I saw this post floating around on Twitter, I honestly don’t know how many people have seen it, but I suspect quite a few. It’s another one of those posts talking about “controversial opinions” about diversity. I don’t think this writer said anything that hasn’t been heard before. But a theme I’ve noticed among most people who write these posts is contentment. The authors seem to be saying the place that we’re at is good and fair and we’ve come so far so we’re done now. The post seems to suggest that the publishing world has done enough for representation. We’re content here: “diversity but not too much diversity.” Maybe we should just tamp it down a wee bit.
I know this person didn’t mean for the words to hurt others. I know they’re entitled to their opinion, but I hope if they see this or any other post that they’ll come to see different perspectives and hopefully learn something.
“This pressure can be stressful for authors, and the idea that they’re almost obliged to include representation is absurd.”
- I think the author might have some misconceptions about the real world. If a book is good, there WILL be POC in the story. There are very few places, even in the most rural of all rural places that are 100 percent all one ethnicity or race. Even in my pit of a church in Rexburg, Idaho I wasn’t the only POC.
- Let’s think about this from a different angle. Let’s say you’re writing a story about ancient England. What if the author included daggers and swords but no bows and arrows. That doesn’t even make sense, how can there be no bows and arrows in your book? In the same vein, how can there be NO queer or POC people?
- Please don’t @ me with an “umm actually” this is just for the sake of argument, I’m not a historian.
“But, I personally believe that there is a fine line between casual diversity – which I think is wonderful, and will hopefully be included more often in literature! – and that which feels forced.”
- I’m not really sure what the posts mean by “forced” diversity. She talks about authors not being required to educate others about their culture, and I have to give her props for that. But a few paragraphs or so before that the post states, “If an author tries to make a point that a character is Chinese, for instance, and never has them do or say anything remotely common in this culture, I would find this a bit odd. I’m merely saying how I would love it if something as small as a slang word common in that culture, was used by that character.”
- I mean yes, there are small ways you can indicate someone’s ethnic heritage, but why does the character have to say something Chinese for you to realize they’re Chinese? You can get that from any number of things if the author has done their world building properly. Why do we have to prove our ethnic heritage by using non-English slang? And if we casually mention slang or a traditional dish does that mean we’re not “forcing diversity” but just “casual” diversity.
- Let’s think about this from a different perspective, do you go around asking people who are Scottish to throw in Gaelic slang despite them speaking perfect English? Are people who clearly have German last names asked to use (insert German swear word here)? Spoiler: they’re not. In summary: this is a double standard.
- This statement about having to include something small personally really irks me because I’m Chinese, but there’s nothing culturally Chinese about me. I mean I speak a little Mandarin (depending on who you ask), there’s not really any way to identify me as Chinese except my birth story (you can read more about how I feel about this here) and then what I look like. I don’t need to prove to you that I’m Chinese. I just am. POC don’t have to put “cultural elements” in their books to exist. They can just exist.
If the natives of a particular kingdom or race all appear the same, I don’t see how it’s an issue.
- Yeah, okay, we’re not even going to get into this one. It’s just comes from a place of unknowing and not animosity or malicious intent.
There are a couple issues the community has briefly discussed regarding diversity in YA at various points on Twitter, and I’m assuming thought DMs, and through the grapevine. I’m just going to list them, kind of like this other post did and we’ll go from there.
In my memory, this happened to Roshani Chokshi, who is Phillipino-Indian. In a thread on Twitter she said, “Interrupting my usual programming to bring up an issue I’ve been dealing with. I’ve had lots of people ask on Twitter/Insta if I’m Indian… I think it’s obvious from my last name, but I wonder why people feel the need to ask.” #Ownvoices started as this wonderful movement to help people find diverse authors and their stories. And I think it’s still a great tool, but it has also been used as a weapon against the very people it’s trying to help. Chokshi has said people have questioned if she should be writing books influenced by India because she’s part Indian. She shared this in a post on The Book Smugglers, “I encountered a new criticism: claim. I heard ‘you’re only half-Indian, should you be telling those stories?'”
Something similar happened to Julie Murphy when Ramona Blue came out. The summary on Goodreads was a mess, yes. But people began to criticize Murphy for writing about a bisexual character. Eventually, Murphy was essentially outed as a bisexual woman in a heterosexual relationship when everyone assumed she was straight. This is not okay. People need to be able to write their experience without having to prove anything. We as readers are not entitled to any information about an author’s personal life, and there’s a real discussion about boundaries between the reader and author.
The difference between bad rep and “not my rep”
This is a conversation that’s been slowly emerging over the past year. It’s hard to pin-point who started it. But it’s definitely something that needs to be explored more. For example, let’s use the hypothetical world of Hogwarts to illustrate it (I’m sorry about JKR, I’m just very familiar with the world OK? OK). Firenze, the centaur, in the first book rescues Harry from Voldemort because the school let kids walk into the super dangerous forest and then separated them from the adult. This isn’t shown in the movie, but Bane and Firenze meet up and Bane’s like, “hey you’ve got a human on your back are you some kind of horse or are you a centaur?” and Firenze is like, “Hey chill, it’s fine. I just rescued him and we’re going to the forest edge.” Firenze doesn’t have a problem with humans, but Bane does. That doesn’t make either of them wrong, it just means they have different experiences. Like History is All You Left Me doesn’t represent every Latinx gay experience. It represents a small part of one. We need to be having this conversation more so people are aware of the differences. So many people think this conversation is black and white and the truth is there’s so much gray area, no one will ever agree. Having different thresholds for all of these truths doesn’t help either.
Please don’t say diversity is a trend. This is our life. If you don’t understand diversity, maybe ask some people. There are some people who don’t want to do the emotional labor—and that’s totally their right, I’m not faulting them. But there’s also people who are willing to do the emotional labor for you. And, there’s Google; your best friend. There’s a lot of conversations about YA and I think we need to be asking these deeper questions as it’ll help everyone and hopefully help us all learn from each other better.
A couple other little things:
- The post mentions Rainbow Rowell as a “diverse” author and I just NO lol I can’t even
- The post talks about how amazing #ownvoices books are and how interesting it is to read about different “cultural or social issues” that relate to different POC but you can’t have it two ways. You don’t get our “hard” stories and then say our “fluffy” stories are “forced diversity”.