14.5.15

Why Diverse Stories Aren't Only Important For Readers of Color


Toni Morrison once said "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” That quote has been with me ever since I first read it years ago and while I am well past my teens and getting ever closer to being twenty one, I still have this desire to see myself in a story. Granted there have been black main characters in books but they're often about the struggles of being black or stories that aren't as diverse in plot as many books with white protagonists are. 

Where are the black Katnisses of the YA world? Must black characters always be Rues or Threshes? I know that the answer is, no, they don't and there have been more and more books where black characters aren't defined by their 'circumstances' but it's not enough and it should never be enough. This belief is what inspired my current wip. 

Unfair, if you don't know, is a YA (possibly NA) Epic Fantasy retelling of Snow White. It's not told from Snow White's POV and it takes place in a world that is geographically similar to our own. When I was first thinking this story up, it was natural for me to want to include other regions of the world but I wouldn't be completely honest if I didn't admit that this incorporation was also intentional. I think it's important for everyone to see themselves in a story and while I grew up reading books with white protagonists who I could relate to, I think it's important for children to grow up reading characters that look like them. 

Not many children of color do. 

I didn't.

But this isn't the only reason why I am writing Unfair with such a diverse cast.

I'm a Sociology major, so many of the courses I have taken deal with race. I have had great professors but the most meaningful education that I have received did not always come from the instructors themselves but the white students in the class. Many of them have never encountered someone who wasn't white before coming to college. Many of them had preconceived ideas of what a person of color should act like from media and from what friends and family have told them. 

The amount of POCs in this country has been increasing but there is still not many opportunities for white children to interact with people of color. I grew up with seeing white actors on television. Most of my teachers and professors and classmates have been white. Because of that, I am able to see the person and not the stereotypes that sometimes gets perpetuated through media.

There are many people out there who teach their kids not to see color and while I can't tell anyone how to raise their children,  I can say that that kind of thinking does more harm than good. I want people to see my color because I refuse to pretend that I don't see theirs. It's not something that is consciously in my head when I first meet someone but before you talk to someone the first thing you see is their appearance. Skin color makes up that appearance, so it is impossible not to notice it. Besides, color isn't bad. It's beautiful, in my opinion. The perceptions or the way a certain color has been portrayed to us is what can be bad, especially if that perception or portrayal is negative and is based on a stereotype instead of the individual.

The narratives of black teens that get told are not diverse. The same can be said for the stories of other teens of color. Again, I am aware of the fact that there are more books with main characters of color out but that just isn't enough for me. There needs to be an equal amount of representation in books, especially in books for children, teens, and college-aged adults.

That is the time when exposure to diversity is the most important.

So I will write Unfair with all of the readers in color in mind because I know how important it is to see someone who looks like you saving the world but I will also write it for white readers as well. We all need exposure to people who we think are different than us because it is then that we are forced to realize how similar we truly are.