Why We Need More Diverse Books

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!

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42 thoughts on “Why We Need More Diverse Books

  1. Bookmark Chronicles says:

    Love love love this! Representation is so important for us because it’s something that we so rarely have. The only reason that I like that JKR never stated Hermione’s ethnicity originally is because when the actress was casts in the play she was so fully behind it. At the end of the day if she doesn’t hava problem with it then no one else really matters because it’s her character that she created. The outrage that came from people was so stupid. So many times white actors are cast as poc but they never complain then

    Liked by 1 person

    • ohbookish says:

      Thank you! I was also so happy that JKR actually defended the choice of a black actress, which is why I really didn’t want people to think I was attacking her. I completely agree about the outrage being stupid. POC get so little representation, and the little rep we do get is being reduced because casting directors think it’s better/more socially acceptable to cast a white actor instead of a poc actor. I just hope that if we continue to talk about these things, it’ll lead to change.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What's She Reading? says:

    As a POC myself (half Chinese, a quarter Panamanian), I’ll admit to not having the same experiences that you describe. Sure, a lot of the characters that I read about are white and straight, but I don’t actually feel like my development as a person was stunted because of that. Sure, if I wanted to go to a Harry Potter costume party I pretty much had to be Cho Chang–but I actually like Cho and Ravenclaw is def my house of choice. I don’t feel like I was emotionally scarred because of that. That being said, I do agree that diversity is necessary in books but I do feel like it’s harmful for authors to include diverse characters for diversity’s sake. For the most part, I think authors write about what they know and the majority of authors are white and straight. There have been times when I’ve read about an Asian character and I’m like, “This is not real. This is not how Asian people really are.” It’s obvious to me that the author just wanted to include an Asian person in their book but they didn’t really know any Asian people closely or personally. They end up using the Asian character as a stereotype or making it seem like an originally white character was just rewritten as Asian without that detail effecting the character’s development. I don’t think this is what we’re looking for–at least, it’s not what I’m looking for. So in the end, I think the issue is less about authors needing to include more diverse characters and more about the need for more diverse authors (and creators in general) who can write about the things that they (and we) know about.

    Like

    • ohbookish says:

      I agree that authors writing about characters that they have little to no knowledge about won’t help the situation, and it’s definitely not what I’m looking for. But I also believe that the internet is such a great tool when it comes to doing research. Take Leigh Bardugo for example, her six of crows book has such a diverse cast of characters. None of these characters are stereotypical/offensive portrayals of the ethnicities that inspired them. It’s possible for authors to do the research, it just depends if they think it’s important enough to their story or not. I do agree that we need more diverse authors, and for these authors to be given the opportunities to get their books out there.

      Liked by 2 people

      • What's She Reading? says:

        I agree that it’s definitely possible for authors to do the research and write about people and situations that they don’t have personal experience with. I’m just saying it’s not as natural for them–I can’t really fault them for writing about things from their perspective. I haven’t read Six of Crows, but it is on my TBR for next month so now I’m even more excited to get to it. I guess overall I just think it’s a little unfair to expect people outside of “our group” to represent us.

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      • ohbookish says:

        I definitely see your point. I personally believe in terms of a fantasy book it would be a lot easier to include poc characters because you don’t need to worry about the existing cultures in our world and how that might affect your character and so within fantasy books I do think people that aren’t minorities should still want to include us (obviously no one should be forced to but it would be nice if they could). However, I do think contemporary is a whole different ball game and I can understand why authors would be hesitant. Six of Crows is an amazing book, I’d highly recommend it!

        Liked by 1 person

    • livieandtheartsblog says:

      I agree with you 1000% when you stated that what we need also is more diverse authors. Just thinking of some of the top Kid/YA novels off the top of my head that are popular: The Hunger Games, Throne of Glass, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments, Divergent, Twilight, etc. every one of those is my a white author and their books SELL. And that is not to blame them at all for their lack of diversity. It is just that I completely get what you mean when you say an author that includes diversity for diversity’s sake is more forced and unrealistic: they simply have not had as much experience. A black or hispanic author can portray a black or hispanic family far better simply because of experience, and this can be taken in a negative/defensive way but it is the truth. I also like in this essay how it was mentioned that white is the default for characters and again I couldn’t agree with this more. We are so used to white characters that even without a description our mind slips into a lighter skinned character. And to the people who argue that forcing in diversity itself makes things unrealistic, all I can say is everyone (particularly in America) need to step back and look at the world population. The world most certainly does not have a majority of white people. If the statistics I read a few months ago are correct, the majority goes to asians(if you include India) . Chine and India contain nearly 40% OF EVERYONE ON EARTH. In America whites are the majority, yeah. But here in America we forget how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Our population contains less than 5% of the world. Just 5. So all this is to say that the fact that we have white characters be the default is not realistic in itself because that really doesn’t reflect real life all that much. Maybe in America, but America is still diverse too.
      I went off on a tangent and forgot my original point to this comment XD But overall great article and great comment by the person I am responding to. I am about to read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler which, as far as I can tell, is the only scifi book (not the traditional slave narrative that seem to be the only place for black people) I know of currently featuring a colored lead with a black author and I couldn’t be any more excited.

      Liked by 2 people

      • What's She Reading? says:

        Thanks for the reply on my comment–I actually ended up writing my own post where I expanded on my ideas in this comment if you want to check it out. I agree that given the overall world population that it doesn’t really make sense to have a white default. However, I think you need to look at where a lot of popular YA books are set. The vast majority of them are set in the US or Europe where white is the predominant race. So in that context it does make a little more sense that the default is white, what would make less sense is if a book was set in a country (or even city) where the population isn’t mostly white. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily right, but it does make sense to me.

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  3. becky says:

    What an amazing post! I’m glad you brought up this topic because that’s seriously something we need to talk about.
    I never really realized that there wasn’t any diversity or anything, I just got sad when all I got were blond characters (I’m brown haired btw). Not long ago, I spoke to my friend about representation and this may not be about books exactly but she is black and she told me that she was really glad that Tiana existed because she hadn’t been able to identify with any of the Disney princesses before because they had all been white (except for Mulan & Pocahontas but that didn’t really fit her either). That’s when I realised that the brown hair thing for me was the same for her with the darker skin. Representation matters.
    I myself am bisexual and I never really thought about it that much but when I read Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan (who for me is the king od representation in children’s books) I was so happy that he included a bisexual character without making it something weird or extra-special. He mentioned it a few times and with it he acknowledged the existence of bisexuals, so with that being said, I really appreciate authors who include poc, lgbtqa+, disabled or whatever characters 🙂

    Like

    • ohbookish says:

      Thank you! 🙂

      Representation definitely matters, and not only in books but movies and tv shows (and other forms of media) too. Rick Riordan is honestly amazing, he went from writing a series with no diversity to learning from that and incorporating it in his later books/series. Leigh Bardugo and Marissa Meyer are two YA authors who incorporate diversity in their books, so I’d definitely recommend you give their books a shot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • becky says:

        I already read The Lunar Chronicles and Winter is actually one of my favorite characters but I really want to read books written by Leigh Bardugo so thanks for the recommendation 🙂

        Like

  4. Aimal @ Bookshelves & Paperbacks says:

    Nagina, this is such a wonderfully written, brilliantly thought-out post. I love how you gave examples of readers who feel disenchanted by books and reading because they don’t see themselves in them. I have to admit that up until a couple of years ago, I didn’t see what the big deal was. I hadn’t read as much as I do now, so I hadn’t realized the full extent of white-washing in literature. It was extremely uncomfortable to see how people reacted when Latinx actors were cast to play characters who were “white” in the Mortal Instruments books. The backlash was astounding, and then it was even worse when Hermione was being played by a black actor. Seeing the backlash made me realize how important it really is for global population to be accurately represented in literature.

    I do, however, think there’s a flip-side. Hear me out! I see many people giving popular authors hate because they haven’t included LGBTQ+ or PoC characters in their books, and that’s GOOD that this conversation is taking place. But I’ve seen the same people make no effort to step outside of their comfort zones and actually read diverse literature. I think it’s important to have this conversation about diversity, pushing EVERY author to include it in their books – since it’s such a normal, integral part of our lives, but it’s also important to READ books by authors who are already writing this stuff, who don’t get enough attention because everyone’s too busy bashing the more popular authors. Until the change we need happens, I think it’s very important to give independent publishers or smaller publishers a chance, simply so people will know that yes, diverse literature sells and can be commercial without being shoved to the side and labeled as “diverse.” If you get what I’m saying. 😛

    Thank you so much for linking my meme to your post. That means so much! And honestly, your post was wonderful. I had so much fun reading it. Such an important topic!

    Liked by 2 people

    • ohbookish says:

      Yes! I remember the backlash for the casting of Shadowhunters and it was so ugly. It’s funny, the same people who were outraged that Luke had been cast as a black man, are the same people who don’t bat an eyelash when poc characters are whitewashed.

      I completely agree! Yes, encourage those popular authors to include diversity but what’s the point if you’re going to completely ignore those books already out there? That’s one reason I absolutely love the meme you’ve created. It pushed people to research less popular diverse books and also gives them a spotlight so more people are aware of them.

      Thank you so much 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • ohbookish says:

      Bisexuality is so under represented. I think the majority of lgbt+ books I’ve read about have been about gay characters. Someone mentioned above that first trials of apollo book by Rick Riordan has a bisexual character in it, if you haven’t already read that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • fireheart books says:

        I haven’t read it yet, thanks for telling me 🙂 I’ve only read about three bisexual characters Magnus Bane, Helen Blackthorn and Damen from the Captive Prince trilogy. And that’s great but I think there should be more out there… Like you said, it is mostly gay characters.

        Like

      • ohbookish says:

        Labyrinth Lost isn’t out yet (it’s on netgalley if you want to request it for review) but the early reviews have mentioned its about a bisexual character too. 🙂 I love Magnus Bane he’s amazing! I still need to read the captive prince trilogy.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yellow Labyrinth says:

    I love this! Authoring your own identity is so important in films, books, video games and music. Imagination and empathy — even though well-meant — can never replace experiencing and living within that identity. What a great post! Definitely following. 🙂

    Like

  6. Jennie Pettifor says:

    YES NAGINA!! i just want to read a book where a character’s diverse characteristic isn’t a) the main plot point of the book and b) doesn’t feel awkwardly shoe-horned in with the sole purpose of meeting a publishing house’s diversity quota. i would love to just read a book where a character just happens to be queer or a poc, and that facet of their character is treated just as normally as having a certain eye colour or hair colour.

    Like

    • ohbookish says:

      I think a lot of the times when people talk about diversity in books a lot of authors assumes that means minorities want them to talk about their struggles but that’s really not the case. I’d rather read a book about a bisexual black girl who is an assassin and no one even blinks an eye at her skin colour or sexuality than a book where the characters differences are made out to be a big deal and is the only thing the plot focuses on.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pretty Pearl says:

    This is so true! Diversity is important and I would love to see more of it in books, movies, and television series…but I hate it when people bully authors and creators into creating a more diverse cast, because it makes us look bad…and it just makes me feeling sad because they are unhappy too.

    Like

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