We grew up in the 60s and our neighborhood was not diverse. We had no Asian, Hispanic, Black, or Muslim children to play with. And initially our books and illustrations reflected this because the books were intended to be somewhat autobiographical.
However, it is in early childhood and during the time of identity development that children begin to recognize physical differences. They begin to be aware of racial and ethnic differences and understand where they belong. Interestingly, as children learn about their own identity they also begin to absorb messages of racial and cultural bias.
Our parents were very cognizant of the issues of racial injustice. While still in college during the early 1950s, our father wrote an article for the University of Maryland’s newspaper, the Diamondback, where he expounded on the need to desegregate schools and colleges. The Baltimore Sun republished his article and our father received death threats as a result. Undaunted, he chose to lean into his values and to teach in a community college where people of all races and backgrounds were accepted. He joined Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and took to the pulpit at the Unitarian Church that we attended as children when our minister was arrested for civil disobedience while marching for racial justice.
These lessons are a part of our personal history. So we felt it was essential to edit our books to reflect a slightly different reality than the actual segregated neighborhood of our childhood. It may not be the reality of our old neighborhood but it is the reality of our values.
One of our earliest fictional encounters with diversity was not through literature but through a television show. When it first came out, Star Trek caught our imaginations. The diverse bridge of the USS Enterprise, with Asian, African, East European humans and even an alien, felt exciting to us. In more recent years I had the opportunity to meet and work with Nichelle Nichols, who played the communications officer, Uhura. Her accounts of the racial biases and obstacles that she and the show faced were truly fascinating. There were towns, particularly in the southern part of our country that banned the show from airing for having the audacity to put a black woman on the bridge.
Are there books and experiences that helped open your eyes to the need and beauty of diversity? If so, feel free to share in the comments below.