I grew up in a relatively progressive country, in which being openly gay is pretty much accepted. You’ve probably heard of the gay-parade, which is held in Amsterdam every year. During this festival we celebrate being openly gay. Of course there are those trolls that ruin everything for the rest. Like a week ago, there were these flyers distributed (also in Amsterdam) about how gay people were awful people and that homosexuality was forbidden by many religions, and that it therefore should not be accepted. But then again there were many people that felt offended and went to the police to report it. And (pretty much) the whole country had their backs.
I believe that our generation is so much opener and accepting than other generations have been. For me, if someone where to say to me they were gay (or whatever), I would be say something like ‘okay, cool’. I know a few people that are openly gay and I see no reason to think any different about them than I did before I knew it. Why would it matter? Some people fall in love with guys, some with girls, some with both, and some with no-one.
Having a different skin tone is a whole different problem entirely. Of course it is only reasonable that you feel more comfortable at people who are alike you and therefore have the same skin-tone. But there’s a difference between basic psychology and racism. Racism is so far build in to our minds as something that is okay, that we don’t even know that it is happening most of the time. I believe everybody has slightly racist tendencies, but that doesn’t mean we have to act on those tendencies. Be better than that!
Pretty much every country has their “Trump-like” politician that is against immigration and says that all immigrants are bad and should go back to their own country. So of course there is also one in the Netherlands. Luckily he isn’t much of an influence at all at this point. Geert Wilders, who has remarkably also a very fake hair colour, is leader of the Party of Freedom (Partij Voor de Vrijheid, or PVV), but it shouldn’t be called that because that is rubbish. We live in a very multi-cultural society, and there are many second and third (or more) generation immigrants here that are actually considered being Dutch, but Wilders of course doesn’t think like that. All people who are Muslim should go to their own country, he would say. But their own country is the Netherlands. They grew up here, they went to school, they speak the language. And still there are so many people sent back to countries they never been to, where they know nobody, and sometimes when there is war.
Being accepted in society is not simple, it’s a process. A process that takes years, or even decades. But being represented in books that people read, accept and like, is a small step in the right direction. That’s why I wanted to talk about why I think diversity in books is so important.
Many books take place in a sort of “utopian” world, if you can call it like that. The perfect world where everybody is “normal”. Of course I wouldn’t consider that a perfect world, but it seems to be like that in a lot of books. There are differences between characters, but often small differences and not in race, sexuality, etc. And you know, most people, statistically speaking, can identify with such a world. But that doesn’t make it the real world.
There are also people that don’t identify with such a world and the characters in them. Connecting to the character is very important and for some individuals, connecting to the prototypical YA-character is pretty much impossible. We are not all blue-eyed stunning lean girls or boys that are funny, smart, sassy and can fight like hell, after all. People differ in body-type, skin-tone, sexual orientation, background, religion, and I could go on for a while. And it is so important to also have characters that are different, that people can connect to. When you grow up it is so important to know that you are not weird or not-normal because you are different from the rest. Being excluded is one of the worst things in life, even in something as simple as a book.
Not only is it about identifying with the characters, it also adds something to the book. Having diverse characters opens up the story to other problems, like handling your sexuality or your difference in skin-tone. These types of problems are part of our every day life, why not in books as well? Another thing is, that when you read you approach everything from someone else’s perspective, and having a different pov also changes how you see the world. It might make you think, what if I were in such a situation?
I think that having minorities of the society represented in books, would make us one step closer to equality. People often “hate” other people simply because they are afraid or don’t understand (their religion for example). Getting to know those people in real life might be hard, but stepping in their metaphorical shoes by reading a story or a book from their point of view, might make it easier for people to understand and appreciate each other.
This is probably one of the most serious posts I’ve ever written. I wrote this post as a part of the #TowardsEquality project, which is an initiative of Tanya Sahay from Scribbled Dreams. Read more about the project here and here. I hope I have not offended anyone with something I said. What is your opinion on equality and diversity?