What Does The Term “Diverse” Mean To You?

The problem with the term “diverse” is that it’s relatively new, complicated, and we’re still trying to nail down what it means precisely and how to use it. I must see the word around the internet dozens of times every day, probably more given the people in my circles. Every morning I see it when I check my blog Read Diverse Books for notifications. But what does the word “diverse” actually mean? Are people using it correctly? Is there even a correct way to use it?

First of all, I’m glad to see the term in so many people’s minds and being used so widely. “Diverse” is a buzzword that we immediately recognize. When talking about media — be it books, TV, or film — people from traditionally marginalized communities know that entering that space is safe. We feel welcome and know that we are an integral part of the conversation.

However, I want to address a few points regarding the term:

  1. The context in which “diverse” makes the most sense
  2. How not to use the term
  3. What the term means to me

 

1. The context in which the term makes the most sense.

It’s very important to note that the terms “diverse” and “people of color” only make sense in a Western context. In America and Canada in particular, the latter term has gained widespread use. It simply refers to the groups of people who are ethnic or racial minorities in countries that have a majority white population. Saying “people of color” in countries like China or India where ethnic and racial diversity is less common doesn’t make sense like it does in Europe or America. People from such countries may not understand “diversity” in the same sense that western countries do, where it usually means the inclusion of marginalized voices into mainstream discourse. 

 

2. How not to use the term.

Try not to refer to an individual person as “diverse” when you simply mean that the individual belongs to a traditionally marginalized community. When I talk about books, specifically, I don’t say an individual book is “diverse.” Doing so would be a misnomer. An individual story cannot be “diverse” because it can only speak to the experience of one (or a few) group of people. There are stories that celebrate diversity, intersectionality, and feature multicultural casts, but that’s different. 

Some people may use the term to mean “different” or “other,” but we shouldn’t be using it in that context or mindset because it renders exotic the experiences of marginalized communities. And as long as we keep seeing their stories as other or foreign, then we will struggle to move past the term “diversity” and into fair and equal representation. The goal should be to make “diversity” obsolete, at least in the publishing industry, and aim for all stories to be valid and valued, not because they’re “diverse” but because they reflect our world and explore universal truths.  

 

3. What the term means to me.

When I use the word “diverse” I always think collectively. A group of people from several different nationalities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc. — that group is diverse, collectively. So when I implore people to read diverse books, I mean to read books that represent the variety of voices traditionally marginalized and underrepresented in the (Western) publishing industry. All of that is a mouthful, so I simply say read diverse books. Not one book, but many.

If you read a book about a Pakistani-American family or about a gay Latino youth, don’t go around saying “this book is so diverse!” I’m not really sure what that even means. Call the book what it is, which is simply another story, another book. But it’s important to understand (or perhaps acknowledge) that it’s written by or represents traditionally marginalized voices. 

 

This must all be very confusing for some of you, which is understandable. We haven’t yet nailed down the proper terminology, but my hope is to slowly shift from “diverse” and “diversity” the way we have shifted from words like “minority.” With enough dialogue and our continued and concerted efforts to push for better representation of marginalized voices, the right terminology may come into focus. Or it may not. This conversation has always been complicated and often difficult, but we must continue to have it. 

I will use the word “diverse” until a better one comes around. Though, please remember that I always think collectively

What does the term mean to you?

How do you use it in every-day conversation?


Disclaimer: everything written here are my thoughts alone and my individual interpretation of the term. There isn’t an official definition of “diverse” nor is there technically a right way to use the word. 


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51 thoughts on “What Does The Term “Diverse” Mean To You?

  1. Your definition of diversity is spot on to me. I think that you can use the word diverse outside of the West though. The beautiful thing about diversity is it can apply to religion sexual orientation, thought and ideology or even different ethnic groups within a country. So while diversity means something different in the west, every country needs it. Variety is the spice of life as they say.
    And yes, it annoys the hell out of me when I’m discussing one particular PoC author and someone refers to this author or book as diverse ( unless it features a diverse cast of characters as you mentioned).
    Love your soap box posts where you tell it like it is lol <3

    1. You’re right, diversity applies to other countries as well. I didn’t mean to say they don’t have a need for the concept, just that it means something else for them.
      Haha, I love writing these kinds of posts too ;D But I don’t think I’ll ever match the one about white authors writing about people of color. lol I was on some other level.

  2. I completely agree with pretty much everything you said here! This is a great post that I think really helps clear up what is meant by the term which can often come across as a kind of ambiguous term and can be hard to define.

  3. Wonderful post, Naz. I love your observation that diversity means different things in different places/countries. In fact, over the past few days I have been ruminating about a blog post on what diversity would mean in the Indian context. Hope to be able to post that next week. While you are correct in saying that racial diversity is less common in India/China, these countries are opening up more and more, thanks to globalization. As some recent incidents of violence against Africans in Delhi show, race and ethnicity will only become more relevant. Similarly, I have heard of (but not personally experienced) racism against Indians in some South-East Asian countries. Perhaps the term PoC may not apply, and a new vocabulary may be needed in that context.

    1. I would love to read your thoughts on diversity in an Indian context. Please do write it!
      The racial politics in Asian countries must be quite complex. I know very little about it, but am aware of the stereotypes placed on East Asia vs South and South-East Asia. I look forward to your post.

  4. This is a very heavy post, heavy in the sense that it is sparking up so many thoughts in my head. I dont know where to start or end the comment. Keeping it short, let me agree with you on the last part. About putting in characters in a book in the name of diversity ( not exactly what you are talking about, but similar). There would be a normal story and suddenly one character would have parents from two different countries or something. The writer would have done no research on the customs etc of either country, just givn a parentage in a sentence or two and then say that the book supports diversity. That is so not the right thing

    1. Thank you for reading, Susan. I apologize if I said any upsetting.
      As I said, this is a very complicated issue and I’m by no means an authority on the issue. I’m just sharing my thoughts. Thank you for sharing yours. I agree with everything you said.

  5. I like how you dig deep into this term. It’s good to have a common base of understanding when we use this word. You are so right when you say that the goal in terms of publishing it to make it obsolete – to make all voices valid and valued – and promoted! Your blog is helping to do just that.

    1. It’s a term I’ve had to analyze for months. I’ve always had conflicting feelings about how it’s used, but it’s a very important word right now. The more we hear it, the better. It just has to be used in the right context.

  6. I have to applaud you for this topic 🙂 I have never really asked myself what the term “Diverse” means… The book community sort of imprinted a meaning to it and I went with it…. This post sort of opened my eyes and changed my perspective. Thank you 🙂

  7. I composed this response 3 times, but it’s just too hard to say what I want to say. But, that kind of supports what I was trying to say about words just not being good enough sometimes. Really, what I wish we could do is all of us go back to when it all started, knowing what we do now, and try again. What would the outcome be? Would we be able to prevent having to have these discussions? Somebody write me a book about that. 🙂

    1. I appreciate the thought you put into this topic.
      I’m willing to listen to anything you have to say about it, Naomi! But yes, words fail us far too often on tricky subjects such as these.
      Oh, I love your idea. I can only imagine what kind of world that would be.

  8. Naz, you articulate this concept so clearly and eloquently. Love how deeply you think about the most important of issues. And I completely agree that it makes no sense to call a book “diverse” – diversity is in the collection of books one reads, or voices one listens to.

    What seems ironic to me, or at least an inaccurate use, is how the term ‘diversity’ is sometimes used to describe populations of color. For example, many people refer to my school as diverse when in fact it’s anything but (99% black). ‘Minority’ in this situation (or any situation really) is also imho a very inappropriate term, since it usually doesn’t even apply (what is that, an 80s term? I’m still so surprised when I hear it used by politicians).

    Thank you for the food-for-thought.

    1. You’re so right about that last point! I remember the coverage for the Tony Awards and how the winners in the acting categories were “diverse.” I am thrilled to have seen black talent recognized and uplifted. I really am! It was a wonderful night. But when a group of winners is all black, then that isn’t “diverse.” So we agree on that point.
      Gosh, I don’t like hearing the word ‘minority’ at all unless it’s used in the right context.

  9. Your posts just get more and more interesting as time goes on! You always manage to put things simply yet articulately, which always gives me massive amounts of jealously and happiness when I’m reading your posts haha!

    I think you’ve totally hit the nail on the head in your definition of diversity. Like you, I always think of the word diverse as a collective, and when I hear people describing an individual book/author/person as ‘diverse’ it makes me cringe a little bit. But you are right, it is absolutely a step away from the word ‘minority’, which is a good thing.

    Thanks for giving me some brain food at 10pm on a Wednesday evening! 🙂

  10. I’ve thought about this after hearing some authors talk against using term. The argument was that in their situation they were the majority race. That fits in with your point about it only making sense in a Western context.
    I sort of cringe a bit when I use the term in hashtags on reviews I’ve written. I’m white and it can feel like I’m getting really close to othering but I want to get the book in front of people who are interested.

    1. You shouldn’t feel bad about using it. and you’re right because when you use those hashtags, I do notice!
      Heather, you a reader who truly reads diverse and eclectic books. The book blogging community needs more people like you. 🙂

  11. Love this post. I’ve been thinking on doing something similar about othering from a Filipino context. While the concept of “people of color” doesn’t really exist with us, since we are people of color, there’s this mindset brought about by a deep history of imperialism that fairer is better, and this includes the “othering” of other ethnicities or minorities that have dark skin, and even extends to prejudice against fellow Filipinos who also have darker skin. This is reflected in a lot of our media, including books, where protagonists and love interests are fair-skinned despite belonging to a sector of Philippine society that would normally have darker skin (case in point being romance novels and TV series describing a poor farmer’s daughter who somehow retains a snow-white complexion despite working in the fields all day). Basically this post has given me a lot to chew on. Thanks for writing it!

    1. Yes, please do write that post! I would love to read it.
      Prejudice against darker-skinned people even among people of color in America is present and very harmful. Colorism is an aspect of white supremacy that can’t seem to go away. It makes sense that other countries would have that same kind of mentality.
      I look forward to the finished product. It’ll be difficult to write about, but it’s a necessary conversation.

  12. Fantastic post, Naz! I always feel so much more educated about things every time I read one of your blog posts. After reading this I definitely agree with your definition of the term. I have to admit that before I did use the word as an umbrella term, but I can definitely see why that shouldn’t always be the case.

  13. As usual, great post. I agree with your definition of “diverse.” I’ve always been a bit baffled when I see someone refer to an individual book as “diverse.” On the Challenge page of my blog, I’ve been putting together a list of books that I consider diverse. A book goes on the list if it gives a voice to a character who doesn’t usually get a voice in western literature. I guess that’s my definition of “diverse books”: a collection of stories that give _everyone_ a voice.

    1. Hi, Aj! Thank you for the kind words.
      I’m so glad we agree on the definition. It’s pretty common sense, isn’t it?
      I love your definition and I need to check your your Challenge page to see which ones I’ve read or want to read.

  14. Such a thoughtful post, Naz. and so important for all of us to consider how we fill this concept with meaning! I absolutely get your point about diverse vs diversity and shifting understandings in international contexts. Like probably most people, I feel as on the fence about the term as I do about multicultural in the sense that both have been utterly coopted so now mostly it’s used for “look here’s our obligatory minority” or “look how colorful and different our world” is. Diversity for me is pushing marginalized voices and stories and people and dismantling oppression. I don’t care about how US works overshadow other Western white works in this context or how that one white Welsh writer loses to that white English writer. We need to take back diversity and all its radical potential.

    1. Diversity and multicultural are great terms when used literally and in the right context, but we have infused them with so much nuance and complexity that I’m not surprised people are confused about what they mean. I probably didn’t understand the term when I first heard about it either, but our continued conversations will keep shaping the meaning of the term.
      I love how you understand diversity. Yes, dismantling oppression is a key aspect of the term. I try to work towards that end every day.

  15. The goal should be to make “diversity” obsolete, at least in the publishing industry, and aim for all stories to be valid and valued, not because they’re “diverse” but because they reflect our world and explore universal truths.

    I love this!

    Thank you so much for breaking down the term “diverse” — I don’t think about it much, but everything you said is so true!

    1. Aww, thank you, Serena! 😀
      Most people don’t really think about it, but we should should at least a little. As long as people don’t go around calling individual people of color “diverse” then I’m OK with seeing the word used incessantly.

  16. I have been thinking about this post SO MUCH the past couple days that I’m now working on a blog post response to it, because my comment was getting out of hand, haha. The short version is thank-you for this post, and I will now be more aware of the contexts in which I use ‘diverse’ and what I’m implying when I use it.

    1. I really appreciate this. Please write and express everything you have to say about this topic. I look forward to reading about it. If I miss your post, please tweet at me @_diversebooks and I will definitely check it out.

  17. Thank you for this thoughtful & thought-provoking post, Naz!

    I grew up in India learning about how India is united in its diversity. So I guess I did hear that word all my life, but in that context, the word is celebrating the different (sub)cultures and traditions within the same country. Like you mention, context makes all the difference.

    All in all, here’s to the day where no book needs to be labeled “diverse” (anywhere), where every book stands on its own merit on bookshelves alongside other fabulous books.

    It was interesting for me that you bring up the concept of rendering experiences “exotic.” I wrote a post about it on my blog a few months ago, if you’re interested: https://hemapen.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/exotic-is-as-exotic-does-not/

  18. Sorry it took me a while to finally comment on your post. You discussed an issue that I have been thinking about for quite a bit now, ever since the #weneeddiversebooks came about. I’m from Singapore which is majority ethnic Chinese, but also made up of Indians, Malays and Eurasians. It was always emphasized that we live in a multicultural society. But of course diversity means far more than ethnicity. Those with handicaps are still not really integrated into society, and as for LGBT rights, let’s just say that there aren’t any (and I doubt that will ever change).
    So your post made me think about a lot of things. Thank you for writing it!

    1. Is the Chinese population in Singapore the one most elevated and valued or is it more fair and equal for everyone? I’m curious to learn about the racial and ethnic dynamics of a country like Singapore. The concept of “diversity” would probably be similar to what it is in the west, but also different because the majority population isn’t white or European.

  19. This makes a lot of sense! It’s such an interesting topic, too. To me, diverse just means a lot of under-represented “things”, whether it be people, sexuality, race, etc. in either a book (lots of diverse characters) or just in general (lots of diverse books).
    -Amy

  20. Thank you so, so much for writing and sharing this. I have to admit, yes, diverse is a word a bit thrown around everywhere, but what does it really mean, that question’s been bothering me, at times, and I’m glad to have your point of view on this 🙂

  21. I basically agree with your meaning of diverse. I only used the word “diverse” in my reviews or recs if the books don’t highlight the experience of an individual, but show us more about the background, the value, the family, friend, and environment of the characters’ group, so it’s a collective. In my opinion, how can I know the book is diverse or not if it’s only highlight someone’s experience, since even in the same community, each experience is different. We can use the term diverse outside of the western countries, but the meaning would be a bit different and who we refers as the marginalized group will be different than those in the western countries.

    Amazing post!

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