Blogger Alyson Feldman-Piltch

Multiculturalism & Diversity: What and Why 2.0

Hello, ALSC Readers! I promise, I am not being lazy and recycling old posts, but last month’s refresher post on Collection Resources (check it out here) brought in a few suggestions of additional resources, both online and offline.

In researching some of these resources, and a few others shared with me by a teacher, I noticed that some of the sites used the words “multicultural” and “diverse” interchangeably, when they should not be.

In 2014, I authored my first guest blog post for ALSC entitled: “Multiculturalism & Diversity: What is the Difference, and Why it’s Important”. In the post I wrote about the difference between diversity and multiculturalism, and the important role authenticity plays in a story’s perspective. In citing works by both Rudine Sims Bishop and Jacqueline Woodson, I offered the following definition:

Multicultural literature can be a mirror, a window, and a sliding glass door 1: it can be a reflection of the reader, it can show them another world, and it can empower them to take action. It is written from an authentic perspective by a member of the subject’s culture or someone who has been privy to those experiences 2, and is respectful and free of stereotypical depictions both in words and images.

1  Sims Bishop, Rudine. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. 3rd ed. Vol. 6. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1990.
2   Woodson, Jacqueline. “Who Can Tell My Story.” The Horn Book Magazine 74.Jan/Feb (1998): 34-38.

In my mind this definition still stands. The delineation and distinction between a story of a diverse character a work characters not traditionally represented in literature written by an author without the depicted lived experiences or identities, and the story of a diverse character written by an author with the authentic perspective and identity, is more important than ever.

Edit: When asked why she started the #1000BlackGirlBooks initiative in 2015, Marley Dias shared she was tired of reading books about “white boys and their dogs”- which tends to be the overwhelming representation in children’s literature (you can see an infographic here). Diverse books tell the stories of characters that are not traditionally represented in literature. Typically, the authors of these books do not share the same identities and experiences of their characters. To me, this is why the distinction and differentiation between “diverse” and “multicultural” is so important.

I am curious if others are seeing this (continued, in my opinion) trend of using “diverse” and “multicultural” interchangeably? If so, do you see this trend as problematic? Or, do some not necessarily see it as problematic as their are additional terms used in a similar manner, such as #ownvoices? Or, am I missing something altogether?

I would genuinely love to hear what others think, so please share your thoughts below!

7 comments

  1. Destinee Sutton

    I appreciate the distinction you’re making here (and personally I think the term “Own Voices” gets the job done), but it bothers me to see you use the phrase “a diverse character” in your article. A single character can’t be diverse. Diversity exists within groups. It’s defined as “made up of people or things that are different from each other.” Here’s a good explainer: https://radicalcopyeditor.com/2017/10/02/should-i-use-the-adjective-diverse/

    1. Alyson Feldman-Piltch Post author

      Thank you, Destinee! Your right, I could have worded that differently. I have updated the post but left my original error.

  2. Dawn Buttery

    I think there are so many kinds of diversity, culture and race are just a few of many. There are differently abled people, and different sexual orientations as well.

    1. Alyson Feldman-Piltch Post author

      Hi Dawn, I agree! That is why the need for authenticity is so important in telling stories and representation!

  3. Susan Anderson-Newham

    I appreciate this post, Alyson! I’m getting increasingly annoyed at the fact that so many of our new picture books feature characters of color but are authored by white people. I don’t just want ‘diverse-looking’ books. I want authentic books! I have taken to researching authors of new books I’m considering for this very reason.
    And I admit that I have long struggled with the term ‘multicultural’ when referring to a book. It seems like our COLLECTIONS should be multicultural (hopefully filled with authentic voice) but unless an individual book features many different cultures, why do we term it ‘multicultural’?
    I look forward to more discussion. And thank you again!

    1. Alyson Feldman-Piltch Post author

      Thank you, Susan! I think that’s a really great question! I’ve never thought about that before! I’m going to have to think more on this. I’m curious what others think!

  4. Linda Wessels

    I don’t think you’re missing anything, Alyson; I think your passion for the subject has deepened your knowledge and heightened your awareness of misuse of the terms. Honestly, I never knew authorship was implied in either of these terms and found it odd when people said “multicultural and diverse books.” It struck my ear as redundant because I thought the terms referred only to content. Now I know better–thank you.

    Just making sure I’m understanding the distinction:
    Multicultural works are authored by someone within the group; diverse books are authored by someone outside the group. Do I have it?

    I’m guessing the rise of the term “own voices” may be partly in response to the lack of awareness of the distinction between “multicultural” and “diverse” and needing a more explicit way to identify the authenticity of the authorship.

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