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:
- The context in which “diverse” makes the most sense
- How not to use the term
- 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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