Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Not synonyms

Posted by lpearle on 14 January 2013

I’m working on a project and one of the requirements is finding multicultural texts.  What worries me is that for some people, “multicultural” is code for “black” or “African-American”.  It shouldn’t be.

Multicultural, and the other word I hear tossed around in schools, “diversity” should be about a wide range of things.  Yes, there’s ethnicity and race to consider.  Religion? sure. A Palestinian Catholic does not have the same references as a Palestinian Muslim.  Ditto an Eastern European Jew and a Coptic Jew.  Or someone from Spain and someone from Guatemala. And within the narrower band of black/African-American, there are differences between North and South, rural and inner city, descended from slaves and immigrated willingly, etc.. So when we’re looking for books that are “multicultural” why do I so often hear about African-Americans?  Within the larger category of diversity, we also need to consider economic status, sexual orientation and learning issues. Yet again, I rarely hear those concerns and qualities when choosing diversity-related books.

I’ve also been wondering how multicultural a book is if the character is merely a different ethnicity, mentioned in passing.  What I mean is, what about the book that says, “my bestie comes from a Chinese family, but you’d never know if you go over because they don’t even have chopsticks” (ok, that’s a gross exaggeration, but you know what I mean – the cool ethnic twist is never really part of the book it’s just an aside tossed in to show that the author is showing a diversity of characters)?  That’s not really multicultural, in my opinion.

To be truly multicultural, the book should expose the reader to something outside their normal experience.  Granted, for an inner city reader, Little House on the Prairie is a multicultural experience. The question is, is that such a bad thing?  Shouldn’t the goal not be to represent another culture or group simply because it’s currently politically correct but because it opens up a world they wouldn’t necessarily be able to envision otherwise?


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