Hi Readers 🙂 I hope your day is going well! I have a lot on my mind (that’s been there for a while) so I hope you’ll allow me to rant for bit…
I recently read this post on ‘Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?’. Interestingly, I’ve been happening upon a lot of posts like this lately like this one by Spencer Hill Press Junior Publicist, Jazmin Labrada, and this one: Sarah Rees Brennan’s Tumblr, and this: It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers, and finally this: Whitewashing in Young Adult literature. This all got me thinking… why are there so many White (Straight) Girls in Dresses (and/or with flowing hair, I might add) on the covers of so many YA books?
via Lee & Low Books (yeah, it’s that bad)
You know, I’ve read YA like, since forever. Not the best way of putting it but still, it’s true. I’ve seen the category change so much from more contemporary books with the occasional “dystopian” (although I’m not sure we called it that then) like Westerfeld’s Pretties series & budding mythology-esque books like Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Then came TWILIGHT which really set off this huge trend of paranormal books. I’ll never forget going into the YA book section in B&N, after what seemed like forever (I stopped reading YA for a long while…), and being shocked at how it had changed. You know, before you had Contemporary, maybe Fantasy, and/or just YA and New Releases. Now there’s paranormal & fantasy…a change I’m quite happy about since Adult has been separating them for years (not in every book store but still) and they’re different genres (ones that take from each other yet still different).
The one thing that didn’t change and I might argue, for me, might’ve even decreased was the representation of multicultural people. I’ve definitely seen more “queer books” however they usually are in a separate section just like the “multicultural” ones are.
To make my point, I need you to use your imagination. The world as we know it has ended, we’re dead, apocalypse came & went and now a new culture of people/whatever is here. After many years they’ve decided to venture to Earth (from wherever they came from) to learn about what our society used to be like. So they’re digging up stuff and they happen upon some books…guess what? There’s a pretty good chance it has some white girl in a dress (with flowing hair) on it. They read the book, and well…they come to the conclusion that our society was only full of white people.
I know, that’s a little far fetched but my point is that these books aren’t representative of real people, of Americans, of us, of me, of the world! And if there is a PoC (person of color) in a book you can bet that person probably isn’t going to also be gay. We’re existing in these binaries with no intersectionalities of race and the fluidity of gender and sexuality which is something that is very, very real, always has been but it coming to more prominence today.
The part of me that likes trying to see the reason in others arguments gets it. I mean, I’m black therefore I’m going to have black characters in my book. It makes sense. So I guess I can understand only having white, straight characters in your book if that what you are. But I also think that’s rather boring. I like to write what I know but we’re interpreting that phrase too literally. You know people, so write about them. We’re writers, we’re supposed to observe and take from the world. These books are getting old, and I promise you one day people are going to get sick and tired of it. From a marketing standpoint, one day you’re going to lose part of your target audience.
Like really, another girl in a dress??? I love wearing dresses but seriously, come on. It’s not that hard to feature characters of different races. We don’t have to speak differently or even act differently, we aren’t a foreign species. I’m tired of the only PoC main characters being those ones a little removed from the other books, with a black girl, for instance, looking “tough”. You know, the books that are about her and this guy and how she’s pregnant or her dealing with life “in the hood”. I just don’t get it. I’m not trying to say contemporary multicultural authors failed, they didn’t. Jacqueline Woodson, anyone…I would read one of her books any day! They wrote what spoke to them. But those experiences don’t represent all of us. They’re important to read, yes, but that shouldn’t define an entire race.
And I know, I know it’s not completely the fault of the authors. Most times you don’t get a say in your cover. In fact you might strongly dislike your cover, I know that too. That’s why it’s important for us to write realistically, write true, and if you do that we, together, can tackle the matter of covers. But we can’t tackle that if story actually only features white, straight girls (and guys…). Which is why I’m calling for everyone to ban together and make a change. Because I’m sure even the white girls are tired of wearing flowing dresses.
Maybe, for some, living in a 100% white society is great, obviously for me, it wouldn’t be. When your main character dates a guy of color, you don’t always have to tackle huge race issues. Your PoC don’t always have to be “spicy-er”, and your white girl doesn’t always have to be straight.
The other part of it is that we need more PoC/queer authors, in not just Contemporary but Fantasy and Sci-Fi and Dystopian and Paranormal. We also need more PoC/queer editors and agents and publicists who want to see more stories with a realistic composition of people.
And as for the argument that mostly white people buy books so therefore characters should be white…false. PoC/queer people buy books too, we also read all genres & if we, who will eventually be a majority in the U.S. (all together) can read/have read books with white characters then everyone else can read books with PoC/queer characters.
Ever fail? No matter, fail again, fail better. You can do it, I have faith in you.
“As someone who is not a person of color and who worries about messing up myself, I am probably the last person who should be giving anyone advice. But I think that we as writers have an obligation to tell the truth about the world — and diverse world is a true world. I also think that we have to be conscious of which stories are ours to tell, which stories we have points of identification with and which stories we need to do more work if we want tell responsibly.”
P.S. Stop using chocolate & caramel skin. And don’t forget, don’t feel as if you have to take a stand & talk about multicultural/queer issues. Story & characters first, everything else on the back burner.
What are your thoughts on this? Any advice? Things you’ve observed/experienced?
-Oh and check out this post too, if you like…it captures how I felt as a child & now :)’