If you’ve been around the blogging world in the last several years, you’ve seen the #WeNeedDiverseBooks or #WeNeedDiverseYA tags. It’s an amazing campaign that’s much needed in a time where the book world is still whitewashed.
But when I see people talking about diverse books, it’s often something like this: “This book is so diverse! The MC’s best friend is Chinese and uses a wheelchair.”
Before you all murderstab me, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. It’s amazing that YA is broadening its horizons and including characters of various races, religions, sexual orientations, and abilities! I’m especially excited to find a book where the main character has some kind of minority status–or, even rarer, where most of the characters can be classified as minority.
What frustrates me is two-fold. First: tokenism is not representation. Remember those college brochures, where they have a cutesy picture of one person of each major racial group smiling? Black person, check. Asian person, check. Someone who’s vaguely Middle Eastern, check. I’ve read books that read like that, and it’s irritating. Slapping a few labels on characters to up the diversity quota isn’t the same as creating real, well-developed diverse characters. It’s like Robin Talley’s amazing discussion of how she hates when people say their character “just happens to be gay” (summarized in this great post at Book Riot). Diversity isn’t an accessory. It’s an identity.
Second, and even more frustrating: most of these diverse characters are still being written by straight, white, cis authors. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. No one who’s an avid reader can reasonably say that a person can’t write something outside of their experience well. (I say this as a straight, white, cis woman, so take it with a grain of salt. I know that my perspective still comes from a place of privilege.)
But when that’s the majority of what’s being published? That’s a problem. The privileged can–and should–magnify the voices of the unheard, but they cannot, should not replace them. Yet, the number of authors of color is still depressingly low. Low enough that the front-list YA fiction by black authors publishing in 2015 can be confined to a single list of 30 items.
I don’t claim to understand the problem from the same place as people in these underrepresented groups, nor do I claim to have all the solutions. What I can say is this: broader representation is great, but let’s not get complacent. We have power as consumers. There are things we can do. Make an effort to buy books with diverse characters, especially when those characters are central and not just sidekicks. Make an effort to buy books written by diverse authors. Prove to the publishing world that we want these books, and we’re willing to back it up with America’s favorite form of leverage: cash.
What are directions you see as important for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement? What are books that do this well? How can regular readers and bloggers work to increase representation in fiction? Other thoughts? Thanks for bearing with my rant.
I’m a font of useless knowledge and an endless source of sarcasm. Oh, and I guess I read, too.