Ferguson, Diverse Books, and Empathy
Thank you, Madhuri, for giving me the opportunity to express my opinion on such an important topic.
I have been asked to talk about why We Need Diverse Books is such an important movement to me. To do this, I will refer to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.
On November 24th, 2014 the decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson was made. Despite the fact that he killed an unarmed eighteen year old, a boy only one year older than me, he was released and given the opportunity to continue living his life as he had before. However, Michael Brown, the murdered teen, will never walk on this earth again. His family and friends will have to live with the pain of his loss forever embedded in their hearts and minds. And they have not given been justice.
What horrifies me almost as much as this failure on the part of the American judiciary system, however, are people’s reactions to it. While there are many wonderfully outspoken people who work to spread awareness of the injustice that has occurred, there are also people who do the opposite. There are people who attempt to dehumanize Michael Brown and the Black community in general. I have seen racist slurs being used, I have seen African American people referred to as “it”, and I have seen people commending Darren Wilson for what he has done.
Along with these people, there are also people who are simply indifferent. They see this as something that does not affect them personally, and so they cannot be bothered to care. Quite honestly, these people are the people that anger me the most.
This is why I believe that we need diverse books.
Children and teenagers in our world need to grow up seeing people of different skin colors and backgrounds in their literature. They need to read about characters whose life experiences are different than their own. Many people have never experienced racism and probably never will, and thus they find it difficult to empathize with someone who has. Literature about discrimination can be that bridge between such people and empathy. It can connect them to a better understanding of the struggles that other people faced.
I cannot count how many books I’ve read about white protagonists. I love these books, and I have nothing against them, but I can’t help but wonder how lovely it would be to read a book about someone from the Middle East, like me. Or someone living in a Native American reservation. Or a homeless person. Or someone from the “dangerous and scary” parts of the United States that the media portrays as breeding grounds for killers and drug dealers.
I am privileged and lucky enough to live in a nice house in a nice city in a nice state, but not everyone has these luxuries. What about those people? What are their lives like?
I remember when I was in the fourth grade I read a book about a little African American girl named Addy who lived in the 1860s. In the book, Addy goes out to buy something from a store near her house. She enters the store, finds what she needs, and approaches the counter to pay the clerk. The clerk then takes one look at her, scowls, and refuses to take the money from her small outstretched hand. He yells at her to put it on the counter and leave, and she does.
The reason I’m recalling this book is because it is one that has stayed with me throughout my entire childhood and teenage years. It is through stories like this one that children and young people can be taught valuable lessons about experiences that they may never have themselves. This story shows me why indifference towards racism and injustice is so horrible. At the time, this story opened my eyes to the discrimination that other little girls my age had to face, and it upset me. This book took the struggles of the African American community and put it into one little story. It, of course, was not reflective of all the horrors that African Americans endured, and continue to endure, but it was enough to make an impact on me that stayed with me throughout the rest of my life.
If books like this one become more common, I firmly believe that a sense of empathy and understanding can be spread through the youth of the world.
It is only by actually living through an experience that we can gain sympathy for someone else. And while reading about difficult experiences is not the same as living through them, diverse literature can still increase tolerance and have an impact on the way we view other people around us.
There are only a few days left, so please consider assisting our efforts to diversify everyone’s bookshelf by donating to We Need Diverse Books fundraising campaign by clicking —> HERE. It’s vital, folks!
Batool is a teenage bibliophile who loves art (in pretty much all of its forms). She loves to read and talk about books with other people, and dreams of writing her own book someday. She also enjoys learning about other cultures and having conversations about social rights. She aspires to learn as many languages as she possibly can during her lifetime- currently, she only speak Arabic, English, and some Spanish.
If you want, you can catch Batool here: