I Need Diverse Main Characters
by Guinevere Thomas
Let me be upfront. I freaking hate cliques. In high school, it used to pit the nerds/geeks/dorks vs the jocks. The cheerleaders/popular girls vs the goths. And one that hit close to home, the artsy folk vs the folk that didnt do shit.
The lunchroom was always a segregated mess of social acceptance, where one met a status quo of conforming, or disappeared. Unfortunately this type of thinking seems to follow us way beyond high school.
We create cliques at work, social events, and even amongst our peers. It even affects us when, even in our progressive state, *gasp* we go to find “diverse” books.
What do I mean, you ask?
As a lover of fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, but also realistic fiction, I look for diversity in book spaces all the time. It always puzzles me when I can’t find everything I’m looking for in one place.
When I search and engage interracial spaces, I don’t always find a ton of intersectionality, or even diversity outside the love of two main characters of different races mingling. When I search and engage socio-economic diverse spaces, I don’t often get the pleasure of seeing much racial diversity, despite my own upbringing being just comfortably above the poverty line.
When I see queer, Ima be real: not all are inclusive to asexuality, trans, PoC, or basically anything that isn’t a cis (though queer) white boy.
I recognize the need for these spaces. As a Black woman, there are so few safe spaces for me within even my own communities. I’m dark skinned, now naturally coifed, and a feminist. I’m also Cuban, and while that allows me the access to both Latino and Black spaces, I’ve found that my image is always a victim of erasure. Since I don’t meet the status quo, much like in the high school lunchroom, I disappear.
When my sister and I started Twinja Book Reviews, part of our reasons were selfish (not that it should be seen as selfish to want to see yourself).
We not only wanted to see what other bloggers were interested in, we wanted to read more books with darker hued heroines. It wasn’t to exclude anyone, we’d just been readers nearly our entire lives, and never saw darker skinned heroines, or a ton of Afro-Latinos depicted in fiction.
It wasn’t until my sister Libertad, read “The Fold” by An Na, that we had an epiphany moment. It was a story about identity and self esteem, and was the first book either of us had ever read, that did not have any white main characters. Even though we’re not Korean-American, it was one of the first books that set us on the path to break out of our preferred narrative.
And then that settled it. I NEEDED DIVERSE MAIN CHARACTERS.
I’ve always been into interracial themes, especially depicting Black women. It’s never been because I don’t appreciate Black Love. But as a Black woman, I’m taught that no person will ever want, cherish or desire me in the same way they do other races. But even though I still go glee over a book with an interracial couple on the cover, I need there to be more than just a white guy and a black girl falling in love for a book to be diverse.
I’ve gotten the opportunity to educate myself about all different types of diversity. I used to get excited when a supporting character was queer, or South Asian, or had a limp. There’s just a small problem with being a supporting character. As long as a character has a disability, is a PoC, is Muslim, lives below the poverty line, or isn’t a size two, and is a supporting character, they will always live to support a “default” character’s story.
They will not be or come to realize that they deserve to be heroes and sheroes to their own stories.
And it’s ok if you’re queer and tired of reading about straight people. Or disabled, and sick of reading about abled. Or hell, Buddhist and just want to see more religious diversity. Shit, I do too.
But we have to throw away this idea that “I’ll read PoC, but I don’t do Queer/The main character is cis-gender, straight, abled white boy, but ‘Do I have a sidekick for you!’.”
Inclusion has mutated with time. It has become the cool kid’s table that doesn’t reject anybody. It has become Intersectionality. It has become a vast amount of narratives, that shouldn’t have to earn the right to be featured as main characters, but were born with the right in the first place.
Diverse main characters don’t have to be subject to “grouping” into childish high school cliques. We’re all in this together. You just can’t have diversity without EVERYTHING.
So even if that dude that gave you side eye is straight mean mugging you, invite him over.
Picture provided by http://imgarcade.com/
Inclusion should mean never having to ask, to know you’re included.
Please consider assisting our efforts to diversify everyone’s bookshelf by donating to We Need Diverse Books’ fundraising campaign
Guinevere Zoyana Thomas is one half of the ever so silent and deadly “Twinjas” @Twinja Book Reviews. When she isn’t perfecting back handsprings, or working on her red belt in Tang Soo Do, she’s going H.A.M. editing her diverse time-travel YA novel under the pseudonym “GL Tomas.” Check out her blog tour company “Diverse Book Tours”, a virtual tour company that brings diverse books.
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*This series is in no way affiliated with the official We Need Diverse Books campaign