Last week I received a Twitter DM from Young Adult author Ellen Oh, the brilliant woman behind the even more brilliant We Need Diverse Books campaign. If you don’t know about We Need Diverse Books, put very simply, it’s a grassroots campaign to diversify our bookshelves. Their mission statement provides more detail:
We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.
We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.
So you can imagine the thrill when I saw Ellen Oh – freaking Ellen Oh! – was DM’ing me. I was even more excited when I read her note, asking if I would be interested in writing something for WNDB’s Official Tumblr.
Hell to the yes, I would!
We chatted a bit more about what WNDB was looking for with my post, deadlines, and other such details and then I was left to it. I worked on it over the weekend and it posted this past Monday. To say I’m feeling totally proud and excited would be the understatement of the year. For one thing, WNDB is an amazing organization doing brilliant work and I am totally floored to be writing something for them. But also, I kind of really love my post. Like really. I think it’s all kinds of awesome.
Check it out and decide for yourself:
Ellen Oh asked me to discuss why diversity is important to me. Almost instantly, I thought of my character, Ryker Morrison. Brilliant warrior, loyal friend, generous lover. Passionate, open-minded, giving. Charismatic, beautiful, funny. Conflicted, thoughtful, courageous. And Black.
Interestingly, many readers have assumed he is white.
Which strikes right to the core of the matter for me, screaming loud and clear why diversifying our bookshelves is so vital. Because really, there is no reason you should read my books and come away from them thinking Ryker is white.
Sure, I don’t spell it out for the reader, I don’t come out and say: RYKER MORRISON, FABULOUS WARRIOR, EVEN COOLER BLACK GUY. That’s not my writing style nor is it my goal when handling issues of race, but you know what? I give enough clues about him physically that you damn well know he ain’t white.
And yet, it keeps happening. People keep assuming he is precisely what he is not.
Which leads me to believe that many read about him, get to know him as a character – how wonderful he is as a friend, how skilled he is as a warrior, how giving he is as a lover – and since I don’t knock my readers over the head with race, they forget Ryker is Black, and automatically, almost knee-jerk like, attribute his qualities to a white character. This just happens, it is learned, it is ingrained; to be clear, I don’t believe it’s a conscious thought process by most readers.
You know why?
Part of it is a desire to see ourselves in a character with such admirable qualities, but I lay a big part of the blame on the lack of diversity in traditional publishing, in our bookstores, and on our bookshelves. When none of the hereos, the smarties, the cuties, and the badasses are diverse, when they don’t reflect our national melting pot, it can be difficult to see them when they’re right in front of our faces. It can be quite easy to forget Ryker is Black when a character like him is hardly prevalent, rarely seen in mainstream literature.
Ryker is why I keep writing and creating wonderful, strong, brilliant men and women of color. He is why I passionately support the efforts of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Because one day, and it might not be in my lifetime, but I certainly hope it is during my son’s, there will be so many diverse characters out there – racially, LGBT, disabled, religiously – that assumptions such as those made about Ryker will be a thing of the past. Because one day, positive character traits will not automatically be attributed to non-diverse characters. Because one day, the stories out there will encompass ALL of our stories. Get ready folks. I feel it. It’s happening.
So? What do you think?
If you like it, click here —>Indie Author Spotlight and like the actual post, or even reblog it on your Tumblr. The more traffic, the better.
Me? I’m headed back to work on Book III.
Happy Friday, bitches.