Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about diversity within books and not all of it has been positive. I’m extremely passionate about how important diversity is within books so some of the things I’ve been reading have disappointed me. I’ve seen a lot of claims that society is pressurizing authors to include diversity within books and that if you do not you’re going to be automatically labelled as racist or lgbt+-phobic. I’ve even seen people claiming including poc (people/person of colour) and lgbt+ characters is forcing characters to be a certain way when they wouldn’t be that way if there wasn’t the pressure of including diversity. As if a person of colour’s or member of the lgbt+ community’s existence isn’t as normal and natural as a white cishet person.
As a person of colour, this whole stigma against including diversity is both disappointing and upsetting. Imagine reading that a character that looks like you is just unrealistic and that if a character does look like you it’s only being including because authors are being bullied into including someone like you. Statements like those I’ve mentioned alienate minority readers not only from books but also in the real world. You might be thinking “Nagina, it’s not THAT serious. Reading is for fun! Calm down!” and to that I would reply “It is THAT serious.”
Let me tell you the story about a little brown girl who spent her days devouring page after page of book after book. Now what if I told you the more that little girl read, the more disconnected she felt from both the real world and the fictional ones that were meant to be her escape? The more that girl read, the more she realised something; society didn’t have a place for her. When it was world book day and all of the other children went into school dressed up as their favourite characters, the girl went in her plain clothes. It wasn’t her laziness or lack of trying to find a decent costume. In fact, the days leading up to world book day, she’d spent hours trying to find a character that looked like her. But she couldn’t go as Matilda because Matilda was white, she couldn’t go as Hermione because she was white (I know her race isn’t explicitly stated but we’ll talk about why this is still a major problem and doesn’t count as including diversity later in the post), she couldn’t even go as her favourite Disney princess Belle because… she was white. The girl starts to resent her brown skin and how it marked her as different. Other. Abnormal.
Now lets talk about a boy who has been struggling with his identity. Instead of remaining in the real world, he takes refuge in books. He thinks he might like boys but all of these books always have the girl and the boy fall in love. Its never the boy kissing the boy, always the boy kissing the girl. So he can’t possibly like boys… because boys kiss girls not other boys. He feels different. Strange. Alien.
Now do you see the problem? Do you see why we, the minorities, demand diversity? Do you see why it’s harmful to say our representation is forced or unnatural? Do you see how important it is for those struggling to fit into society to find themselves in books? Do you see how the lack of representation can be alienating?
I talked about Hermione and how I acknowledge how her race was never explicitly stated, therefore it does not count as including diversity. Society has conditioned us to see white as the default, so you cannot blame readers for automatically assuming a character is white. If a writer wanted to include poc they could very easily make it clear when describing their characters appearance. This isn’t a personal attack on JKR, or any other author for that matter (since I know people enjoy jumping to conclusions and starting drama, and I don’t want that to overshadow the point of this post), but Hermione is the easiest example to use when talking about this since there was a lot of controversy over the casting of a black actress in the cursed child play. If you’ve included even ONE poc in your book and made it clear that the character is a poc, then you have an obligation to make sure you make it clear what other characters are poc because we all know that a reader will assume the character is white otherwise. I’ve seen fans of authors claiming that their books could be diverse, it just depends on how you imagine the characters whilst you read since their ethnicity is never stated… Like I’ve already said, no. That doesn’t cut it. The writer has either included poc or they haven’t – our exclusion in books is not due to our lack of imagine and it’s horribly insulting to suggest such a thing. Also, to those authors who include just one poc/lgbt+ character, that’s not diversity.
The world is made up of so many different types of people with different skin colours, different sexualities and different ways of life -so why is it so “forced” to include something we see and experience almost every day? Because the media has conditioned us to believe a certain “type” of person is beautiful and normal and what we should all be (and if we’re not we’re labelled as different and abnormal). It’s honestly saddening that in a society that is ready for change, there are still a hand full of people who will discourage it.
I know most of the people who don’t want/care about diversity in books aren’t racist hateful people, but are just ignorant and uneducated on why it matters so much. That’s why starting conversations and openly discussing it is so important. If we don’t keep the conversation going, publishers and authors alike won’t realise that there is a market for diverse books. Not just the contemporary dealing with cliché storylines (although I don’t want these to stop because they’re still important.) but for fantasy books about a black prince who can save his kingdoms and wield magic, or a sci-fi book about a girl with a girlfriend who travels through galaxies and saves the world.
If you’ve read this post and would now like to read more diverse books, or if you’re someone who also enjoys talking about diversity in books, I’d highly recommend you join/read the posts in the diversity spotlight thursday meme hosted by aimal. If you managed to make it to the end of the post, thank you for reading! And I’m sorry I wrote an essay (this post was over 1k+ words). What are some books with diverse characters that you’ve read and enjoyed? Tell me in the comments!