If you've been on the internet at all in the past 24 hours, you've seen this dress:
I looked at the dress and saw white and gold, clear as day. The white was made up of shades of blue, but the gold was gold, the end. The headline suggested that others saw the dress as blue and black, so I squinted. I tilted the screen. I blurred my vision. But no matter how I tried, I could not see the dress as blue and black. Clearly, this was a hoax, and I berated myself for falling victim to a prank. I’m smarter than that, right?
That thought didn’t last long. It quickly became evident that plenty of people all over the world saw the dress as blue and black. For real. No hoax. They squinted, tilted their screens, and blurred their vision, but could not see the dress as white and gold like I did. They suspected a hoax and berated themselves for falling victim to a prank. They’re smarter than that, right?
So, good and honest people all over the world saw this dress in one of two ways. I turned to science, hoping to make Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye proud. I read all about how our eyes perceive color and considered myself prepared for another try at that dress. Surely, since I now understood how eyes worked, I could make myself see that dress as blue and black.
Nope. It stayed gold and white.
The only way that I have to understand Team Blue and Black is their words. I must rely on what they’re willing to share with me about their experience looking at the dress. The most I can hope to gain from this is an academic knowledge of the way they see the dress, since I will never personally be able to see it in any other way than gold and white. But even though I can’t see the dress in the same way as they do, I have no right to discount their experiences.
At some point it hit me that this dress was a metaphor for diversity. I only have my own experiences to fall back on. I see the dress as gold and white. I am white, female, American, middle-class, Army brat, straight, adopted, religiously raised, nonreligious now, childless by choice, and adult. I don’t understand what it is to be anything other than white. I don’t understand what it is to identify any way other than female. I don’t understand what it is to be anything other than American. You can see where this is going.
The uncomfortable truth is that, as hard as we may try to see the world through the eyes of people different from us, we cannot, through any amount of squinting, screen tilting, or blurred vision come to any personal level of understanding of their experiences. We have to face this hard truth and accept it if we’re going to make any progress in equality. If we continue to cling to this idea that we can understand completely how another person sees the world, then we’ll continue getting in our own way.
But we can listen. We can read. We can rely on what others are willing to share about their experiences, and we can be willing to share ours. From this conversation, we can gain an academic knowledge of the way others see the world. And even though we can’t understand by personal experience how others see things, we can remember that we have no right to discount their experiences simply because we haven’t lived them ourselves.
This is the reason we need diverse books. The more stories we have featuring characters of different races, ethnicities, countries, genders, social classes, sexual orientation, family types, religions, etc. etc. etc., the more knowledge we can have of those different from us. These stories are some of the best exercises in empathy that we can offer ourselves, our children, and our students. Reading widely and stepping into the shoes of someone different will help create leaders who will seek the greater good rather than a selfish agenda.
Talking can do that. Books can do that. But first we need listeners and readers.
Because I believe that even the people who see the dress as blue and black deserve to be seen, heard, and understood by the white-and-gold crowd, at least to the best of our ability. We owe it to each other, don't we?
Purchase diverse books.
Request diverse books at your public and school libraries.
Read diverse books.
Give diverse books.
Donate diverse books to schools.
Recommend diverse books to specific readers.
For more about the need for diverse books, visit weneeddiversebooks.org.