When 11-year-old Marley Dias grew tired of reading books “about white boys and dogs” — books like Where the Red Fern Grows and the Shiloh series — she and her mother decided to start #1000BlackGirlBooks, a campaign asking people to donate books about Black girls to a library in St. Mary, Jamaica where her mom grew up. She has exceeded her goal and is now expanding her campaign to include libraries in Newark and West Orange, New Jersey as well as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
To assist with Dias’ initial goal, lesbian talk show host Ellen DeGeneres provided the young literary activist a laptop and a $10,000 check donated by Shutterfly, a web-based photo publishing service.
During her appearance, Dias explained to DeGeneres that she couldn’t relate to characters in the books assigned to her at school and wanted girls like her to have books “where black girls are the main characters in the book and not background characters or minor characters.”
While people of color make up 37 percent of the U.S. population, only 10 percent of children’s books in the last 21 years have contained any multicultural content. Even when books do feature Black characters, they’re mostly written by non-Black authors. And when you throw in skittish parents who are eager to ban books featuring any controversial content, the likelihood of queer kids or kids from troubled homes reading about children like them becomes even lower.
Indeed, young people like Dias are left to seek out content that’s specifically by and about people of color. Writer Sunili Govinnage decided only to read books only by non-white authors during 2014 — noting that nearly 90 percent of the books reviewed in The New York Times were authored by white writers and only three authors among Amazon editors’ top 20 picks of 2014 were authored by people of color — and she discovered that finding such books was a challenge in itself, partly because many international books aren’t unavailable on e-reading devices.
The current ethnicity gap in literature makes social media campaigns like #1000BlackGirlBooks and #WeNeedDiverseBooks all the more necessary lest a new generation group up with no imagination of who they are and what they could accomplish.