There are a lot of conversations about diversity happening in the book community, and overall it’s a sign of increased awareness, which is fantastic. No one is perfect, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important for everyone to engage in tough conversations around topics of diversity. This post doesn’t even begin to cover why diversity is important, but it’s just what i’ve been thinking about lately.
I think often it is easy to chalk up these diversity-centered conversations to “drama” in the community, because they can seem intimidating to participate in. This is especially true if you hold privileged identities (which include physical/mental/emotional abilities, gender identity/expression and sex, age, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, religious/spiritual practice, nationality, socio-economic class, etc.), but they can be an opportunity to learn how to support marginalized people better by being a better ally.
These are some of the most important shifts in the book community that I’ve seen, though. When people start speaking up about hurtful representation in the community/books, those are moments where learning can happen and change begins.
The publishing industry has historically lacked diversity, and the (relatively) recent push for diversity is helping to change the “norm” in the industry. The first step is recognizing that tough conversations about diversity and representation are incredibly important, sometimes hard, but will help make the norm books that properly include people from all kinds of identities and cultures.
There is value is being unapologetic about the way in which we talk about harmful representation: don’t hold back, don’t make excuses.
BUT, the manner in which we address harmful representation is also important. (I’m not saying that it’s been handled poorly lately, I’m saying that in general this is good to understand and keep in mind):
We should “call people in” instead of “calling people out”
Calling people out involves bringing attention to a problem, with the goal being to get a person to change their behavior or beliefs.
So, how is “calling people in” different? It’s about empathy and compassion.
When you call someone in, you still have the goal of changing someones actions or behavior because it is problematic of harmful, but it happens in a way that involves kindness and recognizing that those you are calling out are people too.
Calling someone in involves explaining that while somebody’s intent was good, their impact was negative, and having the patience to explain why the representation/comment/behavior was harmful in order to bring about a change in actions and understanding. This leads to less hurt feelings and more positive change, and can help maintain relationships with people you care about who are hurting you and others.
There is not one best way to do this, but here are a few things to think about when trying to call someone in:
- What is the best way to communicate what was harmful so they will they be most receptive? In private/public? in a personal message? Some other platform for communication?
- Be specific about what the action was, and be clear in the explanation of why it was harmful. This will help them understand why change is needed.
- Start the discussion about the particular subject! Let them ask questions, and be ready to answer them.
Intent does not matter in the end, if the impact is harmful or negative. But when you go to call someone in, or if you are being called in, it can help to separate good intentions from negative impacts, in order to change the response from “i’m not racist” / “I didn’t intend that” to “i’m sorry, how can I be better next time?” Someone can do something oppressive without actually being a racist person.
“When your actions are called into question, it’s important to recognize that that’s all that is being called into question – your actions, not your overall character.” –Sian Ferguson, Everyday Feminism
Be angry with misrepresentation/lack of representation, be unapologetic in your critiques, but when you are addressing these things with people you care about or who are part of a community that you care about, calling someone in can be more productive. It can be helpful to remember to separate intent vs. impact. People aren’t perfect. People make mistakes, but they should also be held responsible for their actions.
Calling someone in takes time, patience, and energy. It involves educating people, explaining things, guiding them to increased understanding for social justice/diversity.
“In social justice activism, it is important that we invest what we can in one another’s growth and happiness. After all, humans drive the movement, and if we don’t take care of the each other, the movement becomes less powerful.” –Sian Ferguson, Everyday Feminism
If you’re called in (or out), stop. apologize. Ask questions. Be open to learning, and changing. Then continue to work on being better.
In the end, diversity can be an intimidating subject to talk about for folks who are worried about saying the wrong thing or don’t know better. It’s important to educate each other so that we can all continue to grow and learn.
The people in the book community are worth the time, patience, and energy it takes to “call someone in,” rather than call them out. Likewise, people deserve to see good representation and diversity in the books that we’re reading and supporting. It’s a two-way street. This community is so great, but has space to improve and learn and grow, and the conversations about diversity that I’ve seen lately are the first steps towards change.
I guess this post is about recognizing that the people in this community matter, so let’s keep that in mind. My Gender & Womens Studies professor brought up the “calling in” method when we were all headed home for the holidays after the election, and I think it is really helpful when navigating tough conversations with people who matter to you. I think we’re all working on being better, myself included.
Continue to talk about diversity. Be intentional with the books you read and authors you support. Be critical. But be kind, and remember that people aren’t perfect. Call them in to the conversation, and help them be better next time.