Reflection: Homecoming and Reading Diversely

Hi again! After a long hiatus finishing final exams and rushing to rustle together Christmas presents, it is wonderful to be back. (At peace. At a desk. With tea, cookies, and precious time to write and think about books.)

Now that the holiday scramble has subsided, I’ve had some time to think about my reading diverse books in my hometown. Or more specifically, what reading diverse books means to me in the small, majority white, politically conservative enclave where I grew up.

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I’m lucky that I’ve been able to go home for every holiday to a family that is loving and supportive, and to the town where people have known me since childhood.

You can probably imagine it. It’s an everybody-knows-everybody’s-business town. With the one ice cream shop where my mom took me on Friday afternoons. The movie theater where I’ve run into everyone and their uncle. It’s where the librarians have known me since I was a child, but also where I encountered my first racist taunts on the playground – it was a boy, he was white, and he accused me of having small eyes and peeing in Coke bottles.

My family was part of a handful of families of color (among Mexican, Japanese, and Vietnamese American families) in a town that is 75% white. The majority of families here are also socioeconomically sound. And while I know there are lots of good people, there was also an anti-black hate crime committed here when I was in high school. After the news died down, no one talked about it again. But mostly, my hometown is filled with memories of the “playful” racism of peers and the quiet assent of adults. 

While there’s no doubting that reading diverse books is extremely important for urban kids of color, I’m realizing increasingly that middle-class white communities like mine are also in sore need of stories that portray marginalized voices. As I’ve discussed like a broken record, stories have the power to humanize and eliminate the imagined divisions between self and the Other.

It’s pertinent to mention that in my 6 years of elementary school, we were assigned just two books about non-white protagonists. Two. One of the books was optional. What could be possible if kids were exposed to diverse books, if they could open their worlds past this small town?

When I look at all the kids of color in the parks and playgrounds, in this community that I know can unwittingly and intentionally marginalize, diverse books provide much-needed empowering mirrors. But the fact is that the white children living here will be surrounded by people who look like them for the majority of their formative years, reading about people who look like them, who experience the world similarly. But inevitably, the time will come for them to decide how they will act toward people who are different. For them, diverse books are their windows to empathy, and doors to positive action. To stopping the cycle of permissive racism.

This town is, understandably, insignificant to everyone but me. It is a adorable, sleepy suburbia manifest, with a bit of a streak for implicit bias. But it has schools and a great library, which means there’s hope. Going home for the holidays and surrounding myself with the past reinforces why I try to find ways to encourage reading diversely, in myself and others here. (On that note, stay tuned for a post on my Dumbledore’s Army Read-a-Thon picks. Opening one’s heart to stories starts with oneself, after all 🙂 )

Have you gone home for the holidays? How has reading diverse books led you to reconsider your past and chart your future directions?

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5 thoughts on “Reflection: Homecoming and Reading Diversely

  1. I’m now determined to buy my cousins and friends diverse books for xmas and birthdays as they often get me books for those occasions. Although they tend to be the popular majority ones instead of the amazing diverse books out there. I want to open up their universes with some fun books too. If I do get to work at a library, I will definitely make sure the collection is as diverse possible.

    Reading widely has also made me reflect more on what is important to me and if I do pick up creative writing again, I’ll do so with a better informed lens than before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Opening universes” is the best way to put it. My little (ok, teenaged) cousins are reluctant readers, in part because books in the high school curriculum aren’t always the best at reflecting kids of color, so I find that I’m always looking for *the* book that will ignite curiosity. I hope your loved ones enjoy their diverse reads! I’d love to know what discussions these books inspire for you and your friends/family!

      Whatever you choose to pursue, the world sorely needs more librarians/writers like you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the most noticeable change my commitment to reading diversely has seen so far is that I am trying to choose diverse books for my read-alouds. In few years I think there will be visible effects at the libraries where I have any say in purchasing as well, but so far the books I’ve influenced are drops in the bucket of white literature, so I think the read-alouds are having a more momentous impact, particularly on one mostly white school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t even thought about read-alouds! I used to work at my public library when I was in high school and have just realized that everything we read aloud had either white or inanimate object/animal protagonists! Not to discount the value of these books, of course. But read-alouds literally give voice to stories that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Thanks so much for the work that you’re doing in your schools and libraries – I hope the schools and libraries in my town follow suit!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The 30-Day Project was my first inspiration, but read-alouds are what galvanized me to take the step and start my blog – I had a similar realization to you when I went through my list of read-aloud books. I was hoping to find some great books to read at home, but not a single one had main characters who were black. Thankfully there were already some picture books on my regular list that were more diverse. However now I am trying to change up my curriculum so the chapter books are 50-75% “other” voices. My thinking is that classroom teachers and students will be self-selecting white/animal books most of the time but by getting caught up in an “other” story they can see into another way of being. I also am really hoping to find some series books to add to the library because when I do a read-aloud there are always students who want to read other books about the same characters. I actually have a post in the works about how this is working so far this year and what some of the favorite read-alouds are, etc.

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