Books for middle schoolers

14 Dec

Lee & Low books has just shared their “Book List: 13 Funny Middle Grade Books with Diverse Characters” (http://blog.leeandlow.com/2013/12/13/book-list-13-funny-middle-grade-books-with-diverse-characters/), which you can also identify by cover here: http://www.pinterest.com/leeandlow/diverse-mg-humor/.

Sharing their list is a “yes, and…” for me:

  • Yes, I think it’s awesome and helpful to have resources for books kids will enjoy that diversify their perception of who gets to be in stories.
  • And, it’s a problem to use “diverse” as code for “not white.” That’s what Lee & Low really seem to mean: you’ll note that on their webpage, “funny middle grade books with diverse characters” = “humorous middle grade titles that feature characters of color or are written by authors of color.” Now, if we were talking about diverse characters, that would by definition include white characters, physically able character, heterosexual characters… you get my point. Diversity includes majority and normative identities. And thoughtful, intentional diversity doesn’t let those normatives and majorities define “normal” or right.

What’s wrong with using “diverse” as code for “minority”?

  • It’s inaccurate. Denotatively incorrect.
  • If that’s not enough, it confuses conversations about diversity by implying that “diversity” is really just about minorities (and specifically how they are unfortunate, and in need of special accommodations that, in a zero-sum world, threaten the entitlement of the majority). In fact, diversity is just a fact. Diversity is the reality that differences in our identities activate different privileges and disadvantages, not just for individuals, but for whole groups of people. And any work towards greater equity, inclusion and social justice won’t just be for the benefit of some. It will be for the diverse, unequal but fair benefit of all of us.

Ironically, Lee & Low actually hurt the cause they’re trying to support by perpetuating this conflation of language as they promote books by and featuring people of color. So, if you share this list with other educators or students (which I encourage you to do), I ask that you also help them think about the difference between “diverse” and “minority.” Because it would be a disservice to unintentionally reinforce this misuse of language while trying to help adolescents think more critically, creatively and good-humoredly about identity and diversity in literature and the world.

** Thanks to my colleague PN for sharing this link.

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