It’s the time of year when kids and adults alike are returning to school. College and graduate students will look through the syllabi to know what reading assignments are due in order to buy, borrow, or rent their textbooks. There is often a long list of “Recommended” or “Suggested” books. But, for many students (including myself), I looked only at the “Required” list because that is what would effect my grade for the course. But, I think there is something that students can miss out by looking only at the required reading.
I have been challenged over this last week to read diversely. As I reflected upon reading assignments and syllabi over much of my education, there were very few required books written by African-Americans, Indians, Asians, Latinos, or females. Simply, I often read books by those who looked like, thought like, and approached life largely from a similar perspective. My bookshelf is filled with books largely by white males within conservative evangelicalism. Now, there is nothing wrong with reading books from those within that area of study or field. I can still learn from those who look like or think like me but have studied a particular area more in-depth. However, I have much to learn from those who are not like me. Here are three reasons, from my experience, I would encourage students and others as well to read more diversely (whether it is required on a syllabus or not)
1. Better understand those around me.
As I read from authors who are not like me, I have the opportunity to better understand the challenges and issues that others face. I am more likely to have compassion and empathy than respond with anger and resentment when I have thoughtfully read from those who face different challenges than myself. I will never understand what it is like to be a woman or be an African-American male. But, I can better understand the challenges each face as I read with an eye to understand.
2. More likely to be challenged and see my own blindspots.
As I read from authors who are not like me, I realize that I hold views that are based upon cultural assumptions or upbringing not thoughtful engagement. I want to believe that I hold positions and have thought biblically and theologically about all of life. Yet, reading diversely helps me to understand that I approach topics of race, education, economics, and immigration from a limited perspective that I am often unaware of until confronted with a differing view. Reading diversely opens oneself up to possibility of being wrong and this can be an uncomfortable realization. However, reading diversely provides the opportunity to grow. It will be easy to get defensive when we discover areas where we are blind but those are times to…
3. Stimulate more meaningful conversations with others.
As I read from authors who are not like me, I realize that the blindspots I am aware of can now be a topic of conversation with friends and family. I can ask men and women, friends and family about the things that I have discovered in my reading. I’ve asked those around me, “What view of (topic/issue) do you hold on (topic)? Could you share with me why?” I asked the questions because I wanted to listen to their response (especially if it was different than mine). If they have not thought about it, then I’m okay with it and glad they were honest. I let them know that I’m still thinking through some of these things and would like to think more about this issue with them. This can be a good opportunity to grab lunch or coffee with someone you respect who is of the opposite gender, another race, or economic class. Let them know what you are learning and thinking about. Ask them for their views. Take time to listen. Ask clarifying questions. Ask them for advice about what it would look like to apply what you are learning.
I want to share with you a few resources that may be a good starting point for reading more diversely.
Two Suggested Starting Points for Reading Diversely:
DTS Magazine (summer 2016) — The theme of this particular issues was on “How to Seek Unity in Diversity” and has articles written by African-Americans, Asians, and women. It has also several recommendations for books if students are not sure where to start in reading diversely.
United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia J. Newbell— This is one book that I have read over the past year. It is pretty short (around 150-pages) and pretty cheap (around $10). It provides a good summary of issues related to race relations and foundation for conversations.