One of the questions I have about diversity in literature is “who does it serve”? I know the “mirrors, windows, doors” argument but sometimes I wonder how much my relatively, well probably actually absolutely privileged mainly expatriate international school students buy into it all. Or for that matter any student of privilege. My “Iqbal” or “Fatima” will never have seen the inside of a sweat shop carpet factory and there may even be the risk that their parents, family or friends do own one or know someone who does and that a cognitive dissonance arises as they know these people to be “nice” or even “good” in their understanding of that word.
As much as I read “Cry the beloved country” and “Triomf” or any other book of fiction or nonfiction or where the two entwined, it never struck me that this was my reality, my country, my people until I had left South Africa and taken a physical and emotional distance that allowed the intellectual and factual truth to sink in and shatter who I thought I’d been. Even now 25 years ago, I wonder at how little I wondered and how my questions were stifled. A chance remark in a conversation with an old friend of how her mother was involved with the Black Sash. She was my friend at the ages of the students I’m teaching now – up to the age of 13 when she relocated. I had no idea. Do they have any idea of the political consciousness or ideology of their parents?
At what point does having diverse literature fulfill more of a function that is the equivalent of having dolls and toys of colour and different ability?
Then I think about my collection of “third culture kids” – an identity that only really was named with the publishing of the book of the same name in 2010. TCK is not yet a “genre” like LGBTQ, although books are emerging on booklists as “suitable” for this market. Many are “moving / relocation” repurposed books and the original source ones don’t look very professionally produced.
I wonder what the lag between naming a group and the creation of a literature to fit it is in years? Perhaps someone has done a study on this.
One thought on “if you name it will it come?”
While our children may not be able to see themselves in the lives of “Iqbal,” they still need exposure to those lives. Often, as an educator, I think that we’re just planting seeds. Our kids may be oblivious to political ideologies at this point, but every story or conversation will leave some imprint, and they may connect the dots down the road. (Or so we hope!)
Also I think, increasingly, there’s more literature out there that features diverse kids who are not poor or struggling. I think that our kids just need to know that everyone — regardless or race or class — has a story to tell, and they need to see this multitude of stories both to validate who they are and to begin empathizing with others. (I guess I’m talking about mirrors and windows again.)