How to explain to kids what diversity means
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Diversity, Charrnaie Gordon. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
When we talk about diversity today, we’re talking about the varieties of differences that people have in a community. In her book Charnaie writes, “Diversity is everything that makes you, you! Age, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, ability/disability, socioeconomic status, political views or beliefs and so much more!”
I think a lot of people, when they think of diversity, they're thinking of skin color or different cultures. Right? But it's so much more than that.
A really important part of diversity is making sure that all people, regardless of our differences, feel welcomed. That’s where a new word comes in: inclusion, the feeling of being welcomed amid diversity.
If we kind of envision a really, truly diverse world, that's talking about all different types of people, right? People with different socioeconomic backgrounds, people with different gender identities, people with different physical abilities and disabilities, different sexuality, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
But then when we're talking about inclusion, I think that is just saying that everybody should be represented and everyone has an equal chance to participate and to be heard. So if you kind of think about it in a way, I think I heard somebody describe diversity and inclusion before as kind of like baking a cake. Right? So diversity is all of the ingredients that you need to make this cake. And then once you mix the ingredients all together, that's inclusion.
Diversity is kind of like the “what” and inclusion is the “how”. Combining all of these things together, you end up with this beautiful and hopefully delicious cake in the end that you can, you know, enjoy. But I think that's really an easy way to think about diversity and inclusion.
I think they're often used in the same sentence or in the same phrase together because they are similar in a lot of ways.
But I think inclusion is just really just making sure that everyone has a voice, everyone can be included, and that diversity piece of it is saying, “Okay, well, who are these people who need to be included? Whose voices do we need to hear from?”
There’s something so special that can change how you look at the world and your whole life, when you can see yourself reflected in a book, or on TV, or in the heroes who we all look up to. The word for this is “representation,” and it’s another way we celebrate diversity.
Charnaie told me about how her life was impacted as a kid after seeing herself represented on TV.
That moment when The Oprah Winfrey Show first came on. It was a show that came on every day, Monday through Friday at 4:00 PM in my time zone where I lived, and [when I] came home from school, that was the first thing I wanted to watch.
I'd run upstairs—my Nana would already be watching the TV on that channel—and so once four o'clock came around I was glued to the TV watching Oprah Winfrey.
And I remember those moments so vividly because she was the only, from what I can remember, person of color who looked like me, who was doing things that I could imagine myself doing someday. She wasn't an athlete, right? I watched a lot of basketball growing up too, or just, you know, a lot of sports. So she wasn't in the entertainment industry, as far as being a singer or a rapper. She just was a professional Black woman. And I was just in awe of her and I still am today. I still am. But I think for me, that was just so powerful watching The Oprah Winfrey Show for the 20 years that it was on TV because I saw this woman who looked like myself continue to elevate, continue to inspire just generations of different women, myself included.
But I think that's just so powerful for other people to see, especially people that look like me, to know that they can potentially do these things too. Right? Even if they don't have a ton of money and a ton of fame like Oprah, it's possible.
And it's so funny. It was always on my bucket list to write a book someday and to be an author. Even if I just did one book. That was always my goal on my bucket list of things that I wanted to do; but I thought that I would be doing this much later in life and I never envisioned writing children's books.
So it's just funny how everything kind of came full circle for me in that way.
For me, and Charnaie, and maybe you too, diversity seems so obvious—so important and good. It’s hard to understand why anybody would not want to live in a space that values diversity.
I know for myself, I'm just going to continue doing what I've been doing since I started doing this work, right. Continue to talk about the issues that are facing our world and our young people. Continue to talk about and have these tough conversations about things like race and racism, oppression.
I think just continuing to speak up and speak out is really what we need to keep doing in order to hopefully invoke change and try to start changing some of these narratives and some of the issues that we're facing in the world today. It's just a constant, ongoing conversation that just needs to keep happening and happening.
It doesn't stop when there's a guilty verdict in a trial, it doesn't stop when people, you know, go to jail for things that they have done. The work doesn't stop. And I think that's really the message—we have to keep fighting.
We have to keep going. We have to keep embracing other people that may look or act differently than us.
We just have to get back to kindness and keeping our mouth closed when we may not necessarily have the kindest things to say, right?
Or it's just making a choice to not tear somebody down, not continuing to tear people down on purpose.
It can take a lot of work to practice kindness and to fight for diversity, to ask those questions, and even more to fight for space so you have an equal chance and voice too. But it means that we’re making the world better for everyone.
I look at some of the younger children from the present day generation and I feel hopeful when I look at them or when I hear from them. And when I see them. Raising their voices to be heard and just speaking up is just so empowering and it makes me happy to watch them in action; and hope that that is what our future will look like or their future will look like.
Just for the betterment of the world, I think. We're so far away, I think, from having this harmonious world and environment where everybody gets along and there's no more fighting. We've been fighting. We've been in this fight for centuries and while it has gotten better in a lot of ways, in a lot of ways it hasn't. So there's always so much work to do, but envisioning that and thinking about that does make me joyful and fills me with lots of hope.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we have Charnaie Gordon, author of A Kids Book About Diversity.