Why #WeNeedDiverseBooks

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Why #WeNeedDiverseBooks

“Let’s go fight the good fight.”

By Bryce Leung and Kristy Shen

We were sitting at a lunch table at the Javits Center in New York, May 2014. All around us, in that manic swirl of Book Expo America (or BEA, as the cool kids call it), is where we first met Ellen Oh and Lamar Giles, two of the original founders of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

It was a fledgling little operation and they had just finished speaking to a packed conference room. A friend had introduced us, and we happily volunteered to help man the main exhibition hall booth. “Let’s go fight the good fight,” we joked, figuring it would be more fun to experience BEA from behind a booth than in front of one.

Little did we know that this was the birth of a movement.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign started as a response to BEA’s decision to include only white males in their keynote “Author Breakfast” panel. As newly published authors, this annoyed us enough, but we had no reason to believe it would affect those outside the publishing industry. We had no idea how important our fight truly was.

That changed on August 9, 2014. In a little-known middle-America town named Ferguson, Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old, was shot dead by a white policeman, and the world watched as Ferguson and discussions about Ferguson quickly and angrily became divided along racial lines.

That’s when we finally realized how important this campaign was.

WNDB is not just about helping diverse authors or supporting diverse titles. It’s about creating the world we want our next generation to live in.

We are not in a post-racial world. Not yet. Racial prejudice and racial discrimination are still around us, simmering below the surface. And when it erupts, it often erupts violently. On the streets of Ferguson. On the avenues of New York. On the sidewalks of Washington DC.

But the nasty thing about clashes that feature riot gear, and batons, and Molotov cocktails, is that they are not the real battlefields. The best-case scenario is a ceasefire. That is not the same thing as peace.

The real battlefield is in the classroom, and in the hearts and minds of the next generation. The real soldiers are the teachers, the parents, and the librarians.

If we could convince kids that diversity is not something to be feared, but something to be treasured, they would react not with fear, but with curiosity. Racial and sexual discrimination would be something the last generation did, something they have no interest in perpetuating, and they would succeed in creating the post-racial world we’ve always dreamed of.

One way to do it is with diverse books.

As authors, the most powerful ability we have is creating worlds. Worlds in which African American characters can be first-page heroes rather than front-page criminals. Worlds in which Hispanic characters can represent social change rather than social problems. And worlds where people of color can be just…people.

These should be the stories the next generation grows up with.

We can’t all face down baton-waving police officers, but we can put a book in front of a child. And maybe, just maybe, we can change their world. And in doing so, we can let them change ours.

This is why #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Let’s go fight the good fight.

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LittleMissEvil-finalcoverforwebKristy Shen & Bryce Leung are senior members of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, a grassroots organization dedicated to increasing diverse representation in children’s books and promoting the works of diverse authors. Their role in #WeNeedDiverseBooks is Directors of Technology, which includes running the official website, the official Twitter feed, and the official Tumblr account. Their debut novel LITTLE MISS EVIL was released by Spencer Hill Middle Grade in March 2015, and they are represented by Jamie Drowley at Inklings Literary. Twitter: @kristyshen