March 27, 2013

Diversity Through Many Eyes

This is me.



Average height.
Average weight.
Average hipster glasses.
Nerd alert.

And yet, because of who I am and what I look like, there are things in this world I will never understand completely. I do, however, understand what it’s like to feel human. We all do. I understand what it feels like to be an outsider. To be different. We are all different, each and every one of us, but it’s through these differences that we are most alike. No matter the color of our skin or our hipster glasses, we all have the ability to see. See difference. See life. See truth. And, most importantly, see beyond what we can see on the surface of things. See beyond the scars we all have. See beyond color and culture, and embrace these differences as parts of the diverse world we live in. Because as different as we all may seem, we all fit. 

“Imagine if, no matter how many books you read, you couldn’t find any main characters that you could see yourself in. Think of how alone you’d feel. Maybe you’d start to feel like something was wrong with you. Shameful. Or maybe you’d just feel not seen. Not having yourself represented in books is like being invisible. It’s like people are saying you don’t matter, you’re not good enough to appear in a book. I think it’s important that we all have reflections of ourselves in books. And including many diverse characters, not just straight, white, able-bodied characters, is a more complete representation of our real world. I also think that if we have diversity in YA novels, if we normalize it (as I believe we should), it may eventually help some readers to be less homophobic, less racist, more accepting of many different people–all without preaching, just because they read books they love with characters who aren’t like them,” said Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars

We all know what it’s like to feel human, and what it’s like to simply not

“Ironically, “diversity” is such a diverse term in itself, and most of the time is expressed in a negative light. Anything or anyone different sends up that little, nagging red flag in the back of our heads. Different is dangerous. Original is ostentatious and odd. I've dealt with the issue of diversity my whole life, for religious reasons, and it doesn't seem to be going away. As the human family, a species that’s made up of all the same stuff, we need to learn the language of oneness. When we do that, we’ll be able to experience benefits, not as separate “groups,” but as a species. If two sides think they are right and the other is wrong, perhaps they’re missing what’s going on in between. When we put aside and look passed the differences of others, we can find what truly is right for us as a whole. Don’t think, how are we different? Think, how are we the same?” said Gale Ryan, author of Unspeakable

Our differences do not have to define us, segregate us, or exile us. And yet it’s okay to understand these differences. Diversity does not mean that difference is gone. In fact, diversity is all about being different. It’s how we treat these differences that’s important. With respect. With equality in mind. With understanding, curiousty, and respect. 

“I had never known what it was like to be a minority until I lived in Japan. Suddenly, just by the color my hair, eyes, and skin, I was an outsider. No matter where I went, I stuck out. And it's not to say that the Japanese people were unkind about this, but they couldn't help but treat me differently. Japanese people often give foreigners a polite distance. And even when they don't, you can't help but be acutely aware how different you are. Also, not all Japanese act like this. I'm not trying to stereotype, but to say that this opinion is prevalent. Some of these are struggles I hoped to tackle in INK. My MC, Katie, moves to Japan from America and faces these kind of hurdles along the way. Experiencing it myself made me see for the first time from a minority perspective.The thing is, we have more in common than we have that is different. That's what Katie finds in INK. And that's what I've found in Japan. Being different in Japan has helped me appreciate what we have in common, and that's what we need to hold on to in our novels. Find the common ground, and don't let the story be about differences of culture, gender, language, sexual orientation, or anything else. These are details, not characters. It's so important to make sure everyone feels included, and no one feels stared at,” said Amanda Sun, author of INK

Here I am, a white male, and yet I think I can understand a little of what it’s like to be a different shade of male because I have other differences all my own. And it is through these differences that we can, if we choose to, see how much we are all alike. Picture what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes. Visualize what it might be like to look like someone else. Because the truth is this: It is possible to see the world through someone else’s eyes, to include everyone by remembering your own struggles. 

“It is only natural for us to take in visual information about people and to recognize and use that information; as an evolutionary adaptation, we use physical differences to tell apart our friends, relatives, and allies from those who are unfamiliar to us. But the noticing of differences should not translate to judgment or discrimination in this day and age. So in my mind, this is a sharp and proverbial double-edged sword: categorizing and stereotyping is dismissive of those truly unique things about each person. I am not "unique" because of the fact that I am the only female Asian-American professor in my department -- I am unique because of the person that I am. However, without people taking the opportunity to actively seek out others who outwardly appear different than themselves, no one would ever know that. So my advice to all is to seek out others, regardless of what what exterior you see,” said Helen Boswell, author of Mythology

Diversity is about seeing everyone; it’s not black or white. 
Equality is about believing in everyone; it’s not gay or straight. 

“I grew up gay in an Appalachian coal town before any semblance of gay life had been introduced to us on a regular basis. We’re talking pre-Will & Grace and pre-Ellen here. Everyone’s notions about gay people were based largely on stereotype. It made for a tough adolescence, trying to reconcile my sexuality with what I thought was socially and religiously “normal.” But a funny thing happened. Once I began to accept myself and be open about it, the level of compassion I saw from the people important to me was overwhelming. It taught me the power of exposure in increasing understanding. Exposure to diversity can lead to fundamental change, and I think it’s happening right before us in the gay community. It’s that awareness that’s helping us reach a greater sense of understanding. Look at Senator Portman of Ohio and his reversal on the gay marriage issue because of his son. I mean, who’s left in society that doesn’t have a gay person in their life in some way? Nobody. I often get told I don’t seem like a product of the region in which I was raised. While I’m very proud of my upbringing, I secretly take it as a compliment. I wasn’t raised in a place known for embracing diversity, but my own struggles have opened my eyes to the need to do just that, be it race, sexuality, culture or religion. And those struggles have helped my family and friends in that little coal town do the same thing,” said Matthew Aaron Browning, author of the forthcoming novel, Straightville, U.S.A

In so many ways, hate comes down to fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of others. Fear of what we see, and what we don’t. Fear of what is missing. Fear of difference. But when we fear, when we let these aspects of diversity scare us, we are only harming ourselves. 

“I was raised to believe that I was better than other kids by virtue of the fact that my dad was a doctor, the only one, in fact, in our small Texas town. But when I was twelve and at my most awkward preteen stage—gangly, bespectacled, and plagued by skin problems—that illusion was shattered. My school integrated, racial tensions flared, riots broke out, and without warning, my siblings and I were withdrawn from school and moved to another district where no one knew us or cared who my dad was. For the next five months I spent my evenings in a cramped camper in my grandparents’ backyard and my days in a school with strange and unfriendly faces. I endured daily harassment, name calling, disdain—the biting sting of being an outsider. My identity and my security had been shattered. I would take years to find myself again. In many ways, those five months made me who I am today. For I understand in my deepest heart of hearts that true worth comes not from our family tree or our circumstances or how we look or who we love, but from who we are inside. It’s a theme I’m compelled to explore again and again in my writing,” said J.H. Trumble, author of Don’t Let Me Go and Where You Are.  

The truth is that when we fear difference, or don’t accept it, we are only fearing ourselves. Because you and me? We are different. No one is exactly the same so no one deserves to get hurt for being unlike you. 

“I was an overweight kid and dealt with a great deal of taunting/teasing and general nastiness from people of all ages, especially within my own age group. In some ways in made me a much more caring person in the sense that I knew how awful it felt to be the brunt of someone's joke or looked upon with disgust. I never wanted to have anyone else experience those same feelings at my expense. As a man who also happens to be gay, I am well aware of how much harm bigotry and hatred cause to any segment of society and how much they can hurt an individual. I am a much stronger person now that I have learned to properly separate the rhetoric of hate-spewers from the opinions of the people I love and care about. Understanding that the people who hate truly only hate themselves (even though most wouldn't be able to understand this concept) makes me better appreciate the love and support of the people that stand up and refuse to let the voice of hatred ever overtake the power of love,” said Ross McCoubrey, author of One Boy’s Shadow

Minority is a label that claims a group of people to be less than. Less than what? Who? In reality, aren’t we all a part of some minority? And so, isn’t it right to say that the idea of change should come from everyone, instead of only those people who claim to be in the majority? And if we all, on some level, are part of a minority or a majority, doesn't that mean those labels are meaningless? This is our world, our change, our way of life, and yet there is room in it for everyone no matter what they look like. No matter what we look like, we all have something great to offer. All of us, together. We, however, need to see this. Diversity is already here. We just need to accept it.

“Who am I? I'm a Korean American and like so many other people of Asian descent living outside their motherlands, we are seen as the voiceless minority. How many times in my life have I heard someone yell out at me "Why don't you go back home to China, Japan or Vietnam, where you belong?" Why can't they understand that we are home? Ask a Korean American who has gone to visit Korea and ask them if they felt at home? How could they? They face a different type of discrimination. The kind that says you may look Asian but you can't speak the language and you can't really understand our culture. It's so hard to understand that this place I call home and that I’m so proud of, doesn’t necessarily share its pride and pleasure of having the world's most diverse community of different races and cultures. You won't see a lot of minorities gracing the covers of books, magazines or major movies. Not that there isn't any, just not a lot. And then there's the fact that there has been a history of whitewashing in publishing and in theater that continues to this very day. The question I can't help but ask is why? We are already the minority. Why marginalize us even more? And it always comes down to this. We people of color can't sell books or movies. But the thing is, do they even try? Or do they throw one token POC cover out there, give it barely any support, see that it doesn't do well, and call it a day. Change happens when we make what was once so different the norm. Representing diversity is especially important for publishers of children's books. Books are the gateways for the imagination. When we promote only a homogeneous view of society in our literature and our media and deem books or movies about minorities as unsuccessful, it harms everyone. But worse, we fail in our duty to educate and inspire the minds of the future generations,” said Ellen Oh, author of Prophecy.   

Diversity is about everyone. So is change and acceptance. So is learning from difference. So is making a difference. And just know that there are people fighting for you, for a better world. For love and peace. For equality and acceptance. For everyone. 

“No matter where we come from or the experiences we endure, at the end of the day, we all have blood running through our veins. It doesn't matter if we are human or animal, if we are Asian or American, if we are young or old. We are all the same, yet so beautifully unique. It's our happiness, our pride, our accomplishments, our passions that differentiate us. Not race, gender, or age. And that my friend is what makes the world a beautiful place to live,” said Priya Kanaparti, author of Dracian Legacy.  






Look beyond what you can't find in our words here. 

Look beyond what you don't see in our pictures. 

Look at what really matters. 

If we look at ourselves and look at our own struggles, maybe we do have the ability to see the struggles of others. Maybe, just maybe, we’re all not as different as we think. Or maybe we are different. And maybe that’s incredible. 

Maybe our differences are what make us so alike.


What do you think?

3 comments:

  1. This. Is. Awesome.

    Thank you for the inspirational words.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome piece. As a half-black gay pagan I truly appreciate diversity. Although most of my friends are straight white christians. Go figure.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Awesome article!It nice to see people who embrace diversity as much as i do!

    ReplyDelete