Hell has officially frozen over: Donald Trump is the president-elect after a brutal campaign in which he insulted women, Muslim, Latinos, immigrants, African-Americans, people with disabilities, and countless others. In this time of despair, it's hard to know what to do next, but I have a suggestion: read, and read diversely. Because if I learned anything from this election, it's this: we need diverse books more than ever.
It might seem odd to equate books to the election, but in truth, so much of how people view the world is empowered by what they see, hear, and experience in their own realities. Books are, in their simplest form, mediums of escape and learning. We relate to characters on the page and put ourselves in their shoes, even if we have nothing in common with them. This is extraordinary because in that small act, we recognize the three-dimensional, complex reality of another person's humanity — at least a little bit, at least for a little while.
This is extraordinary because in that small act, we recognize the three-dimensional, complex reality of another person's humanity.
You see, we can only ever experience life on Earth through our own lenses, so when you think about what X character feels or wonder how you'd react to X situation, you're subconsciously giving them the same multi-dimensional autonomy in existence that you possess. In this way, books have the power to connect us with people who may not look like us or with whom we may not share any of the same identities.
This potential, combined with the legacy of books (as a medium) changing and impacting society, means that a country like ours can be changed for the better. Just look at books like Aesop's Fables, which brought us the universal life lesson that 'slow and steady wins the race' in The Tortoise and the Hare and The Ant and the Grasshopper. Or The Art of War, which innovated how professionals worked within the fields of business and law, among many. Or Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, which personalized the Holocaust for millions of people spanning both generations and the globe. Or The Feminine Mystique, which “permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States." Or King James Bible, which do I even need to talk about its impact?
The list of books that changed the world could go on forever. So if books can challenge people to put themselves in the place of a Holocaust victim, then why can't books encourage people to think about how people of different races and backgrounds might experience life in the United States? Ultimately, the problem here is that people aren't informed about the experiences of so many people, and when people are misinformed or underinformed, men like Donald Trump have room to succeed.
The root of the problem is that too many white people in this country have never stopped to validate the inexplicable realities of POC or other marginalized people. Neither movies nor TV nor video games present characters of color as the default, because white people still dominate representation across the board. The numbers don't lie, but people lie to themselves all the time.
The root of the problem is that too many white people in this country have never stopped to validate the inexplicable realities of POC or other marginalized people.
Books, on the other hand, stand out as a golden opportunity for social advancement, because people of color are already doing the work. The problem is that the industry isn't accepting, supporting, or promoting the work to the degree that we need. If we get more diverse books into the hands of children, they can begin to see all people with empathy and understanding. We need to bridge the gap – and it starts with our children.
There's not just one solution to this problem. It won't be easy, but challenging the book industry to increase diversity is well worth the effort. Support #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Support the authors who are doing work day-in and day-out to signal-boost marginalized authors and make the books world more inclusive. Buy books written by marginalized authors, and don't buy books that do harm to marginalized communities. At the end of the day, the quickest way to change an industry is through affecting their bottom line. If you post about change and protest all day, every day, but still buy harmful books, you'll be wasting your time.
Books have immeasurable power and this election has shown, above all else, that far too many people in our country need to be pushed to validate people besides themselves. Fighting on Twitter doesn't usually help. Calling people out on Facebook doesn't seem to do much. But maybe, giving these Trump supporters some diverse characters in an imaginative world they can't help but love and enjoy is step one in closing the empathy gap.
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