Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Race in YA: Why it's ok if all of your characters are one color

All over the blogs of writers, agents, and editors alike, you can find posts about how books lack diversity. How they mostly consist of Caucasians. How they wish every cover didn't have a white girl on it. Many cry out for more diversity.
I'd like to take a look at why diversity (while nice!) isn't a must. In fact, it sometimes may not make any sense!

It could be because of where we live that this happens. I mean come one, the U.S. is referred to as the melting pot. Racial diversity is something common- in some parts of the world.

If you were publishing a book in Japan, and everyone in the book was Japanese, would anybody really mention "Why are there no Hispanics in this book?". Probably not. Keep in mind, while many countries have noticeable racial diversity, such countries are hardly the majority.

The fact that the U.S. is so diverse has led its citizens to expect diversity in all forms of media.

But what if you're writing a fiction? A fiction that takes place in a world that doesn't exist in real life? What if that world was like Japan? So everyone in this world has tan skin, that doesn't mean the author lacks diversity, does it? Does every world we create have to be just like America? A big melting pot? Why can't it be in the beginning stages, where they haven't been able to travel and explore the whole world, and thus have a population that isn't that diverse.

If my world takes place where they travel with covered wagons, and have to take dangerous sea voyages to get to the next continent over (which is hardly the entire world) what are the realistic chances that my characters will ever meet someone who looks so different from them selves? Pretty slim I'd say.

Not that I discourage having diversity in your book (or other form of media). And I'm not saying you should make everyone white/black/olive/etc. skinned. I guess I'm just saying that in some worlds injecting diversity for the sake of diversity can be unnecessary. Sometimes the world we live in isn't diverse at all (A German or a Mexican would stand out like a soar thumb in Japan ).

If it's really that important, try not mentioning the color of your characters' skin. Let the reader's own personal preference kick in. ;)

(mirror posted on my LJ)

1 comment:

  1. Well, the thing is, the big hubub on fiction is exactly what you leave out. The greater portion of fiction that anyone cares about (read as fiction people in academia care about in terms of talking about the complexities of society drawn out in a fictional tale), the greater portion of stories take place in our world.

    Race matters because we cannot create a world that is homogeneous in appearance and we cannot appear to be all neutral to each other by creating a colorblind world. Such a world is utopian at best, and cliched in most cases.

    The fact you travel through to another continent, or you appear in a different town via a covered wagon. You're an outsider, and you're not going to be so easily welcomed. The people you visit are different, they are strange sometimes. You might be the one that finds the differences uneasy to deal with, it might be the natives unsure of your party's.

    The point is, strangers in a town aren't your best friend. They're strangers, and as we see a stranger, our animal instinct is to make sure they're all right, stereotypes offer shortcuts to this, and as time passes getting to know them does as well.

    This is the basics of diversity and race in fiction. May it be Hispanics and Asians, or elves and drows, there is a way that these prejudices play into each other.

    Though, I will admit that race does not have to be a driving force in creating a character for a story. Having "that one black kid" to even things out really just entrenches itself into stereotype and won't let go.

    If you're going to have an Asian kid, make it have sense. If you want a sly Asian kid with glasses, have a reason why he is that. Make the race a part of his character and story, not the other way around. Does it matter this guy is black? Did Matheson write Robert Neville (I am Legend) as a black man to be played by Will Smith? Does it matter to change the race of Neville?

    This is the question to be asked.