I’ve never considered myself the kind of person to get engaged in public demonstrations. I’m more of a grassroots, quiet, work from behind the scenes soul. I believe in “become so good they can’t ignore you.”
But I had to write today’s post for two reasons.
The first is that #weneeddiversebooks is a huge deal on Twitter right now, and it both makes me excited and sad. The fact that it’s a thing we have to state and rally around is sad, because it means we live in a world where people’s stores aren’t valued and their voices aren’t heard. But I’m also glad, because it’s going to change.
The second is that this last weekend I went to an aeronautics expo, as I touched on briefly last week, and what stood out to me the most was that with all the intelligence and inventions and exciting and interesting things in the room, almost all the people behind the tables and on the panels were white men.
Your skin and gender don’t make you good or bad. These guys were incredibly smart and accomplished and I was very impressed by their work. Their contributions are valuable and have changed our world. But I was there with my family, including my two sisters who were adopted from South America. And when I looked around the room, all I could think was – where are you?
The crowd in attendance was a pretty fair mix of men and women and had a remarkable range of ages from toddlers to elderly people. Kids from robotics groups and science clubs filled the seats, an even mix of boys and girls, and many minorities were represented.
Represented everywhere except the front of the room.
The one woman involved with any of the panels was sent to hold the microphone while people asked questions. She was also white.
I could count on my fingers the number of women representing businesses, and there was exactly one female student presenting an invention.
So what were these girls seeing? Where were the voices telling them they could invent, create, research, explore? Where was the evidence that your skin and gender do not determine the course you take in life?
I think it’s easy to assume what we see in front of us is what’s happening everywhere, good or bad, and to let that assumption color everything we do and believe about the world. If you’ve grown up in a very supportive, encouraging, and resourceful family who has helped you open doors and take advantage of every opportunity, that’s your reality and that’s what you believe is possible, regardless of your demographics. If you’ve grown up in the midst of struggle, without good support, or without awareness of how to navigate systems and find opportunities, that’s your reality. Both come with a set of beliefs and practices and create a fundamental shaping of your worldview and your resultant actions. Both are equal. Both are true. And both need to know what it’s like from the other side. Everyone needs to see where they are not reflected and where work is needed, as well as to see the places their stories are valued and the work of those who’ve gone before them is valued. The need reminds us how far we have to go, but the successes remind us that it’s worth it. And maybe, if my sisters can’t see themselves on this panel at this expo, they can read about women who have shaped science, about girls who are out there learning and doing already, and they’ll know how much they matter.
Why do we need diverse books? Because our story is not the only one, and at the same time our story is infinitely important. Because the places I’m weak might be where you’re strong, and your strength might encourage me to find mine. Because I need to be reminded that what comes easy for me is the beginning, not the end, and you might be waiting for me to take that step into the new and unknown, and because you might be just the person I’ve been waiting for to look up to and admire.
Diversity reminds us of possibilities. It reminds us simultaneously that we are examples and that we need others to be an example to us. It reminds us that we are gloriously unique, and that we have something in common with everyone we meet.
Diverse books show my sisters and other minority girls that even though this panel or that invention was brought by white men, there are, there can be, scientists and explores of all genders and races. Diverse books show me that my life isn’t lived in a void, and the decisions I make affect others.
Diverse books open the world to us, friends. And you have a place in opening that door. Diverse books are the first steps to living diverse lives. Lives of courage and beauty. Lives that are worth living.
*on Wednesday I’ll be broadening this discussion a little bit and talking about building diverse lives and being representatives of chance. If you have thoughts on diverse books or lives, I hope you’ll join in the discussion*