    1. I'm glad to hear it! I was nervous about posting this, so I'm glad I'm not alone.

      Yes! Reading isn't just about the story, but OUR story, and the one we share with everyone around us. :)

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