Diversity 2014-2021

I’ve been working on a talk for next month and once again pulled out the CCBC diversity stats. This time, I put the numbers into Excel to generate a graph so I could look at changes over the past few years. I wanted to go back far enough to indicate the impact of We Need Diverse Books, a movement and then non-profit organization that formulated in 2014. To do that, I excluded the numbers CCBC began isolating in 2018 for Muslim Americans and Pacific Islanders (I added Pacific Islander back with Asian American). I all too often critique these numbers when they come out but, a real strength of this data that I neglect is that the methodology has been consistent.

What do you see when you look at this chart? The first thing I see is that we still need diverse books. And authors.

I look for change within each group; I’m not comparing one group to the other. I look at where the number of Latine/x books began in 2014 and see where they are in 2021. Think of all the Latine/x authors who account for that growth!

The number of books “about” those written by someone outside each of the racial or ethnic groups represented seems to remain fairly close to those written ‘by’. Yet, I see a noticeable difference year after year between the ‘about’ African Americans and ‘by’: more ‘about’ than ‘by’. It’s worth noting how the ‘about’ books are determined.

“We count a book as “about” if the main character or subject is Black, Indigenous and/or a Person of Color (BIPOC). If we are able to determine that a BIPOC character or real person is featured significantly in the book, we also count it as “about,” even if the main character is white. We do not count a book if the principal character is white and there are a range of secondary characters, including characters of color, but none of the characters of color seem to play a significant role. This is, of course, somewhat subjective; we discuss as a staff books that we can’t easily discern. We do not want to misrepresent a book as having multicultural content; likewise, we make every effort not to miss those that do.”

I notice numbers really begin to increase in 2016; except for books by Native Americans and by Black Americans. With a two-year publishing lag, we’revseeing the impact of WNDB in the increasing number of books published with marginalized characters. It would be interesting to see change in the number of LGBTQIA+ and disability books published. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone work to collect data for disability representation. These numbers are a good start in working toward more inclusion and better representation because they offer a way to hold publishers accountable. They leave it to us to address systemic issues that suppress these numbers and that oppress the craft of storytelling.

It’s Banned Book Week. For so long, marginalized voices were essentially banned from mainstream presses. For some, our presence is disturbing but, that’s OK. Some things need to be disturbed.