The Importance of Diversity
In truth, this is an old argument. Lots of people have tackled this topic and have provided lots of excellent examples. I am here as a reader and as someone who wants to make my own niche into the publishing world. I am one who reads just about everything, but most of it falls into the science fiction/fantasy or crime/forensic genres. I am one who is tired of walking into Wal-Mart and seeing books that perpetuate the stereotypes of black people (and not the positive stereotypes either), but I have to go into an actual bookstore or special order authors like Nalo Hopkinson or Octavia Butler. Now I am not knocking any of the books featured in Wal-Mart’s African American Section, I can’t I haven’t read any of it. I’m just saying. They have 4 rows of The Hunger Games and Immortal Instruments books, can they make a little room for Drowned Cities, Huntress, and Silver Phoenix. I want it to be as easy to find a science fiction novel with a main character that’s Asian as it is if the character is white. I am tired of searching for quality work featuring people of color when smut can be found around every single corner. It’s not fair!
Enough has already been said about cover white-washing. So I want to go there. It still happens though. I think that it’s said that when big list of the “must-reads” or “best ofs” authors of color or books with characters of color are not found there. I declined to participate in a blog celebration of authors because not one of the hundreds author were of color or had a book with a main character of color. Quality fiction that includes diversity is out there. Once you start looking for it, it will start popping up everywhere. But, unless fate intervenes, it’s going to take you looking for it.
When I talk of diversity, I am not referring to books that pertain to one particular culture. And I am not saying that it's either black or white. It's Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Irish, Norse, Swedish, Black, African, Icelandic, French, Canadian, Caribbean, Native American, mixed, mixed twice over, mixed so much that you're a mutt (don't be offended, I'm a mutt. Every so often I'm told I have a little of this and a little of that in me. Embrace it-it's beautiful!). I’m talking about where the story is the important focus, and it just happens that the characters are diverse. I get that people often just want to read characters that are like them, or they are just looking for a good story. I am and always will be a sucker for a good story. But to be completely honest, most of the books that I have read lately (and in the past) are nothing like me. When I write, my characters lose their physical identities because somewhere in the back of my mind I’m thinking that maybe it’s better for the reader to decide what the character is like?
But what if there is another young girl out in the world like me, one who gets all giddy when a really good sci-fi novel crosses their path, but they pass on it because the person on the cover is nothing like them? Why is this so important to me? Why do I want you to care? Because there is quality to be found in diversity! Our worlds are not made of the same cookie cutter characters. Some are lovable and heroic, some or malicious and downright hate-worthy. Because if we don’t take time to recognize the gems that are waiting to be found, we are going to keep having this conversation about where is the diversity. Frankly, I am hoping for one day where we don’t have to have this conversation. I’m hoping that in a few months when I return back to the school where I lead a book club, I don’t have to go through an agonizing amount of time to find a book that is relevant to them, that doesn’t feature someone pale and beautiful and just the right size. I know I can’t change the world, I know that it really just starts with me and paying it forward. So that is what I am going to do. My characters will not be lost into other’s imagination, they will be exactly who they were meant to be. My blog will become a regular stop for books that are either written by a person of color or feature a character of color. No, I will not start excluding books because they don’t fall under one of these characteristics. But I expect my Diversity in Reading page to start filling up. I will also use this space as a way to talk about all bookish and diverse such things.
For instance, if you are in the search for some diverse YA science fiction and need a starting place, check out TU Books, and imprint of Lee and Low Books.
Check back here Thursday for my review of Diverse Energies edited by Tobia S. Buckell