Research finds that of 9,115 titles published last year, only 4% featured BAME characters
Only 1% of British children’s books feature a main character who is black or minority ethnic, an investigation into representations of people of
In a research project that is the first of its kind, and funded by Arts Council England, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) asked UK publishers to submit books featuring BAME characters in 2017. Of the 9,115 children’s books published last year, researchers found that only 391 – 4% – featured BAME characters. Just 1% had a BAME main character, and a quarter of the books submitted only featured diversity in their background casts. This compares to the 32.1% of schoolchildren of minority ethnic origins in England identified by the Department of Education last year.
“It is a stark and shocking figure when you see it in print,” said Farrah Serroukh, who directed the project for the CLPE and presented it to publishers on Monday.
The researchers also
“Do those from minority backgrounds only have a platform when their suffering is being explored? And how does such disproportionate variation of representation skew perspectives of minority groups?” asked the
“Topics such as conflict and the refugee experience are valid subjects for authors to explore and
The report states that “every child is entitled to feel safe and valued”, and that “in the current socio-political and economic climate the risk of
“To redress imbalances in representation is not an act of charity but an act of necessity that benefits and enriches all of our realities,” the report adds.
Author Nikesh Shukla, who has been a major force behind the push for diversity in UK publishing, sat on a steering committee for CLPE’s report.
“I do feel the industry is getting better but a report like this is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done – and a stark reminder of our readers, and how our readers are not getting what they need,” he said.
“When you’re figuring out the world, being able to see yourself in books, as well as people who don’t look like you, is really important. It means you see your story as valid, and it can contribute to who you imagine yourself to be – and a kid should be able to imagine themselves as anyone in the world. These mirrors are so important.”
His words echo those of the late American children’s author Walter Dean Myers, who wrote in 2014: “Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? … Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?”
Serroukh said that the CLPE had plans to work with publishers to help them improve. Recommendations include increasing investment in authors from a range of backgrounds, looking for stories where main characters are BAME, and ensuring that they are not “predominantly defined by their struggle, suffering or ‘otherness’”.
“At the moment, every title out there featuring BAME characters shoulders a
Serroukh writes in the report’s foreword: “We know that those who work in all areas of children’s books and literacy
Like a long-running equivalent survey in the US from the University of Wisconsin-Madison – which has charted a slow increase in BAME characters over the last decade and a half – the CLPE report is intended to be annual. A separate piece of research, by the BookTrust, is also currently
Serroukh said she hoped CLPE’s research would be useful as a starting point to help publishers reflect. “Hopefully in 10 years’ time, or however long, it will become redundant,” she said. “We are really keen for the UK market to develop a more nuanced conversation. We don’t want to be talking about volume in three years’ time, but about quality.
- Source: The Guardian