Emery: Inclusive Book Clubs Discuss Stories and Heal Social Divides


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By Nate Emery


Cultural and social divides are increasing in the United States, and Utah is not immune to these widening gulfs. As Utah continues to grow economically, more people from diverse backgrounds enter the state in search of new opportunities. Community rifts are a threat to Utah’s inclusivity and prosperity and must be fought by educating ourselves and fostering empathy toward those around us.

Reading more can help us achieve both of these aims — the more we educate ourselves, the more empathetic we become, and as we become more empathetic, we are more willing to learn about other people’s experiences. However, reading on its own is not enough. Discussing books with people who have different perspectives makes the lessons contained in the pages more powerful. Inclusive book clubs benefit Utahns by giving their members a better understanding of each other’s experiences, beginning local dialogues and creating a common community experience.

By the year 2065, the Wasatch Front is expected to house roughly 3 million people, with the state population surpassing 5 million. Half of Utah’s population growth will come from minority populations, increasing their share of the population from 20% to 35% in 50 years. These changes will be great for Utah, as increased diversity leads to more tolerance, open-mindedness and innovation.

But while a diversifying population is largely positive, there is often backlash and racial stereotyping as majority populations resist these changes. Reading is not the silver bullet that will end racism and xenophobia, but books provide a powerful opportunity. Reading can educate us about other groups and replace prejudice and stereotypes with understanding and compassion. Instead of engaging in bigotry or turning a blind eye when it occurs, reading diverse perspectives can encourage people to stand up for others.

And it is through group discussions that some of the most powerful breakthroughs can occur. Inclusive book clubs empower people who are often not represented in mainstream conversations. Noname, a Chicago rapper, created a book club specifically dedicated to reading works by people of color. Each month, Noname selects two books and hosts safe and supportive meet-ups in cities throughout the United States. This fast-growing book club discusses the ideas they agreed or disagreed with and highlight parts they funny, heartbreaking or moving.

Inclusive and constructive discussions enhance one’s reading. Noname’s model could be easily replicated throughout Utah, with discussion groups that empower community members whose voices are ignored and overpowered. Engaging with the work creates a meaningful and thoughtful dialogue for everyone involved.

Powerful books share information across time and space. They usually contain a shared truth about the human experience that remains applicable long after they were written. Stories illuminate similarities between the reader and the main character or author, and discussing these findings help us build common ground with those around us.

As Utahns, we should not allow our limited personal experiences to cloud our vision of commonality. We share similar concerns — poor air quality, homelessness, the economy — and should reach out more to those we interact with on a daily basis. Book clubs are one small way to come together and discuss shared perspectives. Opening that dialogue makes it possible to act with a newfound sense of unity and more importantly, empathy.

Utah’s population grows and shifts, and we are faced with the choice to accept new people or turn to divisiveness and dehumanization. Books are a window into another person’s experience, helping us to foster empathy and compassion. Supplementing our literary diet with different backgrounds and lived experiences gives us a more nuanced view of what it means to be a member of a community. Book clubs are one way that Utahns can come together to bridge the social divides that grow each day.


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