Tag Archives: diversity

2016 Racial & Gender Diversity in My Reading

I read a lot of books. That’s no secret.

I love the power of reading, but I also think we have to be intentional about the kinds of books we read. I’m a big fan of reading what you love, but I think it’s still important to pursue diversity in those choices.

I’ve learned from experience that you have to be intentional about that. So every year I track those diversity stats to see how I’m doing. It’s not a perfect system and it’s not the only thing I do, but it’s one step.

I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.

Here are the results for 2016:

  • 54% POC books
  • 59% female authors.

Here’s how diverse my reading has been since 2001:

2016 diverse reading chart

Here are the actual numbers (with totals) for 2016:

2016 diversity tracking

Results

While the numbers are just numbers, I think the real results are showing up in my lists of favorite books for the year. Both my fiction and non-fiction lists this year were topped by writers of color, and my fiction top five is all writers of color. Those lists have been getting more diverse over the years.

It’s all pretty subjective, but in general I think it continues to push me toward hearing and responding to more voices, especially ones that are different from my own experience and perspective.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Love Trumps Hate

A lot has already been written and will be written about Donald Trump’s stunning victory yesterday, and I don’t imagine I have much to add. But I’m also a writer and need to get it out of my head.

The one thing I keep coming back to is how divided we are as a country, and not just that we’re divided, but that we don’t understand each other.

I shared this quote when I explained why I voted for Clinton:

“If two smart and logical people disagree, it’s most likely because they are acting on different information.” -Bill “Billo” O’Donnell (A Truck Full of Money by Tracey Kidder)

I think we’ve been acting on different information. If we’re going to overcome that division, we need to reconcile that information (not an easy task). I wish candidates did a better job of this (they rarely do because it doesn’t fire up their side), but now it’s time for us to do a better job of it.

So let me explain some information as I see it.

Today my social media feed is full of fear.

My minority friends are scared. People of color, LGBT friends, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled—scared.

And they’re sharing examples of harassment, intimidation, hate. (Those are just a few examples. Ask a teacher. Talk to a minority.) They’re justifiably scared.

Trump may say he’s not a racist, not a misogynist, not a xenophobe, not a homophobe, not an Islamophobe, but his words and actions—whether intentionally or through mere carelessness—bring hate out in people. (And it’s not just my liberal friends saying this. Many of my conservative friends refused to vote for Trump because of this.)

This political campaign has given license to hate. The rare few (I hope) who are racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic and/or bigoted have been emboldened to speak and act their hate.

And that’s not OK.

I know we disagree on a lot, but I have to assume that’s not OK with Trump voters either. I know we disagree, but I have to believe you don’t support hate. 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump, and I know faith in Jesus shouldn’t spread hate.

So prove it. Don’t endorse hate with your silence. Let’s make sure Love Trumps Hate is not just a campaign slogan tossed around as an insult. Reclaim it, bring unity across the aisle, and reject what I must hope are isolated acts of hate and violence.

Prove to my minority friends that there is a place in America for them, that you will defend them and stand up for them, even if you disagree with them.

Because otherwise, what are we doing?

These hateful acts are not America. I don’t believe that. But if we let them continue because they don’t impact us personally, then we’re enabling hate.

I can’t believe all Trump voters are hateful. Maybe we don’t understand each other, but that’s something we can work on.

I’m naive and idealistic and probably foolish, but I think love truly can trump hate.

Update: Maple Grove Students Respond (Nov. 10, 2016)

This is how we need to respond to hate. (And let it not just be warm, fuzzy words, but real action. May those kids love and protect one another.)

Women Shattering Political Glass Ceilings in 2016

This year’s election has felt more divisive and caustic than previous elections. That’s no secret. So in such an environment, it’s helpful to focus on the positive: Women achieving public office.

On my ballot there are at least three women running for positions that a woman has never held before. I think that’s exciting.

I think it’s worth talking about these potential milestones, regardless of your political leanings.

Let’s take a moment to address why celebrating this kind of diversity is important. Continue reading Women Shattering Political Glass Ceilings in 2016

2015 Racial & Gender Diversity in My Reading

Last year I started tracking diversity in the books I read. It wasn’t exactly good news.

It became apparent that race and gender diversity only happen when you’re intentional about it.

I tracked both the gender and race this year. I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.

Here are the results for 2015:

  • 54% POC books
  • 56% female authors.

Here’s how diverse my reading has been since 2001:

Diversity and gender in my 2015 reading

And here are the actual numbers:

Reading diversity since 2001

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Han Solo, Chewie, Rey, BB8 & Finn.The hype has been building up forever, and tonight I’m going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes!

I’m also going tomorrow.

But I’m not a crazy nerd or anything, I’m doing it for my kids. Yeah, that’s it. I’m screening it tonight to make sure there’s nothing too intense for my 7-year-old. Also if the kids do need to step out or ask ten thousand questions, I’ll have seen it once already and (hopefully) won’t be as annoyed by the distractions.

It’s a happy accident that I’ll get to see it twice in 24 hours.

Plus, unlike my dad and brother, I think the best part of seeing a movie like this is seeing it early with the die-hard fans who clap and cheer. Part of the fun of going to the movies is the atmosphere, and you couldn’t ask for better energy than a theater crammed full of excited fans.

My wife and I saw the Hunger Games on opening night, not because we loved the series but because we happened to have a babysitter. The theater was full of teen girls with Catniss braids who were super excited. Made the whole experience more fun. Also saw one of the Potter movies that way, with a crowd full of teens who had grown up on Potter. Way fun.

So anyway, I’ll be there tonight with my nerds. Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Diversity Is Not Enough

“We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism.” (“Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing”)

In many ways it comes down to white privilege (that phrase can be difficult to digest—this is the best explanation of white privilege I’ve found). The white establishment (i.e., people like me) doesn’t understand what people of color face.

People like me are blind to all the small things that are stacked up against people of color. Each one on its own seems small, but together it creates institutional racism. The result is things like the Noah movie using an all white cast as “stand-ins for all people” because “race doesn’t matter.”

If you don’t see anything wrong with that, that’s white privilege.

If you watched the Noah movie and didn’t think it odd that everyone was white, that’s white privilege.

Or any movie.

As G. Willow Wilson commented, “Where are all the black people in Middle Earth? The answer is ‘In Laketown,’ apparently.” Extras in the Laketown scenes in the second Hobbit movie were the first non-white human characters in the Lord of the Rings movies.

If you think it’s political correct garbage to want racial diversity in a fantasy movie, that’s white privilege.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

It reminds me of the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas where the 9-year-old Bruno is oblivious to the German Holocaust, even though he lives outside the gates of Auschwitz. He befriends a Jewish boy, Shmuel, but is completely unaware of the ostracism and hatred his friend endures.

Bruno is not antisemitic. He’s not even aware of the German propaganda about Jews, and when he hears it he doesn’t believe it. But he’s blind to all the barriers Shmuel faces as a Jew in 1940s Germany.

It’s not an ideal comparison. But it feels familiar. When people don’t understand the need for diversity or insist that we’re beyond racism, it reminds me of Bruno.

Complicating the Single Narrative

At last week’s Festival of Faith and Writing I was pleasantly surprised that the conversation wasn’t limited to the Christian faith. I don’t know about the extent of the diversity, but I did hear from one Muslim writer and one Hindu writer.

Why is that important? Because, as Muslim comic book writer G. Willow Wilson said at the Festival of Faith and Writing, “If a belief system is worth anything it should offer value to those who don’t believe it.”

Our society is so polarized right now I think it’s more important than ever to hear from voices that are different from our own. It’s too easy to become overly homogenous and clueless of anything that’s different. It allows all sorts of negative things to blossom.

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie talks about the danger of the single story in her 2009 TED talk, when we allow a single narrative to tell the entire story of something we don’t understand. It happens all the time when the continent of Africa is turned into a single country. It’s what we do to Islam when we assume all Muslims are conservative or even terrorists.

Wilson also said that she’d never been to a mosque that separated men and women until she came to the U.S. The most liberal mosque she’d ever been in was Iran.

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it is that they are incomplete,” Adichie said. It’s not that there aren’t conservative Muslims (and even extremist Muslims), but that’s only a tiny sliver of the truth. Just as the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent all of Christianity.

Swati Avasthi, a Hindu writer who spoke at the Festival of Faith and Writing, said that in order to disrupt this single story notion, we need to make it more complex. We need to explore the wider narratives and understand things more fully.

Two great examples are Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang and Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. Both stories explore deeply divided issues—the Boxer rebellion in 1900 China and persecuted refugees in Burma today, respectively—from two conflicting perspectives. The result is a more deeply nuanced narrative. It’s not a simple, one-sided story.

I think we need to pursue those multiple narratives, the more complicated threads that start to give us fuller picture, a more honest glimpse of the truth.

Don’t be content with a token bit of diversity. Don’t assume one story about Nigeria will tell you all you need to know. Don’t be so jaded as to think a single refugee story gives you insight into the experience of all refugees.

“Let’s tell stories that humanize, rather than demonize,” said Eliza Griswold, who has done a lot of work in Afghanistan and seen firsthand the result of our single narrative. She disrupts that narrative herself with this book of poetry by Afghan women.

Searching Out Diversity

I keep coming back to the conversation about diversity in literature. I think it’s important. I heard it several times during the Festival in Faith and Writing and today I came across an article about how to get more diversity in your YA fiction.

That piece has some good advice. You have to actually search out diversity, recommend it and support it. It doesn’t happen automatically: Search, share, support.

Lately I’ve been trying to search out more diversity. If I don’t, my shelves are mostly full of white folks. It’s the same with my music collection. I don’t like most hip-hop, and the alt-rock and punk genres are pretty homogenous. So I’ve been working at it.

You also have to recommend it, and it’s something I need to be doing more. Though I should be clear this isn’t about simply recommending stuff because of the diversity, but because it’s good. So here are a couple recommendations, something I’ll try to do more consistently:

Books

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WilsonAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
The hacker youth culture of a Cory Doctorow novel meets an Arab security state and slips into a fantasy world worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien. The mix of realism and fantasy was pretty great. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of fantasy, but I really enjoyed the glimpse into the Muslim world.

Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul CurtisBud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
This is a YA classic but somehow I’ve never read it. An orphaned boy goes in search of his long-lost father in Depression-era Michigan. An early scene of Bud being abused by foster parents made me physically angry, but the story moves to tenderness as Bud encounters more warm-hearted people on his journey.

Music

Music seems like it should be easier to find diversity. But I’ve always been a rock fan, and aside from a few big names, rock isn’t very diverse. I’m not a fan of hip-hop, so that leaves my musical horizons pretty limited.

Thanks to Spotify, I’ve been researching more diverse voices.

“You Can’t Be Told” by Valerie June
This foot-stomping single is a bit different from the rest of her album, but I love her rootsy voice, regardless of anything else.

“Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)” by Noisettes
This one has a swing-dance style that’s just fun. The band has some more recent stuff, unfortunately it’s only available in the U.K.

The Difference Diversity Makes

That whole ‘diversity in literature’ conversation keeps coming up and I think it might help some people to understand why it’s so important.

If you’re never confronted with it, if you’re always finding people who look like you in your entertainment, then it’s a question you might never think about. It helps to step outside of ourselves and see a different perspective.

I came across exactly that perspective in Deza Malone, a character in Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Mighty Miss Malone:

When I was in Gary and would read novels I used to put myself right in the middle of the story. I knew it was a great book when it felt like the author was writing about me. Some of the time I’d get snapped out of the book when I read things that I couldn’t pretend were about me, even if I had the imagination of Mr. William Shakespeare.

Words like “her pale, luminescent skin” or “her flowing mane of golden hair” or “her lovely, cornflower-blue eyes” or “the maiden fair.” I would stop and think, No, Deza, none of these books are about you. Continue reading The Difference Diversity Makes

Where’s the Diversity in Literature?

Illustration by Christopher MyersI read a lot. And in all that reading it’s apparent that diversity is lacking. I like to tell myself that’s because of my own tastes or my own white privilege.

But it’s not just me.

It’s a problem that pervades the publishing industry. Earlier this month I tweeted a story about how 93% of the characters in children’s literature are white. The New York Times has run a pair of opinion pieces on the issue, Where Are All the People of Color in Children’s Books by Walter Dean Myers and The Apartheid of Children’s Literature by Christopher Myers, that gives some context and reality to the dry stats:

“In 1969, when I first entered the world of writing children’s literature,” writes Walter Dean Myers, “the field was nearly empty. Children of color were not represented, nor were children from the lower economic classes. Today, when about 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, the disparity of representation is even more egregious. In the middle of the night I ask myself if anyone really cares.”

Continue reading Where’s the Diversity in Literature?