Today in my Feedly I read this thought-provoking article from the blog Reading While White. If you are white you need to hop over and read through it. The author, Elisa Gall, discusses troubling aspects of the traditional publishing industry including the publication of books about oppressed and marginalized people by white people as the industry’s answer to the call for more diversity. The article also calls out the fact that we’re seeing less “I don’t see color” arguments, but are seeing more people calling for books with what they call “casual diversity”. I’ve heard and used the term “incidental diversity”.
As I was reading, though, I was embarrassed to realize I am guilty of looking for those casual diversity books and naming some of the diversity I see in picture books as such. And from there I realized, as Gall points out, this is because I’m still looking at those books with a white lens. While I may never be able to remove that lens completely (or at all), I should not be looking for books that simply have brown or disabled or queer characters in circumstances or stories or places that are essentially white or able bodied or hetero. And if those characters can be swapped out for a white character, it may not be true diversity.
Now that being said, this does not mean we need one story to represent all black people (or all disabled people, etc.). Nor does it mean that a black and white character may not be able to be seen in a similar story. I think my own blindspot over this stemmed from my desire to see the abundance of stories that reflect me and my children available to children of color (and others). The problem with that is that I didn’t stop to examine whether or not those same stories would be applicable to those other children. In some cases they might be, but in many others they are not. It was a really good check on my privilege to read that article and realize how careful I need to be when reviewing books and a good reminder that I am not always the best person to be reviewing diverse content. I’m trying to use my gatekeeper status and the fact that white librarians might (sadly) be more likely to listen to my recommendations, but that doesn’t mean I will have the most accurate perception of how a book will work for an audience that isn’t white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and middle class.