Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Problem With Diverse Books

When reading books you tend to notice a trend, especially when you read a lot of them. This is not just about Young Adult books or even contained in a single genre; whatever it is you read you’ll notice that in everything fiction the characters tend to follow a pattern, people are white, straight and able-bodied.

Of course this is not all that there is in literature, and of course we know the world is not solely composed of white, straight and able-bodied people but that is not what we see reflected in books. Since this is a Young Adult blog though, and my experience is greater here, I’m going to speak about them.

About 70% of book characters targeted to this audience are white and roughly 12% are non-human, leaving a very small percentage left for people of color.

Resultado de imagen para how many white people are there in children's books

As someone who reads primarily YA, I can tell you this percentage shows and a lot. When I first began reading this genre (roughly nine years ago) every book I could get my hands on, and I mean literally any book for Young Adults, had white characters. Most of these books were written by North American or British authors. I am from Argentina, but back then (and even nowadays) books in this genre written by national authors were not many and were practically unheard of, so I read primarily foreign books by foreign people with foreign characters.

I read about girls with pale, ivory skin, skinny, with little curves and unblemished skin. Basically, I read about anything BUT what I looked like. I wasn’t dumb, I knew the books didn’t represent the entire world, and yet at my thirteen years it changed the way I looked at myself, even if I didn’t realized how or why. I started to dislike my dark skin, trying to find sunblockers that would help me bleach the color because I believe paler was better. I disliked my brown eyes and begged my mom for green contacts for months (she didn’t give in to my pleas), and I hated everything curvy about myself.

Now, this does not mean that this is what every kid goes through, please don’t believe that. This is my own personal experience marked by my own insecurities when I was a tween. What I want to show with this is what I read about those books did mark me.

Whenever people talk about how “Books are just books!” They are forgetting something very important; people don’t watch movies or read books and expect for dragons to come to life, or magic to happen but what we see does shape the way we see the world.
If all we read about is a certain stereotype of what people are, what they are supposed to be, then even if we don’t want to it will shape a little bit of our view of the world. It’s simply impossible not to be influenced by it.

This is why diversity in books is so important. Because the world is not filled with only one kind of people and it’s important that we see it all.

As an avid YA reader, I have to admit that I am tired of reading the same.fricking.thing over and over again. Anybody who says that diverse books are not important is an idiot. I am perfectly serious, this is not on discussion, this is not a matter of opinion. Diversity in books is ESSENCIAL same as a plot, a narrative and fricking words. Nobody can argue this, and if you want get the fuck out of my blog.

Now, however, there is a catch. HA! Yeah, there’s always a catch you should know by now.
In the last couple of years the publishing industry has given us more and more diverse reads, which is fucking awesome. Still, eighty percent of books are by white authors featuring white characters so we are not there yet, but it is fantastic that things are changing.

But despite this wonderful trend in the publishing industry there is a problem with diverse books, and that problem is advertising. What I mean with this that more and more books are advertised as being “diverse” as a way to draw readers in, using the diversity card to get praised but not really offering much as way of story.

Basically what I have seen the most is this (and I’m paraphrasing based on different books):
“This book is great! It has an Asian MC, it features a Mexican boy in a wheelchair and an asexual black boy!”

And I see that and think, that’s great! I love it!... But what about the story? What about the plot or even the characters’ personalities? Because when you try to answer those questions the book falls short. We have books advertised as wonderfully diverse but with a poor plot, flat characters and boring writing (to name a few things).

Of course I am not saying this happens with ALL diverse books, but it’s a trend I’m seeing more and more and it’s troubling because most of these books not only use the diversity card to try and set themselves apart, but often enough their wonderfully diverse narratives can be awfully offensive (I am having terrible luck right now and can’t seem to find a book with a bisexual character that doesn’t fall into the “slutty bisexual” trope).

What I want to say with this post is not that people should stop reading diverse books, or advertising them as such. I just want to complain on those books that are using diversity as a way to make readers praise them for doing the BARE MINIMUM when in reality they are not even giving the characters and story any effort, they are just using them for attention.

I can’t say this is simple, because I am well aware of the fact that many people use the excuse of the “diversity card” to attack books for its inclusive themes (as in “this book is crap, it’s only popular because it’s ‘diverse’”). So please know that when I write this I am in no way trying to dissuade anybody from reading, writing or promoting a diverse book! I am only trying to speak out against those people who try to use diversity as a tool to sell more books, not even caring what stories you write.

This is something that has also been happening with established series. In an attempt to ponder to masses as well as cover up for claims of racism, authors introduce characters “different” from their usual white-hetero mold and make a big fuss about it. The best examples I can think of are Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass/ A Court of Thorns and Roses series) and Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen quartet).

I am tired of authors announcing, as if it were this huge accomplishment that “Well yes readers! After years of nonsensical and boring hetero-nonsense I give to you ONE gay character/POC/etc!” and then stay still and wait for the shower of glorious applause to rain on them as if it were some huge fucking sacrifice (yes I am looking at you Sarah J. Maas! *glares*).

As a final note, all I have to say is: diverse books are not just important but essential. Write them, advertise them, read them, love them BUT don’t write diversity expecting applause. If he only thing your story has in its favor is that it’s “diverse” then you are not doing anybody any favors. 

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