How to foster diversity and inclusive education
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have
been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be
used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the
dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken
dignity….When we reject the single story, when we realize
that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a
kind of paradise.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In her brilliant TED talk, Chimamanda refers to “the dangers of a single story” as a trap we can easily fall into when we, for example, perpetuate narratives in which black people are always connected to poverty, lack of education, and Africa is seen as a country.
Black awareness month in Brazil is observed in November but we should raise learners’ awareness to affirmative identities throughout the year. That is why working multicultural bibliodiversity and caring for black representation in books for children is paramount.
Rudine Sims Bishop, an important black American writer created a metaphor to illustrate how representation should be taken into account. In an article entitled Choosing and using books in the classroom, she portrays multiculturality through mirrors, windows and glass sliding doors:
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
Every child should have plenty of opportunities to see themselves mirrored in stories. Given the number of books depicting only Caucasian characters, however, it is safe to say black children lack these opportunities. According to a study carried out by Calloway (2018) , five Black authors and illustrators were discovered after coding 122 books.
Through windows, children can learn different ways of being in the world. By providing them with the chance to peek into different cultures, we help them steer clear of the “single story” trap. However, it is with glass sliding doors that literature can offer a ‘larger human experience’ as an immersive experience. Considering that bias starts early in life, literature can slide us into worlds without race borders.
In a nutshell, consider promoting multicultural diversity in your library by reflecting on the following points:
- Value the different expressions of African and black culture, expanding the learner’s repertoire beyond a Eurocentric worldview.
- Choose black authors. Standpoint (lugar de fala) is not the same as representation. It refers to talking from one’s own experience and in this regard, it is important to have equality of voices.
- Check if the narrative has black protagonists in positions of power. It is a simple choice that changes the roles of oppression black people have been submitted to for centuries.
- Scan for stereotypes. Beware of exotic appeals that reinforce images that are not identity affirmative and entail a patronizing attitude.
Here you can find some titles with black people as powerful protagonists.
Diversity and inclusion can be addressed through representation and/or through open discussions concerning racism-related topics. As a result, teachers can help raise awareness of the importance of social justice and equality. In this sense, biographies of black people are extremely relevant. Rosa Parks is considered to be the mother of the civil rights movement in the United States. She ignited the fight for racial equality by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.
Jacinto e Maria José is a wordless picturebook- the narrative is told through illustrations. It celebrates black children from a community in the Colombian Pacific, an area underrepresented in children’s literature. Dipacho, the illustrator/author, portrays the daily life of two friends who love to spend time together. Immersed in rich colors, they appear to be one with nature.
Another wordless book, Bola vermelha is about the feeling of amazement a simple red sphere can trigger. The protagonist plays with the object, inviting the reader to guess what it can be: a fallen fruit? A sleeping bird? The presence of interjections sparks the curiosity and imagination for what is to come as the reader turns each page.
In a decolonial approach to education, it is extremely important to include African folktales in children’s repertoire of tales. Africa has a rich oral tradition with origin stories that explain how things came to be and this beautifully illustrated picturebook is about how stories themselves first emerged.
Despite considerable advancements brought by black movements, there is still much to be learned and done. As Angela Davis, an important reference for black people’s rights, said, ‘in a racist society, not being racist is not enough, we need to be anti- racist’.
A first step in this direction is to recognize that our society is racist – its structure and social organization is based on racism. It is from this acknowledgement that we can re- educate ourselves and be critical enough to take a stand.
Bishop, R.S. Mirrors, windows and sliding doors. Reading is fundamental. (2015).
Retrieved from <https://scenicregional.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Mirrors-Windows-and-Sliding-Glass-Doors.pdf>
Calloway, A. E. Representations of Black Characters in Children’s Literature: A Product of Histories, Ideologies, Narratives, Depictions, Politics, and Laws. (2018).
Retrieved from <https://digitalcommons.gardner-webb.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1285&context=education_etd>
Newsroom team (2022, June 22). What is critical racial literacy and how can it be applied to English classes? Retrieved from Observatory for English Language Teaching. <https://www.inglesnasescolas.org/en/headline/racial-literacy/>
The danger of a single story-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2009) 1 video (18:33) Published by TEDGlobal. Available at <https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story>