It seems like everything is changing rapidly in 2020. Luckily, at least some of those changes are positive ones. With regard to racial diversity, greater awareness this year has led a group of Southern California students to push for changes to high school reading assignments.
Diversify Our Narrative petitions school districts, asking them to require English classes to assign more books written by people of color. In particular, the group wants to ensure that Black authors achieve fair representation in American high school classes, asking that each English class include at least one book about the Black experience. The group asks that teachers are given autonomy in making the selections, to ensure that locally relevant books are chosen.
Diversification of reading lists is no new topic; the issue has been discussed for many years, leading to some small changes. Currently, the list of recommended literature for California students includes more than 8,000 books for students age pre-K to grade 12. The list was last updated in 2017. Still, students report that reading assignments often do not reflect the reality of their lived experience and heritage.
Diversify Our Narrative has compiled a list of suggested readings of their own, including
- A Raisin in the Sun, a 1959 Broadway play by Lorraine Hansbury
- The Hate U Give, a 2017 young adult novel by Angie Thomas
- The New Jim Crow, a 2010 non-fiction work by Michelle Alexander
- and many other fiction and non-fiction books
Proponents of the movement say that while past attempts at diversifying reading lists have represented a sincere effort, some assigned readings representing “diversity” are still written by white authors. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, was considered progressive in its time. Yet, the members of Diversify Our Narrative feel that only people of color are truly qualified to adequately portray their own experience.
The group formed in June, and has already attracted participants in more than 200 school districts. A powerful, student-led social media campaign led to more than 47,000 signatures on a nationwide petition. The group plans to bring their cause to every high school in the country.