A video was released on BookTube last week with a strong and offensive anti-diversity standpoint. I am going to address some of the issues in the video, and try not to focus too much on the poster. I am speaking as a librarian, as a woman, and as a white person. I acknowledge my privilege in this conversation, and do not attempt to speak for anyone, but to lend my voice as an ally to people and communities who embody the need for diverse representation in books and media.
First, the vocabulary. “Diversity” is used the way the word “ethnic” was used 10+ years ago (before that was firmly established as being a cringy no-no). Diversity doesn’t mean “brown people” or “queer people.” It means variety. It means there is space for everyone in narrative, not that white people must be removed. The people who have been removed are the POC, queer, trans, differently-abled, and neuro diverse. To view it as a competition is silly and wrong.
The reason people make the argument that it’s not historically accurate to have POC and LGBTQ+ people in historical narratives (no mention of the over representation of able-bodied people in history) is because of the suppression of the stories of other people. In the 1960’s and 70’s the field of archiving (because I’m an MLIS student) had big shift away from preserving the acts and lives of wealthy white men as the archiving community and American society at large began to realize how skewed the historical record is. How many famous 19th Century American women can you name? Probably not as many as men, because when we think of history we only think of what the wealthy white men were doing. Everybody else’s experience wasn’t deemed worthy of recording or preserving. Archiving is still trying to work out how to address this issue, which can be seen in the Herstory movement to pay more attention to women’s experiences.
My personal bugbear is that of blonde heroines. The Europeans are not the majority of the world population, and from there the percentage of European-descendants who are naturally blonde is pretty small. The number of blonde heroines is not small enough, especially because it automatically precludes most POC by its use.
For goodness sake, white people are already the minority on the planet. In a globalized society, why should we expect that our stories would remain the majority? I think it’s really important to ensure that we are not confusing “ethnic” with “diverse.” As discussed above, “ethnic” has it’s own set of problems, but “diverse” means variation. It’s not barring one group in favor of another (which is the current problem that people are pushing against with these conversations). Diversity means showing different colors, orientations, abilities, thought processes, and backgrounds in narrative. It means giving people who identify with that aspect of the character validation as a worthwhile human, someone whose story is worth being told. And it builds empathy for people who are not like you, the reader, no matter what way you might be categorized by outsiders. (See: news stories about HP readers having high empathy and low tolerance for prejudice/Trump.) To me, the empathy is one incredibly huge point that can have far reaching consequences. One point that was brought up in the research around police shootings is that white officers feel lower empathy toward black civilians; if increasing empathy can slow a trigger finger, then how could anyone say that diversity doesn’t have an impact?
So, to say that diversity isn’t important and that it’s just a trend, is ignorant and ill-informed. We’re all on a path to understanding our own prejudices. There is no enlightened destination, just constant growth and progression. We’re all on different parts of that path. I hope that the creator of the video has at least found the beginning of the path toward looking at her prejudices and will continue on growing as a person.
I have been trying to address my general points about the diversity issue, but there was one section that I can’t just ignore. As a former-anthropology major, using culture to justify something is rarely going to work. Cultures and communities aren’t one-note blocks of mind control. This is what the Islamic community tries to explain every time there is a terrorist attack claimed by an Islamic terrorist group. Not all Muslims are the same, so to gauge them all by the actions of a few is wrong. Likewise, the examples listed in the video (or at least the transcript of the video, I didn’t watch it in full because of monetizing the video), are examples of when a minority of people who fear (because hate/dislike is born out of fear) people who are different from them in some perceived way. She lists Islamic terrorists, and the Nazis. This video creator’s perspective on people who are unlike her is the *same thing that created these atrocities that she lists as examples of why people are inherently anti-difference.* This view point, held by a small number of people in any culture/society, has CATASTROPHIC consequences when held by people in power. This vlogger essentially said that her perspective is in line with that of the Nazis.