In 1990, Rudine Sims Bishop posted an article called "Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Doors" discussing the way our art forms still remain vastly unrepresentative of out society as a whole. Not really sure how? A study by San Diego University found that 12% of Protagonists in the the 250 top-grossing films of 2014 were women. To make a comparison, women make up 51.9% of the world's population. If you're still not convinced, you should know that out of the 3,500 books analysed by the CCBC in 2014, only 180 were about African/African Americans, 38 about American Indians, 112 about Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans and only 66 about Latinos. With a world population of around 7.3 Billion people, those numbers are massively non-representational of our society, and to make it worse, we've been talking about the issue since 1965. Yet 50 years on, we still haven't made a difference. Here are my thoughts, expanding on Bishop's metaphorical use of Mirrors and Windows, about the issue:
A mirror is a satisfying way of coming back to reality; the cold truth is all there in front of you, illustrated in a lustrous panel surrounded by a flimsy frame. It can feel good to look in the mirror, to be able unnaturally prove your existence by staring your reflection in the face and confirming that the rough hair and full lip you can feel actually belong to you. A mirror is familiar. It's tangible, always ready to show you a twin to share the scar which taints the skin just behind your ear, or sibling with the same crooked smile. A mirror is a reminder of who you are.
A window, on the other hand, is not. Made from the same glass, and often just as easily breakable, but it still distorts the image which you see. Sometimes it is faint, with the features blurred out as staring into a murky pool and the colours dampened into muted shades.
Other times, the only thing you can see is what lies on the other side of the window. The sight you observe may be vaguely similar, but the scar has vanished and the smile is dimpled, not crooked. Besides, no matter how you look it through it, you can never see a clear image of yourself. Instead you're forced to keep looking, to keep searching until perhaps you can finally find a mirror of your own.
Some reading this will live in a world of mirrors. Some will live in a world of windows. Regardless, it is the same world; it's just one that fails to provide mirrors for everyone. In it's entirety, this is why we need diverse books. How can we call ourselves a fair society when people are forced to see through windows because of their race, their sexual orientation, their disability? We can't. No matter how much you argue, we do not live in a world that freely accepts all, but we must work towards it.
However, I still can't comprehend the amount of people who refuse to acknowledge that literature is a way forward. They still argue that we don't need more diverse books, for a novel is written for its story. Inevitably, the statistics above show that this is a lie. We do need diverse books, for books must tell all stories. Not just the white ones.
Remember when you were a child, and you read a book with an amazing character who had the same name as you? You would be so happy, and probably find every single similarity between you and them. I know I was like that, especially since my name is not popular in the UK. Yet, I could still find characters who had physical similarities to me; the same colour eyes and hair, the same height and skin colour. I was never at loss for finding someone similar to me. For other kids, as I realise now, they must have struggled ever seeing themselves in a character that way, because there is a severe lack of diversity.
What is essential to our understanding, is that no one pleading for a change refutes the fact personality and goals are just as important; of course you can relate yourself to a character who looks nothing like you. However, when you're eight and you're asked to describe yourself, you don't tend to go past physical features. In fact, in school you are taught to describe the colour of your hair or your eyes before you start noticing the little personality quirks that make you up. No eight year old is going to go on about how they can be very opinionated or extremely enthusiastic. I don't get me started on the fact we even live in a society that teaches girls no matter what they do, they will never be more than the way they look! How can we expect a child to not be affected by this, and to not be impacted when they cannot find anyone who remotely resembles them?
I understand that longing for someone like you. I've never read a book in English about a Portuguese character or even a child who is an immigrant, but I have always wanted to. My problem is lessened as I'm not part of a racial minority, and so I have the privileged of being able to relate to characters in other ways beside my nationality. Those statistics don't affect me in the same way they do to those who are. Though I'm not a fan of idolising people, I can understand how having someone who is similar to you and achieves great things can be an incentive. It's a reminder that you can overcome obstacles, that you can reach your goals. Thus, for a child who looks at the world around them and sees such a small number of examples that someone like them can change the world, just imagine how limited they feel. That's not something any child should feel.
Every reader out there has seen the quote "We read to know we are not alone." (William Nicholson) However, for many people that is not true, because they were simply born part of a minority. Our lack of diverse books means they are still alone, even when they read. If you truly believe in that quote, if you truly believe that literature is an inspiration, an incentive, then you will agree that we need more diverse Books. Essentially, literature represents our current society, as anyone who has had to study English Literature will know. Lets make it so that in a hundred years time or more, Secondary School children aren't writing essays about how the lack of diversity in books reflects how socially primitive we still are. Instead, let them write about how the way we changed our literature helped us evolve.
To learn more, visit the official site of We Need Diverse Books or join in with the #ReadersIssues twitter chat on the 30th October, 7pm GMT. We'll be talking about the need for diversity in Literature, and how it affects readers all around the world.