Why Diversity? Essay

Submitted By rayannaleatrice
Words: 961
Pages: 4

Why Diversity?
If today’s adolescents are more sophisticated, more savvy, more globally conscious, why does their literature not reflect this trend? In 2011 on her blog, YA author Kate Hart took the time to evaluate the book covers of 900+ YA books, both traditional and self-published. Sadly, 90% of the books had a white character, 10% the character’s ethnicity was ambiguous, 1.4% reflected a Latino or Asian character and 1.2% feature a black character.

Here is why this is a problem. The covers reflect only one standard of beauty – the Eurocentric standard. The focus on the “pretty white girl” reinforces the notion that white beauty is the default and that people of color are the other, therefore of no inherent value. This concept is not new as YA author Ellen Oh points out in her blog article “Why The Pretty White Girl YA Book Cover Trend Needs to End”. She states, “Putting pretty white girls on all your book covers is the book equivalent of what all our fashion magazines do. An idealization of beauty that is unrealistic and dangerous to our youth.” The harm from such images has been well-documented in various studies throughout the years.

The 1939 Kenneth and Mamie Clark doll experiment is a prime example of how images reflected in the media can harm to a person of color. In the experiment, Black children were given a white doll and a black doll and were asked such questions as “Which one is prettier?” Overwhelmingly, the children would choose the white doll. In 1996, as part of my undergraduate thesis, I attempted to prove that while diversity in the media had improved, many Black children still had lower self-esteem. My thesis partner and I chose three different dolls, a white doll, a light-skinned doll whose ethnicity was unclear, and a dark-skinned doll. We asked the same questions as the Kenneth and Mamie Clark study and most of the time the girls chose the light-skinned doll. We were surprised by the result, expecting the girls to choose the white doll; however all of the girls we interviewed were children of our university’s alumni and were teaching their children Afro-centric values. While we ultimately did not prove that media was having a negative effect on the self-esteem of Black girls, we understood the importance that parents have on guiding their child’s emotional development. Many children of color, however, do not have this type of support and rely on media to help them shape their self-concept.

Some of my favorite books featuring characters of color.
Some of my favorite books featuring characters of color.
Novels not only tell stories; they can change the reader’s thoughts and perceptions about themselves and their world. To a young adult, finding a reflection of themselves in a novel is crucial to aid in their emotional, social, and mental development. If the majority of YA book covers display pretty white girls, then the majority of adolescent readers of color are not reading books that reflect them. They are not having their developmental needs met.

Young children, specifically teens, look to media and literature to gain an understanding of their world. For children of color, seeing a world where your color is not represented, or even not valued, can be disheartening. When a teen reads book after book after book with white main characters, then can easily begin to believe that they are worthless. In an article about YA diversity, author Walter Dean Myers described his reading experience growing up reading mostly British novels. “What happened as a result, in retrospect, was that I devalued my own experiences. I decided at about 14 I would stop being Negro—that was the phrase then. Books transmit values, and if you don’t find your life…