Young Adult

True Story Thursday: My take on diversity

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or off the grid, you no doubt have seen the HUGE discussion on diversity in books and why we absolutely, positively, definitely need it. I’ve chosen, for the most part, to not participate in a lot of the discussion. I do believe there needs to be more diverse characters in books, especially those that we are pushing on other readers, be they adults, teens, or kids. But for me, personally, I don’t like “diversifying” my reading just for the sake of diversifying it.

I know this is a super unpopular opinion so let me ‘splain.

When I was in college I took this hybrid history/literature class on Mexican and Native American um… history and literature. It was, honestly, super boring. Basically we had to read a million pages of history and literature for each class session and then sit in a circle and discuss what we’d read. As a somewhat narrow-minded 19 year old, I did not care about either culture and their history and literature. (Please note: this was not me being racist. I did not care about Swiss or Lithuanian history and literature either). I was not doing very well in the class either by mid-term, and was also in the middle of transferring to a different school, so I decided to drop the class in order to salvage my already mediocre GPA. I had to go see my advisor to drop the class but he was MIA. I then had to go to the head of the history department to drop the class. He basically chewed me out for wanting to drop it and accused me of being narrow-minded and I should care more about broadening my viewpoints than my GPA.

From here I have gone back and revised this post because I was feeling like an ass about it and realized it’s because it’s not saying what I want it to say.

Since then my world view has broadened and I’m interested in more cultures’ and races’ histories and literature. But I don’t feel like I seek out books on different cultures and races. And again… it’s not that I’m racist (seriously, I think having to say this is lame but I feel like it’s been so ingrained into my head that I have to say it) or hate other cultures. It’s more that I feel like I’m part of a race and a culture that I don’t know enough about. Yes, I realize I’m white. Yes, I realize the majority of literature has white characters as the MCs. That’s not really what I’m saying.

What I’m saying is that I am drawn to books that help me gain a better understanding of where I come from. I want to read books that I can see myself in or see my friends in or find better understanding of events that have happened in my life. I believe everyone, no matter their race or culture, deserves the opportunity to do this.

For example: I’m from the South and I love my home. I have fierce pride in where I am from and I want to read books that encourage reasons to feel pride in my home (which is why I try to stay far far away from books that deal with Southern racism). I have friends who are of Hispanic and Filipino origins (backgrounds?) and family who are Moroccan. I want to read books that help me better understand what their lives were like growing up, what their families might have been like, what challenges they may face. My favorite uncle was murdered and I am still deeply grieving. I want to read books that help me rationalize and come to terms with loss, fear, and anger.

But to pick up a book just because it features a MC minority character? That’s not who I am as a reader. I don’t want to read about a character just because she’s black (or Asian, or Hispanic, or Slovakian or Hindu or Jewish or or or…). I want to read about a character who is funny, spirited, courageous, tough, weak, smart, pretty, exceptional, ordinary, and a huge plethora of other traits who just HAPPENS to be black (or any of the above mentioned races and/or cultures). This is how I like learning about diversity. I like finding similarities as well as finding differences because I think this is what makes our world so great. We all go through some of the same things (in general terms) but seeing how other races or cultures react to them or experience them is interesting to me.

Aside that doesn’t really match the rest of this post but is along the lines of diversity: With all the talk about diversity it made me think about one diversity problem I have with literature and that is weight. I have always struggled with mine and while I’m fine with myself, there are some days I feel like a blimp and the ugliest girl in the world. Not trying to evoke sympathy, just being honest. I have yet to find a book about a girl who is overweight that doesn’t make her weight the main focus of the book and how she tries to lose weight. Yes, I know for women that’s a huge thing and even when we’re the ideal size we still think we’re fat. But not all books are about girls who have the perfect waistline, who are tall, who have long hair, who have unblemished skin. Some of us are short, heavy, short-haired, with pimples. And I know there are writers out there who aren’t the “ideal” body type.

So why don’t they write about people who look like them? Okay, I get why we don’t write about “ourselves” a lot of times, but it would be nice to read more about girls who aren’t perfect who have good things happen to them, is comfortable with who she is and happy with her life and gets the boy who likes her just the way she is.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are some topics, cultures, situations, themes, etc. that I’m just not interested in. I don’t want to read about them just to make myself look better or feel better or whatever. When I seek to diversify my reading (or anything in my life actually) I like to start with things that are close to me that I want to learn more about and give me a better understanding of my own life and the lives of those around me. Maybe I’m selfish like that. Maybe that history professor was right and I am narrow-minded. Maybe that’s not even what diversifying actually is.* But I want to find MYSELF** in books… just like everyone else does. And everyone deserves to find themselves and their friends in books. And thank goodness for increasing opportunities to do so. Let’s keep up the efforts!

*I think we owe it to ourselves and to others to learn as much as we can about our close surroundings to create a better community. My community is not made up of only white, upper-middle class, Republicans with 2.5 kids and a dog.

**Myself = me, my friends, my family, my education, my work, my interests, etc.

Here ends my edits. Hopefully my words are a little more coherent this time around. If not, oh well… I tried!

Wanted to share some of my favorite “diverse” books that have helped me gain better understanding about myself, my friends, our world, events, and some other things.

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I really hope you don’t think I’m a horrible person and that this post doesn’t come across as horrible and mean-spirited. Promise, it’s not! I’d also like to know what books you’ve read that have helped you gain a better understanding of your own diverse surroundings/community!

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13 thoughts on “True Story Thursday: My take on diversity”

  1. I don’t think I understand what you’re saying. I agree that you shouldn’t read about minorities (and yes, we are still minorities in the US) just to say you did, but it sounds like you are saying you have no interest in reading about minority characters period because you’re Southern/white and want to focus you’re reading on that? I don’t really know what to say.

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    1. Yeah, this post is all over the place… I know. Promise that’s not what I’m trying to say.

      I think what I’m saying is that I want to read about things that are important in my life. I want to read about my culture. I want to read about my friends’ cultures or races. I don’t want to just pick a random culture or race and read about it for the sake of saying I’m reading about it.

      And not just cultures but other things, whether it’s an illnesses, family, death, social issues… things that I’m dealing with in my life or see friends dealing with so that I can gain a better understanding. I sometimes get cross-eyed and confused when I try to read articles or research about these things so to see them in a book sometimes helps me gain a better understanding.

      I’m trying to answer your question of my interest in reading about minorities and am having trouble. Seriously have been trying to for 10 mins now!

      Ok, this is the best way I can answer it: when I look for a book I look for topics. Family, relationships, corrupt governments. These are topics that appeal to me. If I come across one that has a minority character as the MC, great. And if the author hasn’t white-washed the character and/or ignored his/her culture, even better.

      The best example I can think of from recent reading is The Book of Broken Hearts. Here we have two families dealing with common issues (illness, single parent, siblings, growing apart/up) and these families are minorities. Not only was I able to find understanding of issues in my own life but was able to see my friends who are of Latino or Hispanic origin in this book. It sparked questions about their culture which I think is very important.

      Reading about my own culture is very important to me, yes. But what’s more important to me is finding understanding through my reading, not just about myself but about others. I don’t seek out books that have minority characters, not because I don’t have an interest in reading about them but because I don’t seek out characters period.

      Maybe when we seek out characters we lose opportunities to diversify ourselves (just throwing that thought out there because I just had it, not trying to make a hard statement). Looking back at my reading I feel like I’ve learned more about diversity by seeking things I enjoy. Families, groups of friends, locations, colleges, historical events.

      Okay, I’m stopping here because I’ve almost written another post on this. I love you for making me think and challenging me with your question. And this is not a sucking up “I’m sorry if I offended you!” statement, but one of the things I love about both you and Teen Lit Rocks is that you manage to open my eyes to so many different things and thoughts.

      So thanks for commenting and making me look a little closer as this post. 🙂

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      1. I think what I find so troubling is that you admit to being a fiercely proud Southerner but refuse to acknowledge/read anything that deals with Southern racism or anything negative. I’m watching a documentary about the Freedom Riders, Bull Connor, and the history of Jim Crow South in Alabama right now, and all I can think of is how one can’t really be Southern and not **know** this is your history too. It’s misguided to think the South is only about what makes you proud, it was also a hateful, angry, segregationist place in American history. You can’t close your eyes to that and think it means it doesn’t exist, even today, when just this year was the first year a black girl was allowed to join a major University of Alabama sorority. I think by only wanting to read about what’s good, you delude yourself into thinking the South is this wonderful place without any problems. How is that broadening your horizons or learning more about your culture?

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  2. But what if YOU were someone who was not mainstream and could not find YOURSELF in any books? Don’t you think that other woman deserves a chance to have books published by publishing houses and endorsed by editors that allow her to connect with situations, characters, world view presented? This is not about diversity in what YOU choose to read. It is about promoting more choices of literature for everyone. How great that you have the chance to find yourself in the books available today. Not every person does. That is the larger issue and why others are so passionate about diversity in books.” They want to see all people represented and given choices, rather than simply churning out books aimed at the same audiences already served.

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    1. Yes! Absolutely. I think there should be more diverse books out there that feature MCs from all backgrounds. Everyone should have opportunities to find themselves in books – I even mentioned this towards the end of my post.

      The point of this post wasn’t to disagree with the diverse books movement. I actually agree with it. It was more to talk about the diversity I read and why.

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  3. I can understand what you are saying somewhat. I read a Buzzfeed longform article about how diversity in young adult literature isn’t enough because the characters in the books need to be seen as just people rather than an “African American person” or a “Hispanic person” and also how publishing companies make it hard to publish books with diverse characters. Here is the article if you are interested: http://www.buzzfeed.com/danieljoseolder/diversity-is-not-enough

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    1. Thanks for sharing that; I’ll have to check it out.

      I agree with that a teensy tiny bit… but for the most part feel like it’s a scapegoat answer. There are some situations where the characters are characters, no matter what the person looks like (ex. the newer version of Fried Green Tomatoes that features an all-black cast (or at least as the main characters)). When I was in HS we went to see a play and the MC, who was typically portrayed as white, was played by a black man and after like 2 mins into the play I believed that he WAS the character he was playing, didn’t matter what race he was.

      I digress though. Yes, characters need to be awesome regardless of race, but that doesn’t need to be the reason for not having a diverse cast of book characters.

      I’m wishing I had read the article before I responded to your comment so I’d have more to say! But thanks again for the link and stopping by!

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  4. I know that for me, when I seek out friends, I tend to seek out people who are like-minded with me, and naturally, because I’m a normal human being, sometimes these people look somewhat similar to me or dress like me or whatever. We naturally gravitate towards that, something relatable, and not just when it comes to friends, but with books too. But sometimes you meet someone very different from you, who surprises you and challenges you, but in a good way. This can happen with books too. Sometimes I’ll read something outside of my comfort zone and find it really refreshing. It may have been given to me and I might not have sought it out, but in the end I’m glad I was exposed to it and it has now shaped me. I do think diversity is good, but for most of us, it’s not our nature to seek it out.

    There is the argument that for some people, they’re not seeing themselves represented within the pages, and I certainly understand that. I have to admit as someone who writes, it’s hard to write characters outside of what I know from my experience, out of fear I’ll do it wrong, and out of just natural inclination to write what I know and understand. I’m not sure if the problem is with authors who aren’t writing these stories or with publishers aren’t releasing them or, more than likely, a combination of these and other reasons, but hopefully one day more people can find representations of themselves in books.

    I definitely agree with your sentiment that I am not a fan of doing something just to have done it. But any diversity than come about in stories naturally I think is certainly a good thing. I may not seek it all out myself, but at least it will be there for whoever wants it.

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    1. Thanks for your comment!

      I agree that the majority of my friends are similar to me, whether in color, background, education, etc. It is natural, I think, for us to gravitate towards like. As I’ve gotten older and have been involved in more diverse settings I’ve found my circles of friends to become more diverse, which I’ve really enjoyed!

      I definitely feel like you do when it comes to books; I may not purposefully seek out diverse books but I love when I do come across one it not only speaks volumes to me but can open my eyes to a whole new world that I didn’t know existed.

      I honestly don’t know what the issue is with a lack of diversity in books, whether it’s authors, publishers, or a combination. I think there have been excellent strides, but there definitely needs to be more and I hope there are bigger pushes for diversity both now and in the future!

      Thanks again! 🙂

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  5. ” I don’t like “diversifying” my reading just for the sake of diversifying it.” I think that they’re a reason that you think white characters are the default. There is a white washing in media. But I don’t think that white characters are a problem, I think that readers would just like a space carved out for them in the literature that they’re reading. If other people can relate to stories of white characters, why wouldn’t they relate to stories of diverse characters? It’s just another experience. At the end of the day, the story will be relatable because a human story. However, we can literature be as inclusive and portray the reality that most people experience? The call for diverse characters isn’t to bash one race or say one particular race is better than the other. It’s calling for more people’s realities to be recognized. As a minority, I would’ve appreciated reading about and seeing more POCs in media. I think the call for diversity, is a brilliant movement because now young POC can see themselves in stories, but also it’s a story that they are not just the side kick. It’s acknowledge that all different kind of people have there own story that gets a voice.

    Also, if the writing is done well, you shouldn’t care about all the ways that you’re different, but all the ways that you’re the same.

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    1. “…you shouldn’t care about all the ways that you’re different, but all the ways that you’re the same.”

      Here, here! I wanted to say that exact same thing SO BAD in this post… but then thought maybe that’s not diversifying? I wasn’t sure so I didn’t say it.

      One of the things I like about finding diverse characters in books is seeing how we’re the same. Just because our skin is different or maybe we come from different parts of the world doesn’t mean we don’t have similar backgrounds, struggles, triumphs, etc.

      Also, in regards to the first line you quoted… what I mean is that I don’t want to be a person who reads diverse books just to say “Look! I read books about people! I am such a diverse reader!”

      When I read diverse books, I want to read them so I can learn from them, so I can gain experiences from them. I don’t do it for the sake of doing it; I like to do it with purpose.

      I agree with you that this movement is brilliant because everyone deserves to see themselves in books, movies, TV, etc. And not as a secondary character, or in a stereotypical/insulting role, or in only one type of genre. Experiences can transcend race, sexuality, culture, etc. which I think is a huge reason everyone deserves to see themselves and there needs to be more opportunities!

      Sorry for the lengthy reply; thanks for commenting!

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  6. Thank you! Thank you so much! I love you! Great post! 😀

    I don’t like diversifying my reading just to diversify it either. I’m black, and I feel like if I voice my opinion people are going to tell me that I hate my race or blah blah blah, I’m trying to be white and blah blah blah blah!!! Ugh!

    Just give me a good reading experience that’s all I ask. If the main character is a determined person that stands up for what they believe in. I could care less what race/gender they are: black, white, hispanic, asian, boy, or girl.

    I hate it when authors write about stuff they don’t really care about out or don’t really know about. I want an author to write about something he/she really wants to write, not something they feel they should do. I agree with the whole “let’s be diverse” thing, but I hate it when an author just decides to throw in a black person into a story just for the sake of “diversity.” They think we can’t tell, but we can tell, and it’s freaking annoying when they do it!!

    I understand that people want to see their races represented in literature, but I feel like if it’s forced, we’ll get the same silly, shallow, stereotypical books that are usually marked as “diverse.” Like no. Just because you have a sassy-mouthed black friend in the story does not mean your book is diverse. Sorry!! Diversity is best when it occurs naturally. What are “POC” books anyways? The whole idea of that makes me sick! Why can’t books just be called books. The fact that the main character is black or asian or whatever other race they are shouldn’t matter. If the plot is awesome and the character’s personality is awesome, who cares what race they are?! I most certainly don’t! I’m going to read the book regardless!!

    I’m glad you put this post up, now I know I’m not the only one who feels that way! 🙂 There was nothing offensive about it, and you shouldn’t feel bad about saying what’s on your mind.

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    1. Ha, thank YOU! I’ve felt pretty crappy about this post because of all the misunderstanding comments, but I’m glad you got it!

      I care about diversity, I really do. I can see not everyone is the same and feel it should be reflected equally. But to throw in diversity just so meet some quota or whatever? I think that almost does a disservice to everyone.

      I agree that maybe it shouldn’t be forced but that we should encourage people to WANT more diversity in their reading options. Publishers should WANT to publish well-written diverse books, not something silly just to say “we have diverse books!”

      To answer your “What are POC books anyways?” question… I have no answer. Maybe I live in a fairytale, but I feel like books are for everyone. There shouldn’t be books for only certain groups. Just as we’re offended when people tell our daughters “that’s a boys’ book” or our sons “that’s a girls’ book” I think we should be equally offended by saying “Oh, that’s a POC book.”

      Thanks so much for your kind comments! There are so many wonderful books out there that feature so many wonderful characters. I hate to think someone passes them up based on race or culture!

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