Part 1 of 4
We don’t need diverse books
We know there’s a problem with diversity in the publishing industry. Both in the content produced and the workforce. But books that teach about diversity are not the answer. In fact, they could be part of the problem.
I realise this may contradict the message you’ve been receiving. Everywhere you turn people are talking about diversity. And how important it is.
But the problem with focusing on diversity is that we are focusing on difference. Focusing on difference others the very characters and people you want to include. Diverse books say, ‘Look at these people who are different from most the people you see in books’. They paint those who are already marginalised as something unusual.
Cerrie Burnell has talked on various occasions about how she didn’t want to see herself in books about her difference. She wanted to see herself as the hero in the storybooks she read.
We can’t just teach kids about diversity. We have to show them what inclusion looks like. And that can only be done by making sure that every book you publish is inclusive (rather than diverse). I can tell you that it's entirely possible, but that may feel overwhelming. You’re not alone in not knowing where to start. And you’re not alone in thinking that as a decent human being you should know how to do this already. It’s okay to have questions.
The truth is, the many ways a book can be made inclusive are underestimated. The opportunities for inclusion in books are often inadvertently missed due to a lack of broad understanding and experience. On top of this, if those involved in the book creation process don’t understand some basic principles of inclusion, unconscious biases can unwittingly allow stereotypes to be perpetuated, and common misconceptions to be reinforced.
Most publishing houses are filled with fantastic, passionate, dedicated and well-intentioned staff who feel strongly that children should be able to see themselves in books. But those staff understandably often lack experience, expertise and the crucial foundational knowledge needed to ensure authentic inclusion.
One of the solutions is to work with people with lived experience or who are specialists in particular facets of diversity. However, whilst that is important, it doesn’t overcome the core issue.