On Diversity, Privilege and Feeling Uneducated

I woke up this morning feeling inspired to write this post. I knew I had to write it soon before I forgot it. I have never really made a diversity-post. Don’t get me wrong, I highly support diversity. I think it is a necessity to include all perspectives of human life in all aspects of our lives -and thus literature too. I follow the discussions on your posts, comment, follow them on Twitter and so on. But I’ve never written a post myself. Here’s why. 

I recognize my privilege. I am a privileged person. Let me count all the ways I am privileged: I am a white person, from a middle class family, well educated, come from a European (and thus rich) country, am heterosexual, an atheist, never had any money trouble, don’t have any illnesses whether that is mental health related or physical (aside from a stomach issue and loose joints), have never had a truly traumatic experience, have a loving family and have only ever lost one family member close to me. That’s a lot of privilege. And I recognize that. I am grateful for it every single day. 

The only privilege I do not have (I think) is being a man. So the only thing I have experienced is being catcalled, frightened when walking alone at night, frightened when followed by a man in the streets and other sexist remarks. Because I have had this experience, I am a feminist. I think everyone should be. Yet unfortunately, most feminists are people who have had these experiences -not those who haven’t. The feminist movement is big though, and we have made a lot of progress in the past years (and decades). 

I thought of this topic when Ely told me she didn’t like how disability was portrayed in Me Before You. I kindly asked her to expand her opinion, so she did. And it opened my eyes. I had never seen a problem with the story line before, but when Ely told me, I could see how it can come over as problematic. And then I was left thinking: how many books with problematic representation have I read, but never noticed? 

Here’s the thing. I understand and support all the diversity and equality movements, like #BlackLivesMatter. I don’t even know how we are still in a society that doesn’t respect all humans equally. And I understand and support the need of every human experience having to be in literature, especially YA, because that’s the time we all try to find a place where we belong, and for someone to say that are experiences are normal, okay and most of all: that you are not alone. 

But I also feel like I am uneducated about most diversity-issues because I haven’t experienced them first hand. I want to feel educated, so I can be a better person and participate in the movements more actively. I want to be educated, so I recognize bad representation. My privilege has kept me sheltered from a lot of issues in the world, and it’s time to take action and actively seek out information. It’s not enough to passively come across it anymore. I need to seek it out now. 

I want to learn about all the different cultures in the world. About mental health problems that are still taboo. About physical illnesses no one talks about or still aren’t talked about enough. About skin color and the difference it shouldn’t (but does) make. About sexuality (all types). About gender. About poverty. About oppression. About migration. About war. About political instability in your country. 

So help me. 

Teach me. 

Tell me about your culture. Your country.
Talk to me about your religion. Or recommend some books, articles and videos about it.

Recommend me books with great representation.

Recommend non-fiction books about every topic ever. Whether it’s feminism, your culture, mental health, physical health, I don’t care. 

Leave me links to articles, videos, blog posts about diversity and equality that you feel I should read.

If you are comfortable with it, tell me about your experience. 

Help me understand the world.

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35 thoughts on “On Diversity, Privilege and Feeling Uneducated

  1. You know, I’ve just been thinking about this same thing last week and wanted to write a very similar post. You did all the work, though, so I’ll just share it! 😀

    I am in a very similar situation – I feel privileged to be what/who/where I am. I was reading When the Moon Was Ours, which is about a transgender boy + has other diverse elements (the author is Mexican-American, I think) and it struck me just how little I knew about the topic. It’s a great book, by the way, and the author is married to a transgender man, so I suppose it’s a good representation. It got me thinking (like the best books do) about how I actually know very few diverse people, which is WEIRD. I mean, I probably know some gay people but I don’t even know they’re gay because our culture (specifically in Slovenia, not Western culture in general) is so unkind towards them (we had a referendum about same-sex couples adopting children and it failed spectacularly. It killed what little national pride I had left).

    So yeah, I am actively seeking out info on diverse topics. I mean, there’s always the option of going to Wikipedia and searching for “transgender”, “Latinx”, etc, but I’d rather explore the topics through literature. If you get enough recs, I’d be grateful for a list of books! 🙂 (Sorry, like I said, you’ve done all the work…)

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  2. I loved this post, and how honest and straight-forward it is. Thank you! ❤
    So I'm privileged, and not so privileged at the same time. I'm a Poc and a muslim which ultimately puts me in a minority, a very under-represented one. I'm from a third world country (Morocco) which one a larger scale means I'm not that privileged. But in my own country, I kind of am because I'm part of the middle class, have access to a good education, I am also heterosexual and never had any major health issues.
    All of this being said, I didn't educate myself about diversity until very recently and I STILL am learning because I never realized how necessary it is that EVERYONE is representated in literature. But now that I am aware of these things, I am doing my best to spread the word and promote diversity. One book that I recently read and loved is "When the Moon was Ours" by Anna-Marie McLemore, great story and great representation (Not of my own culture but still!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll definitely look up When the Moon Was Ours! Thank you, I’m really glad you enjoyed my post. I think it’s interesting to see that you are privileged in some ways, but not in others. I think that goes for most of us really. I think I once did a buzzfeed test to see how privileged you are? There were so many questions. I’ll try to find it again. I don’t really know all that much about islam, and I do want to learn. What do you think the best way to do that is? I do know some things about Morocco. The parents of one of my best friends lived there for years, and she frequently visited! I really want to learn as much as I can, because I think it’s so important…

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  3. Jolie,
    This is so humbling to read. I agree, we need to get the conversation about diversity going stronger and louder. It’d be very empowering to many minority groups to have representation and acceptance. Wonderful start of an important conversation.

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  4. This is such a wonderful post, Jolien and I highly admire you for writing it! There’s so much that we’re blind to due to our privileged upbringing and I completely agree with you that we need to know more about all the other kinds of things people are facing, as I think this will connect people and make the world a better place, right? For anxiety (as mental health is something I really want more people to read about) I highly recommend Underwater by Marissa Reichardt and Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne – they’re fictional but their struggles with anxiety are so, so real and it really opens one’s eyes! I also love Holly’s books as they have a lot of feminism in which is awesome!

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    • Thank you Kyra! I’ve heard such amazing things about Holly Bourne’s writing, so I’ll definitely look into Am I Normal Yet? Plus, I really like the title. I don’t know Underwater, but I’m looking it up right now! Thank you for the recommendations Kyra! I think I’ll like Holly Bourne’s books even more if she talks about feminism too.

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  5. Since you’ve mentioned North Korea, ‘Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea’ by Guy Delisle is excellent. It’s a journalistic graphic novel, which is quite possibly my favourite subgenre of comics.

    Really interesting post. I try to stay aware of diversity when it comes to media (and had a bit of a moment when I realised most of my favourite rappers were white, leading to me accusing myself of institutionalised racism, which I hope – stress on hope – was a bit of an overreaction) but it can be hard sometimes. I probably don’t seek out diversity in media as much as I could, and there are a few things that I know are problematic (in their portrayal of race or gender) but still enjoy.

    I’ve not read ‘Me Before You’ but when I found out what happened at the end, I was shocked that so many people thought that it was romantic instead of incredibly complicated and potentially very insulting to.

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  6. This is such a wonderful post! I can relate to so much of what you say here: I am privileged in a lot of the same ways as you (I’m white, middle class and from a rich European country) and so I have definitely been guilty of failing to notice a lack of diversity or problematic representations in books because they aren’t things I’ve personally experienced. I think it’s really great that you want to expand your knowledge on diversity and equality, and it’s something I’d really like to do as well 🙂

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  7. This is amazing!! I love this post and it’s exactly how I feel sometimes. The only basis for diversity that I have are my own experiences so it’s important for me to branch out and learn about other cultures and lives as well. If you ever want to learn more about Latinx, let me know 😊

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  8. I love this post, Jolien. I respect you so much for writing this. A lot of people don’t realise how uneducated they are about certain things, so the fact that you can acknowledge that and want to learn speaks volumes for your personality. I mean, I already thought you were lovely but now you’re in my top people list. As for recs, I don’t know if you’ve read this but I recently read In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park, which is about North Korea. I found it really eye-opening and interesting.

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  9. Great post. I feel the same. But it is hard to find the words sometimes.

    A good blog to follow I think is readdiversebooks.com. He shows different types of books with diversity and writes blogs about things I had never considered. And I think Nazahet is always willing to talk and explain things so it is good to follow him on twitter too.
    As for books, the books by Corinne Duyvis spring to mind.

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  10. The Sisters Are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris is a good place to start. Also, if you’re on Twitter look for read diverse books tags and accounts they recommend good diversity in literature

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  11. Good on you! I think it’s important to understand, to ask questions, to learn. I have not told too many people this, but as an ethnic minority some of the most hurtful things I’ve heard said to me were from well-meaning folks who thought they were championing the diversity movement and being sensitive to my culture. They didn’t mean to come off as offensive but they did without even realizing it, but I knew they didn’t mean to upset me which is why I didn’t say anything. Maybe I should have, I don’t know. But definitely everyone should strive for the attitude you show here, the world is in need of more love, more hope, more willingness to reach out.

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    • Thanks Mogsy! I think until a lot more privileged people (that sounds awful, doesn’t it?) try to seek out more information, diversity and equality will always be a struggle. So I’m trying. I hope I have never said anything to offend someone, but in reality I probably have. There’s just so much information out there, that I don’t really know where to start!

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