Why you should read diverse stories

girl-2696947_1920Society is all too quick to label criticism as just another ‘sensitive opinion’. This attitude dismisses real problems and silences people from under-represented groups. I’m discussing diversity in my blog because I want to do my bit in promoting equality and I think analysing diversity in stories is a good place to start.

Lack of diversity is not a new issue. Throughout history, there has always been an ideal human that was represented in media from medieval paintings to silent movies and sketches in newspapers. Kind of like a time-travelling Barbie and Ken. Fashion and beauty standards have changed, but Western culture has always put these unattainable figures in front of us. For me, the scary part is that a lot of us grow up surrounded by these ideal figures until they become defaults in our brains for ‘woman’, ‘man’, ‘family’. And then we’re comforted when the world matches these expectations. Sometimes we even try to actively make our surroundings fit the stereotypes in our head. This leads to an endless cycle of promoting mainstream ideals and discarding those from under-represented groups.

The super scary part? We don’t even realise we’re doing it. There are a lot of people who are incredibly hateful on purpose, and yes, their behaviour is inexcusable. But so many more of us are unconsciously supporting their hate by small day-to-day decisions. Which applicant will you hire? Which stranger will you start talking to at a party? Who is it you see when you cross the road so you don’t have to walk past them? It’s called implicit bias. Here is a nice TED talk explaining implicit bias.

A good way to challenge our implicit biases is to ‘fix’ the stereotypes and assumptions in our head by replacing them with positive experiences and thoughts. What does this have to do with diverse stories? Stories give us access to experiences we might not be able to have in the real world. If we all surrounded ourselves with diverse stories, we might be able to break down some of our implicit biases or even prevent them from occurring in the first place.

I know this is an insufficient solution to an over-simplified problem. First, there are many problems we need to address–a lot of the current diversity in stories is harmful because it just fuels the stereotypes in our heads. For example, a white writer who’s never been to Asia might not be able to write from the perspective of a Chinese girl without making her a stereotype. Secondly, reading a book does not erase the fact that people die every day just because they are different. Hate crimes. Incorrect medical diagnoses. Suicide.

Stories will not solve these problems. However, I think they can help direct us towards a future in which we might have a better chance.

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