4/18/18

Diversity in YA: Why We Need It


        I stood on the edge of the sidewalk, admiring the view of our downtown. It was a warm Friday night, fairylights that hung along doorways of shops twinkled, street lights cast a warm glow on the streets and the cars passing, smells of cinnamon and apple pie drifted from nearby bakery shops.

         I am not a city person, but if I had to live in town, I decided, it would be here.

        My favorite thing about downtown is the people, children dashing down the sidewalk, parents close on their heels, trying to get them to slow down and apologizing to the people their children nearly run over. Couples laughing and holding hands as they peer into windows of shops. Elderly people greeting old friends.

         As I watched the crowd, I started to notice something, most of the couples were interracial. I was admiring a couple as they walked by, they were both very attractive and they complimented each other greatly. He was Korean, she was black. His arm was around her, and they were laughing. They looked so content that I smiled, I hoped that one day I’d find someone to laugh with like that.

       Then I started to notice the other couples, I admired how they contrasted and complimented each other, how their skin tones right beside each other seemed to glow.

          Families of different ethnicities walked together, their children playing and talking to one another.

 It was beautiful, effortless.  

The way it’s suppose to be. 

           The world is too beautiful to just be one color. It wasn't meant to be one color, our differences are wonderful. 

So why do so many authors seem to forget this?

             Guys, not everyone is white. Newsflash. But so often I read books and there are only white characters.

              Is there anything wrong with white characters? No, of course not! But it saddens me to think that some writers are still thinking inside the white-washed box of stereotypes.

              It also saddens me that books with main characters that aren't white or even ones with a few non-white side characters are considered unique.

             Look, I'm a white girl, I have curly brown hair, brown eyes, I'm short, and I'm clumsy as well as a bit quirky, asides from being homeschooled, Christian, and conservative, it's not that hard to find a character that I can relate to in looks and struggles. 

            Four of my younger siblings are Hispanic, how many books with a Hispanic MC or a side character can you name from the top of your head from your local library?
             I am not saying that you should force your cast of characters to be racially mixed, or that you should go all out with a story about a character fighting modern racism, but just know that there are other stories to be told.

             Different voices to be heard, and different eyes to see through. It has been proven that reading books can increase empathy (read all about that study here.) it's so important to have diversity in books. 

             Books helped me when I felt invisible, when I read about girls like me I felt heard and understood. EVERYONE should be able to feel that way when reading. 

           Sometimes it's hard to realize that there is a lack if it doesn't necessarily effect you, but just because you live in a nice house doesn't mean nobody else is homeless. 

            The world is too beautiful to just be the same or to just be one color, so why make your books just one color?
       *From pinterest, all credit to the original creator. 


What are your thoughts on racial diversity in books?

Happy Writing, 

53 comments:

  1. Gray I totally agree with you about that, not everyone in YA books should be of one race, their should be a mix, I also think it would be cool if YA books had diversity in many other ways too!:)
    -Quinley

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    1. Yes! We need so much more diversity in books. ^_^

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  2. I've actually been thinking about this lately. Awesome post. <3

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  3. I agree with a lot of what you're saying and I do think it is important for a cast of characters to be diverse. There are just some things I feel about the diversity movement that are wrong. One main thing is it's forced. We should let our characters flow naturally. If we don't, we risk the characters becoming too plastic and fake.

    But, all that said, I see where you're coming from and I do think this is a wonderful post.

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    1. I 100% agree with you, Ivie. I'm a writer and as of yet, I've only had white characters in the novels I've written. It's not that I'm opposed to having other races included in my characters, I just haven't stumbled across any yet. I definitely plan to have other races in my future novels, but not if it feels forced and unrealistic.

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    2. I'm always confused when people say that they can't write diversity without forcing it, to me it's not hard to hint at differences in race-a flash of dark eyes, long dreadlocks, even a character's golden contouring can be mentioned briefly, showing that not everyone is white.

      But I don't think you should force yourselves to be unauthentic in your craft. <3

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    3. OK, I think I figured it out and why many people often don't understand what I'm saying because there are some who do and some who don't. So, for me, when I'm working on a character, what they look like comes to me instantly. Sometimes, their looks change slightly as the book goes on because I realize that it doesn't fit their personality, but I immediately see a character before I have a name for them. I guess that's why a lot of people misunderstand me. XD

      I don't have to force it. For example, my character, Sawyer, is Hispanic. He came to me that way. Another character, Hannah, is slightly native american, but she didn't come to me that way. Later on, I found a picture and felt like it was Hannah, so I changed the way she looked because it was natural.

      I hope this makes sense. XD

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    4. Ok, that does make more sense!

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    5. I think I thought everyone came up with characters that way and I had to take a step back and realize we are all so different in our writing processes and that is just so EPIC. Sorry if there was any confusion or if what I have said prior upset you in any way because it was not my intention at all. My problem is when I'm thinking something, it makes sense in my head and forming it into words doesn't always go as smoothly. Most times it does, but then there are the other times like this where people are like, "What are you talking about?" XD XD

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    6. I picture my characters as well, but I like re-creating side characters and even mine characters to my more polished ideas of them. ;D

      I wasn't upset at all! You have the right to your opinion, and I respect that. <3

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    7. @Ivie, I totally get where you're coming from!! That's the same way I come up with characters, and it all just depends on the story for me. Right now one of my stories has an Asian family as the main focus, but many of my other stories have white or biracial characters.

      On another note, I find it really interesting that diversity is so rooted for, but what I think most people don't realize is that many people, especially in the USA now, are biracial and bloodlines are so much more mixed than anyone realizes. Because of that, I think most people box themselves in with stereotypes? Or at least authors do that with literature, and it creates more drama than is really needed over racial equality and the push for diversity. I myself am biracial, but I never really thought of myself as boxed in or different because I know so many people who are like me—culturally and ethnically mixed.

      And that's just my little rant, and I'm not sure how relevant it was, but that's what bugs me most about diversity in YA, because most authors seem to focus more on politics in diversity rather than just creating amazing characters. Lovely post, Gray! :D

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    8. That's a lot like how I create characters, Ivie. I often have their looks down pretty quick into the character creation. ;)

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    9. @Nicole, hmm, that is really true. Stereotypes are awful and something that should be avoided at all costs, especially when it comes to race. I think politics should be pushed aside, as you said, for amazing characters. <3

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    10. @Nicole: Your rant is relevant and honestly, you are so right. I don't think there are people in this country, with how crazy our bloodlines are at this point, who are actually fully white. I look white, but I have so many different blood lines and ethnicities in my blood, it's crazy.

      Just the other day at work, someone asked me if I speaked spanish. I said no because I don't, and she said, "Some white people speak spanish, so I thought I would ask."

      Funny thing is, I am actually part hispanic. XD I just don't speak spanish.

      People often look at the outward appearance and think a person is a certain race when we have so much in our blood lines at this point.

      @Musicgirl121: I thought everyone saw characters that way and it kind of blew my mind that some people are able to decide things about their characters before they start. XD That's pretty cool. XD

      @Gray: YES TO ALL OF THAT!!

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  4. Awesome post, Gray! I think I can find a way to incorporate this into my story without it feeling forced. Thanks for the reminder. :)

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  5. Oh my gosh!!!! I love love LOVE your intro!!!! You're such an amazing writer ;)
    *sighs happily*

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  6. I love seeing racial diversity in books, so this post makes me happy ^_^ I do think that to some extent, it depends on geographical location (at least in real-world stories; obviously this doesn't apply to fantasy.) Where I live, pretty much everybody is white, simply because that's how things are here. I moved here from the south, where the ethnicities of people are far more varied, and I miss that so much. But at the same time, living where I live makes things difficult for me--for example, an artist that I very much love recently made a music video with a congregational scene, and everyone there was white. He received a lot of lashback for that (like how DARE he make a video about worshiping God, incorporating Revelation 5, where there was NO DIVERSITY), and that made me sad--because everyone at my church is white, and there's really nothing we can do about it. There just isn't. So.

    Sorry about the ramble... :P I love seeing racial diversity in fiction AND in real life, and I guess what I'm trying to say is that I wish that there was more of it where I live. :P Wonderful post, as always! :D

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    1. Thanks! I love reading about it too.

      That can be true about geographical location.

      Ah, too bad. I love how varied the south is, it's so colorful with all of the different ethnicity. I feel sorry for that artists, people to tend to overreact. :/

      Thank you!

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  7. I do like when I see other races represented. I don't think it's that difficult to write a character like that. As long as it's not forced, it could make a story stand out that much more. I wish it was more common.

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    1. Same! It really isn't, it confuses me how people leave others out.

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  8. Loved this post, Gray! The novels/novellas/short stories that I've written in the past few years are fairly diverse (maybe that comes with me being part Korean?), and its so fun writing characters from different cultures and races. I love it! What I REALLY want to see more of is FANTASY CREATURE in different races. We need oriental mermaids and black fairies and Mexican elves - I mean, how fun would that be?? Ooh, I just gave myself a plot bunny xD. Thanks for this epic post, Gray!

    ~ Savannah | Scattered Scribblings

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    1. Oh, lookie there. I forgot that I switched my blog link, ha xD.

      ~ Savannah | Inspiring Writes

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    2. Thanks!

      It is so much fun!! I've learned so much about food, clothing, and history just from research and it's all so interesting and I love it as well. <3

      OH MY GOSH, YESSS! I also have thought about fairy tale re-tellings with different races, like instead of Snow White having white skin and ink black hair that she has ink black skin and snow white hair, because that would be SO. COOL.

      And black fairies with dusting of gold and silver sparkles on their cheeks sound so magical... Now YOU'VE given ME a plot bunny! XD

      Thank you so much, Savannah! <3

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  9. Diversity really does add to a story- and not just with heritage, but also with age, worldview, etc. It makes a story a little more 'human'.
    However, there are times when I suspect diversity is thrown in 'checklist' style, without the era and area in which the story takes place being considered.

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    1. It really does, and we need more of it!

      I do think it can be thrown in the checklist, and it shouldn't be, people should just write people, but at the same time not everyone is the same. ^_^

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  10. You've nailed it, Gray! That first part was just beautiful. There ARE other stories to tell, other cultures to explore. There's new beauty to find in the world.

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  11. One of my novels has a black man (I don't say African American because my book is in a fantasy world so saying black is about as good as I can get), and my countries are prejudice of each other because some people groups have fair skin (which is to them considered beautiful) and others are tan (which to them is a disgrace). I saw a need to address a more diverse book group, and your post says my thoughts exactly.
    Sorry for the rambles, but this is a beautiful post and I felt like adding my two cents haha.
    Thank you!

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    1. I don't think the term African American is widely used anymore, it use to be rude to call someone "black" but I think the tables have switched, I could be wrong though.

      Your book sounds so interesting!

      There is definitely a need.

      Thank you for reading! <3

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  12. To a degree this is true... you write what you know. I tend to have a small amount of diversity in my books just because I love color anything so much that I put a lot of thought into it! But there are just some places where it would be unrealistic.

    Such as writing a historical fiction set in Montana. I really wanted to add a black family to my serial that's running on my blog. I had the whole family planned out, too. I actually had to cut them out of my story though because I realized that there were no black people in the area. There still aren't any black people in the area... unless you go to one of the big college towns. When asking an older man if he'd ever seen a black person living near our town, he said, "No... but when I was little my mom told me this story about how she wanted to not wash her hands and face, just wear long sleeves before going to town. Of course she had to wash herself. But once she went to town (a bigger town people went to on rare occasions) she saw this black boy and told her mother, 'Mommy! He didn't have to wash his arms and face?' She had never seen a black person before."

    Diversity is good. I have friends of all religions and colors. This life experience does bleed into my writing. But realistically so. I'm white so I am writing from my perspective. I don't understand a full black community, so I will most likely never write a novel set in one. Or in India for that matter. Or Mexico. Now I could write a realistically Amish story... because I've experience that :)

    Plus the diversity in a story can come from so much more than my characters's skin clothes. Northern vs southern, religions, hair colors, personalities.

    keturahskorner.blogspot.com

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    1. That is a really good point, although it blows my mind to not imagine people of different color in a town (white people are kind of the minority for the most part where I live, so hearing about that just... HOW?? O_o ).

      That is very true, but there is a lack of good racial diversity when you think about it, although we don't want to force people to write them. XD

      Thanks for reading!

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  13. I've noticed the lack of diverse ethnicity in books as well, especially in Christian romance, the genre I usually read most of. However, I guess the reason, in that particular genre, is that few Christian romance writers are of a different ethnicity other than Caucasian. Maybe that's the problem? Most writers are writing about what they know, and most are Caucasian (like what Keturah Lamb said above)? (I've never looked into this, I'm just writing down my thoughts and wonderings)
    I agree with what you said, and thanks for posting about it and bringing attention to it!

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    1. I don't read a lot of Christian, but that doesn't surprise me. :/
      That could be the problem, a lot of people probably don't have enough confidence in themselves to step out on a limb and write outside of experience, which is sad, because it's really fun and needed.

      Thank you for reading!

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  14. As a black girl, I guess I'm most likely going to agree with this xD

    Like quite a few people of colour, I started writing stories with only white characters (maybe one or two people of colour) because that's how I thought it was supposed to be.

    However, when I was 13/14 I decided to start writing black main characters. Realistically, I've only finished one YA book with a black main character (about last year) and it was so weird reading something I could relate to.

    Also, ever since I became natural, it made me realise how much extra detail was needed. I thought black girls with looser hair textures had it easy. Boy, I was wrong. They actually need to also put in quite a lot of effort into their hair. And reading Americanah also revealed some extra tiny details that can make a book more relatable to black (particularly West African or simply Nigerian in my case) people.

    I noticed that the diversity community can be both helpful and toxic. It makes people realise the importance of diversity but also tries to force it sometimes. For example when a popular author added diversity to a series of theirs, the person got a lot of backlash. However, I believe that it's not 100% the author's fault. Mostly their fault but not 100%.

    Realistically, if you're unhappy with the lack of diversity in an author's works, you need to find another author (especially if they're underrated) and read their works, instead. You may feel free to criticise the author (without hating, of course) but at some point you have to move on.

    I'm also a part of two other minority groups but don't really expect a heck ton of representation because we're a really small amount, though there is an anticipated book this year but I'm still a little unsure of it. I'll try to include that minority in my stories but that will probably take a while.

    And also, I believe a book can be diverse even if all the characters are white. However, I'm thinking of disability diversity e.g. Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, which focuses on OCD representation.

    PS: I didn't know you had Hispanic siblings.

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    1. That's so sad that you thought that was suppose to be! Although when I was younger I remember not even thinking about it myself. :/

      That's so awesome that you're writing what you want to read now! And that's so interesting, and I think details like that are what daunt white authors the most, since we don't experience the same things in some areas, we're afraid of getting it wrong and offending people.

      I do agree that the movement can be toxic, one cannot force someone to write their agenda, after all. And that's too bad about that author.

      True, hating on authors isn't okay at all, even if you feel their in the wrong.

      I hope that book you're waiting for is good!

      We definitely need more mental and disability diversity as well. Every Last Word is about a girl with OCD as well.

      Yes, I do! We're a fostering to adopt family, so hopefully they'll soon legally be my siblings.

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  15. I do agree that diversity is a good thing in literature whenever it is possible, accurate and appropriate. But it should reflect reality whenever possible. Because a badly portrayed diverse character only hurts the argument.

    Most writers will follow that age old advice "write what you know" and for most of us, that is a Caucasian lifestyle. Not necessarily a bad thing but it does get rather dull occasionally.

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

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    1. Very true. <3

      Yes, it seems to be a thing, people are afraid to write different views or lifestyles, but it can be such a great learning experience.

      Thanks for reading!

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  16. I remember at first thinking something along the lines of "but I write fantasy, so how am I supposed to put different-colored skin in my books?"

    The answer?

    It's fantasy. I can do what I want.

    My current trilogy has people of all different skin colors mingling through all the kingdoms. My main group of characters are all quite different - Marywyn, with her pale skin, freckles, and red hair; Duren with black hair and Caucasian skin marked with scars; Lavern with her almond skin, rich black hair, and muscular frame; Mithrin with his really dark skin, deep black eyes, and constant smile. And much more.

    In a different fantasy series, I had different skin colors coming from different parts of the fantasy world "these people here are dark skin, these here had light skin, these here were very short, people from here could fly" and so on.

    When it gets right down to it, diversity is fun to write, and keep all the characters unique. :)

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    1. EXACTLY! That's why I love fiction so much. ^_^

      Diversity is so pretty and fun too, thanks for reading!

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  17. I found this post interesting..... i've been kind of diverse I guess you could say. half of the time My character's . I create have been psychologically ill. A Cherokee young woman plays as one of the characters in one of my writings....

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    1. That's good, we need more mentally diverse characters as well.

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  18. I totally agree! Kudos to you for standing up and saying this!

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  19. I'm all for diversity in fiction and would love to see more of it - and it's out there! I love reading fiction from authors of color or works that have been translated from their original language.

    I would just caution my fellow white authors against randomly adding in characters of color, in particular, unless you've done some research. Because often it isn't as simple as crafting a character as you normally might and then changing their skin color - we live in a racist world, whether we like to admit it or not, and that's going to totally affect how that particular character experiences the world and how people treat them. A white character probably isn't even going to think twice about sauntering into a convenience store after dark, but a black character may be wary, concerned the old shop-keep is gonna suspect them of stealing or something based purely on the color of their skin.

    I have a character in my sci-fi novel that is black and she had dreadlocks. Do you know how many hours of research went into learning about the care and keeping of dreadlocks? Lots of 'em. Super important, because it's a part of her identity and I need to write it correctly. :)

    I'm rambling again, I hope this made sense!

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    1. Yes, I was actually just thinking about the #OwnVoices movement and how they have a point, that experience is super important when writing stories with POC, and the most respectful thing to do when writing about different ethnicities is to do your research. My family adopted four Hispanic kids and they have brought so many new things into our home that I didn't even realize existed, for example they love Tajin, especially on their fruit, they also notice when there are more white people or more dark people than white, which is something I don't usually pay attention to.

      That is a great point! And this makes perfect sense.

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