The scary thing about diversity

A lot of people are talking about diversity in books and the many reasons this is vital.

What I haven't heard mentioned yet is the fear that can sometimes go along with changing perspectives and practices. So I'll talk about it. (And here's hoping I don't mess up too much. There's fear of that, too.)

In the children's book world, I'm the majority. I go to a lot of conferences, and when I look around, most of the people I see are white women. When I visit schools and bookstores, the same is true. And for sure, a lot of book characters are white girls.  

When you're in the majority and people start talking about the importance of diversity, it can be uncomfortable thing.

First, you feel like a jerk. Your presence alone is crowding other, rarer voices out. All of the effort you've put into getting published, when viewed in this context, can feel terribly selfish. As if your dream is part of the problem. That things would be better if you would just go away. 

This can be an especially hard feeling for women to bear. We still get paid less than men for equal work. And I'm old enough that I still remember when there was not a baseball or a basketball team for girls my age—I got to sit on the bleachers and watch my brothers play. Mine was the first generation to benefit from Title IX, and I'll be forever grateful to the teams that did make room for girls. It made a huge difference in my life.

And yet, for a lot of women writers, there remains a strong feeling that our male colleagues still get more respect and appreciation. I was once told by a librarian that the school didn't want our touring group if one of our male colleagues couldn't make it, because male authors are "so rare." Historically, nothing could be less true.

Given all this, it's been incredibly heartening to see the way my mostly female colleagues have embraced the need for diversity in what we read. This industry is full of big-hearted, wise, compassionate, and wonderful people. 

And truly, the call for diversity is nothing to fear, even when you're in the majority demographically.

Working hard for this gets us where we want to be as a society: where all voices matter equally.

I don't want to live in a world where certain people matter more because of their skin color, their religion, or the size of their bank accounts. I don't want to live in a world where people feel lesser because they are different. 

When we write, we create worlds. This is maybe the hardest part of our work as writers, but also the most thrilling. When we do it well, what we've created becomes real where it matters: in people's hearts and minds.

What kind of world do I want? One where every child can see him or herself in a book, where every child feels as if he or she can be a hero. I want to live in a world where young readers become more interested in others and develop empathy and compassion because of what they've read. And I want readers of all ages to know that everyone matters, not because of who they are or what they look like or believe, but simply because they are.

So let's write that world into existence. It's not about mattering less when you're in the majority. It's about acknowledging the everyone else matters as much.

There is room for all of us. There is also a need for all of our best efforts. I can't see a better way of working toward that world than by showing it to children in books.