l honestly don’t expect anyone to read it since it’s not the usual length of a blog post but I wrote this essay for school and have decided to post it here for archival purposes.
The We Need Diverse Books campaign defines diverse books as all diverse experiences, including LGBTIA, people of color, Native, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. This campaign started in 2014 when authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo expressed displeasure in response to an all white,male panel at a book convention. Their conversation sparked the interest of many authors,readers and publishers who all agreed with the sentiment that the Young Adult publishing industry was very homogeneous. Since then many people have advocated this problem by promoting diverse books, authors and even writing their own books. Diversity in Young Adult Literature is important because it offers a wider perspective of the world,it destigmatizes negative stereotypes and provides marginalized youth with an accurate reflection of their life.
If we look at minority groups solely in terms of population,Caucasians are really the minority in our world. Asia alone comprises over 60% of the world’s population, so to have so many book characters being portrayed as white is not only racist but also unrealistic. Fiction, no matter what the genre, is a reflection of our society. Even if one is writing a fantasy or science-fiction novel,there’s always going to be elements of our society in that book. People of color make up 37% of the population in the United States and yet the number of books being written about them has been hovering at around 10% since 1994. In excluding diverse characters and narratives from one’s story, one is saying that diverse people aren’t a part of the way they view the world. Literature can contribute to a change in mindset and ideology and can educate youth on issues that they wouldn’t otherwise learn about in school but if the books they read are solely about white,straight,able bodied individuals their perspective of the world will never grow. The world isn’t only limited to North America, and it’s important to realize that the large majority of the world’s population doesn’t live in the western world. Most people in the world are poor and they’re also not white. To focus most of fiction on the Unites States is boring and unrelatable.Only 325 million people live in the United States,and to have the vast majority of fictional books set in the States is very american-centric. There are so many perspectives of the world that aren’t always talked about in school and the marginalized are always excluded from historical narratives. Fiction is the perfect outlet for people to write the untold stories of the underrepresented. Our society is very prejudice and if youth were offered a wider perspective of our world,it could possibly resolve the deep rooted bias that so many people have when thinking of minorities.
The problem with certain portrayals of diverse characters is that they perpetuate negative stereotypes. Examples of this are the sassy black women, or the gay best friend. Characters like these are merely caricatures and are not at all fleshed out compared to the main characters.Not all representation is good representation and for youth to see these stereotypes again and again is harmful and doesn’t do any good. A good example of this is the recent publication of popular Young Adult novel “Carve The Mark” by Veronica Roth. PoC (people of color) reviewers got a hand of the book before publication and realized that the book utilized the dark skinned aggressor trope. What this trope is are dark-skinned “savages” serving as the enemy to the main characters.This trope is a frequent occurrence and is oftentimes the only portrayal that one really sees of native americans in fiction.While many people have complained about this book,the author has yet to apologizes for the harmful stereotypes that are in her book. This case illustrates that while a lot of authors are willing to learn from their mistakes, other are okay with hurting their marginalized audience with insensitive writing. Words can hurt and while being a teenager is very hard, it’s even harder to be a marginalized teenager. For them to consistently read inaccurate portrayal of themselves is harmful. Marginalized people aren’t their stereotypes, they are people who live a variety of lives and to reduce them to an idea of a person is extremely disrespectful and shows the author’s true perspective of the world. There are so many issues that have a huge stigma surrounding it.An example of such an issue is mental illness. In a lot of fictional stories,mental illness is not always accurately portrayed. The illness is oftentimes downplayed and symptoms are not always accurate. While depression and anxiety is represented quite a bit in fiction,mental illnesses like schizophrenia and DID(dissociative identity disorder) are oftentimes demonized and characters with these mental illnesses are the murderers or enemies of the story. By dismantling such negative stereotypes, books will be less harmful to marginalized youth and much more enjoyable.
A way to avoid having negative stereotypes in books is for either the author to hire a sensitivity reader or for publishers to publish more #ownvoices book. A sensitivity reader is someone who reads over a manuscript in search of anything offensive.This reader will be a part of the group of marginalization that the author is writing about.An author may not always intend to be prejudiced against these marginalization groups, so these sensitivity readers will make sure that there are no negative stereotypes or microaggressions..Such readers should be part of every publication process,as essential as an editor.This would prove to marginalized youth that the publication industry cares about the interest of these teens.
Another way for the publication industry to ensure that the books they are publishing do not contain harmful stereotypes is for them to purposely seek #ownvoices books.#Ownvoices is a hashtag created by author Corinne Duyvis to promote books about diverse characters written by authors who are a part of that diverse group. Think of it this way, if a murder happened and there are two people:a witness and someone who heard about the murder on the news, The police will obviously ask for the witness’ version of the story. The same goes for writing diverse books. Someone who has lived through these experiences firsthand will have a better hold on the topic. They won’t resort to using negative stereotypes and they’ll treat their characters as equally as any of their other ones. Marginalized people have always been denied the right to tell their story,and they’ll always been excluded. In publishing #ownvoices authors we’re finally giving a voice to the people who have never gotten the chance to be heard.
If a straight,white,neuro-typical,able-bodied teen was to go to their local bookstore,go to the Young Adult section and pick up a random book chances are that that book will contain someone who looks like them.That isn’t the case for marginalized youth. Books are a way of seeking asylum from the oftentimes chaotic world.Teens will read when they have nowhere else to turn to.For a teen to see themselves in literature is extremely important, especially when that teen feels like an outcast. Marginalized youth need more “mirror books”,books that accurately reflect their life and struggles and they need to have characters who are like them.As Jenny Han acurrately describes it ”Everybody wants to feel like their story is worth being told. Everybody wants to be the hero of their own story.”Marginalized teens deserve to have their story told, they deserve to have stories written about them. There should not only be books about the struggles of minority youth but just books about these youth going on a quest,solving a mystery or just falling in love. A trope that is oftentimes utilized in both books and T.V, is the death of marginalized people to further the non-marginalized characters. Non-minorities shouldn’t be able to thrive off of the suffering of minorities. When these teens suffer so much, it’s important for them to be able to turn to Fiction and seen teens like them thriving and being happy. It’s important for them to see people like them on the cover of books. Seeing teens like them inspires them to do great things, and to even write their own stories. As Matt Le Pena put it where is the African-American Harry Potter or a Mexican Katniss?
To conclude, diversity in books offer a wider perspective of the world,aids in the destigmatization of stereotypes and provides marginalized youth with an accurate reflection of their reality. The publishing industry needs more diverse books, and needs diverse books of all sorts. Everyone deserves the chance to see themselves in books, everyone should have their stories told. Our imagination knows no limits, and that should be the same for adding diverse characters. Teens are the pioneers of the future, and if the present is any indication of where we’re heading, the publication industry will change drastically in the next decades. Hopefully ten years from now, all books will feature diverse characters. Diversity is our world and to deny that is to ignore the society we live in.