Thursday, 1 May 2014

We Need Diverse Books

I'm not usually one to jump on campaigns, because I usually arrive ten days too late for the party, and haven't even brought nibbles to make up for it (and I accidentally replaced the hashtag on my keyboard with some sort of obscure Graeco-Roman squiggle when my American keyboard was feeling particularly vindictive).

This campaign, though, is different. #WeNeedDiverseBooks is a campaign dealing with a subject very close to my heart; campaigning for increased diversity, of all kinds, in the world's mainstream fiction.

It's not that diversity in books does not exist - it does. My good friends and fellow admins over at The Book Chewers drew up a post containing a wonderful list of excellent multicultural YA books that they had all read and enjoyed, and I, too, have read and enjoyed several books by and focussing on minority characters. Heck, I've even written a couple, too.

In short: I am not here to harp on about under-representation and ignominy - not in the least because I feel it would be rather horribly hypocritical for me to do so, given that my demographic of white Western females is really rather well represented, and I don't want to start inciting that those of other origins are some sort of repressed, helpless pack of kittens that we have to rescue from the jaws of the homogenising publishing industry. Because that's not the case at all.

What I want to talk about is why diversity in books is vital to the very nature of books.

This is not a question about one facet of representation alone. It's not an issue fundamentally about race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religion, or disability, alone. It's about the fact that these things should not be used as grounds to singularly define a person.

Books, fundamentally, are about people. And people are complicated.

The best books are those that realise this, and create complicated, multi-faceted and subsequently realistic characters that form such an important part of an enjoyable reading experience. Books that distill characters to boring archetypes are poorly executed at best and deeply questionable at worst.

I've written posts before about how characters written solely to represent a given minority are set at a serious disadvantage, because the author forgets that this person is, actually, a person, and instead treats them as an avatar for that entire group of people. This means the characters often end up being static, uninteresting, and devoid of any individualistic motive or character that could result in upset or alienation.

Under-representation is bad enough without one's only representation being done in such a way that it makes it seem like authors simply cannot consider minorities on the same plane as those who are not. It devalues the characters and, by extension, the people to whom these characters are meant to be important and relevant.

Writing should not be grounds for tropes and pussyfooting around politically correct portrayals of characters. Writing should be about creating real, vivid, exciting, dynamic, confusing, and complicated people that everyone can read about and get engaged with. Minority characteristics form a very important part of this - without them, what remains is always going to be deficient in failing to make the most of the creative vastness that can come from characters and the worlds they inhabit.

To conclude: diversity in books is not about stuffing in a wider variety of x or y trait in order to create a false sense of equality. Diversity in books is about showing how many exhibits of x and y we see in the world around us, and how each of them comes to light in a different person.

Diversity in books is about what books do best - people. In all their complicated glory.

~ Charley R

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