Diversity matters. There are billions of people on this planet, and every single one of us counts. We are all unique, and have our own experiences… some good, others not so much.
What is the best way to enable us to see things from a different perspective to our own? How do you put yourself in someone else’s shoes; experience something you could never possibly do in your own lifetime? Well, perhaps an obvious answer is to read a book!
Truly being able to empathise with others can be tricky. How do you understand what it is like to experience something when you have never experienced it for yourself? How do you imagine living in a life of fear and slavery, when you were born free and privileged?
It is important to read out of your comfort zone and experience new things. It is how we learn. Some people may be lucky enough to be able to garner such things from the experience of those they have grown up with. If someone can tell you, candidly, about an experience, it can enrich you. But, for a lot of people, we don’t have access to these perspectives.
We have books.
Reading a book from somebody else’s perspective, whether fiction or non-fiction, offers an intimacy that is rare to find anywhere else.
I have been making more of an effort to read books from different perspectives. One of the most recent I have read is The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. When we think of Greek mythology and war, we immediately think of the male perspective/experience. Fighting, clashes, conquering. The Silence of the Girls flips this on its head. Rather than focusing on the role of men in the war, we instead look at the women who are enslaved within the war camp. The women who weave cloth and prepare food – are bed slaves to the men, who work in the hospitals and prepare the dead for burial. This is not the typical narrative of war, and it was enriching to read.
There is a very poignant bit at the end of this book. So often the narrative is about victory and people being conquered. But what is often overlooked is that those peoples are not really conquered. The men may have died in battle, but the women live on. They may be the children of their captors, but their mother’s stories, histories, and identities are taught to their children. In this particular book, a mother sings an old nursery rhyme to a child… prompting this revelation. The contrast in narratives was startling, but appreciated!
Diverse voices are out there.
As much as I am making an effort to read different perspectives, there are so many more out there to choose from! Now more than ever we are able to access books from ethnic or minority perspectives that weren’t readily accessible until quite recently.
With radical shifts in society, namely movements around LGBTQ+ and equality, it is far easier than before for authors to write diverse characters without prejudice or stigma. Whether these characters are from an #ownvoices perspective or not, it is a pleasure to see the drastic shift we have made regarding attitude towards others.
Take LGBTQ+ as an example. Earlier this year I read Dune by Frank Herbert; it is definitely a book written in its time. One of my biggest gripes about one of the characters (Baron Harkonnen), is that he is further demonised by being made to be so grossly fat he can’t support his own weight, but also by being gay. It may not have been so scandalous to characterise somebody in such a way back in 1965, but it certainly doesn’t sit well now.
I haven’t read so much recently from authors of ethnic minorities, but I do have them on my reading list. This isn’t a deliberate choice; rather, it is as a result of historic bias in the publishing industry. More recently I have added books to my reading list from diverse authors. I have books by Michelle Obama, N.E Davenport and Christina Soontornvat on my list. I have just read The First Binding by R.R. Virdi, which is an epic fantasy book but has themes of Asian mythology. I have also historically read children of blood and bone by Tomi Adeyemi (a series I need to continue with).
In a way I have struggled to write this post. Who am I to talk about the difficulties experienced by those in social minorities? I don’t fall into any of these categories. But just because we don’t fall into these categories, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the experiences of those who do. It is only by being open and transparent that we can acknowledge the history and difficulties experienced, even sadly to this day.
It is important that we learn of these experiences, in order that we can empathise with those who have suffered so terribly and treat others with kindness.
Just because we have never had to go through the struggles ourselves, it doesn’t mean we are entitled to ignorance.
I am going to be making even more effort to read books that explore the lives of ethnic minorities, those from an LGBTQ+ perspective, and to learn more about the history and culture of other countries. Because diversity matters! I have read Greek and Norse mythology so far, but something I have never explored is Asian mythology. It is every bit as rich, and so I can’t wait to read about it.
Here is my pledge. What is yours?