by Charnaie Gordon
From the time I was a child, growing up in a homogeneous neighborhood in Connecticut, I was always intrigued by “the other.” I wanted to know more about the upper working-class, whose vibrant way of life I witnessed every week when parents dropped off their kids at school. In my neighborhood, grown-ups would be out on the sidewalk drinking beer, while kids were playing Double Dutch, “kick the can” or listening to radios on full blast. In the back of my mind I would always wonder what “other” children witnessed in their neighborhoods compared to mine. “Other” meaning children who were of a different race or culture than mine.
I turned to books to help me understand more about other cultures, races, and classes. I was curious about the types of foods they ate, what kind of jobs they had and how they lived their day-to-day lives. This burning curiosity I’ve had with learning about diversity still hasn’t subsided even in my adult years. Each time I can learn about a different culture I feel so enriched and enlarged.
Now that I’m raising two kids to be future adults in a world of diversity, it’s important for me to allow them to have opportunities to be around others who are different from them on a regular basis. I want them to understand that people are people – regardless of differences. At the same time, I want to teach them to be accepting and kind while they explore their curiosity just like I did at a young age.
So why is diversity and representation important?
It’s important because children (and adults) need to be constantly reminded they can achieve anything regardless of their differences. Simply put, a lack of diversity can hinder a child’s ambitions and aspirations of the underrepresented while they are still young and their minds are impressionable. I want my children to know that excellence can look like them, too!
Even something as seemingly small as a similar hairstyle can reaffirm the way people see themselves — and encourage them to value their uniqueness. Just ask little August, a pre-K student in Sugarland, Texas at Lakeview Elementary School. Her teacher, Leigh Bishop, recently wore the same exact hairstyle as hers to school after complementing her on how much she liked her hair. This is just one example of how to remind children how special, unique and important they are.
Of course, my favorite way to learn about and teach diversity and differences is with books. I like to provide my children with enriching reading experiences that showcase a full spectrum of diverse and inclusive books. Reading books that serve as mirrors with characters that look like them reflected on the pages back at them, helps confirm their existence and their potential. Reading books that serve as windows with characters that are different from them, helps provide a glimpse into other people’s lives. When searching for books I’m mindful to choose books which include children with differences (whether it’s hair texture or skin color, glasses, special needs, etc.).
Having diversity in literature is important because it helps people become more compassionate towards others and allows them to help push the lever toward true equality. In essence, diversity can allow us to see beyond the superficial outward differences and look deeper for common interests, similar likes/dislikes, values, beliefs, and attitudes. It opens up a myriad of options and spaces to discuss any and all ideas we might have. Being able to empathize and sympathize with diverse characters means that we as people are more open to understanding others in general. I think it is a crucial aspect to promote, more so in the time and place we live in today. We all have a story to tell.
“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.”
― Carlos Fuentes
Charnaie is a wife, mom of two, computer programmer by day, blogger/influencer by night, self-proclaimed lifelong learner, podcast junkie and Distinguished Toastmaster. Her blog, Here Wee Read, is where she is currently expressing her creativity and passion for reading, diverse literature, and literacy. Her children and her husband are her inspiration and her followers/supporters are her book-loving tribe. More than anything else, she cares about connecting people with great books they'll love. In her world books are an absolute necessity. Charnaie is passionate about instilling a love of reading, lifelong learning, and curiosity in her kids. She hopes to inspire others to do the same with their children. Find her online at hereweeread.com and @hereweeread on Instagram and Twitter.
2018 Powerful Voices of the Year is a Sunday Series, featuring guest bloggers & parents covering some of the most important topics of our time; race, racism, religion, pregnancy and birth, grief and loss, entrepreneurship, women's rights, immigration, nutrition, sustainability, climate change, transgender voices, transracial adoption, foster care, art, representation, and yoga for surviving through crisis.