We tell our students “There’s something for everyone.” We encourage them to seek out books that speak to them and that they can find kinship with. “Look a little harder, dig a little deeper! There’s GOT to be something for you, I know it!”
But what if there isn’t?
For children of color, this is the reality. Sure, there are a few books here and there on Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and maybe even Frida Kahlo. And it’s not to say these books aren’t important or valued–they are. But where are the books about being raised from an everyday immigrant family? Where are the books that show children of color that they can be whatever they aim to be, even if they come from darker circumstances? These kids are just that–kids. They aren’t from a far away land of difference and rarity; they’re HUMAN. But because of the lack of books for them, it seems they feel anything but.
While reading Windows, Mirror, and Glass Doors, a few lines really hit hard:
“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in a society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors.”
Can I get a heck yes?
We’re doing our students a massive disservice by not advocating for diversity in literature. These students need to see themselves reflected and represented within books, because if not here, then where else will they find value? Books are one of the most powerful sources for self-alignment and understanding–we know this. We’ve experienced this! How could we deny our students of color a similar experience when we know how powerful and therapeutic it can be?
This isn’t just hurting the students of color–white students are affected as well. This literature is where they learn of the lives people of color lead, especially if they live in a rural or white-dominated area. By not providing adequate and quality literature about people of color, there’s no opportunity for growth and learning on their part, something that is deeply hurtful to know as a future educator.
We need diversity. We’ve always needed diversity; how bland would we all be without it? Our students have suffered far too much from the lack thereof, and it’s time to say no more.
I’ll say it again. We’ve failed.
We’ve failed our students unconsciously, but this doesn’t take away from the wrongdoing any less. The good news, though, is that we can fix it. Advocate, advocate, advocate for diversity in our students’ literature. Tell the publishers what we need–what we demand–for ourselves and our students. Heck, maybe write a book yourself if you have experience or wish! My point is, contribute to the well being of our students by being a voice for them. We know what we need, and we must have it.
Our students are counting on us. I’m not about to fail them more–what about you?