Or, a call for authors to write more diverse characters.
In a recent Guardian article the question is “are diverse characters only OK as long as they’re not too diverse?”
I personally think that nuanced diversity is a good thing. When the chat over #WeNeedDiverseBooks started in May, a friend asked me “so then you want to take away what makes a character different and then just white wash them?”
When you spend so much time being singled out as being different, sometimes you just want to fit in. What the hell do I mean by this? I’m not talking about denying who you are as a person. I’m talking about being a teenager in popular culture. For me, I grew up in a working class family and neighborhood in Queens, NY. I was born in Ecuador, but I started my American education in first grade. In that sense, I assimilated right away. I remember when I started not just speaking English, but exclusively thinking in English. It’s so totally weird to think of your brain just switching languages. But anyway, my assimilation happened.
In school we were given books like HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS, and THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET and all I wanted to read were vampire books. My being Ecuadorian doesn’t affect my day to day life. I’m not Catholic. I don’t cook. I live alone. But when I’m with my family, I enjoy Ecuadorian food and speaking in broken Spanish. In fact, I worried less about my Ecuadorian-ness in high school, than I do now when people point it out the most.
This is why I think it’s important for kids to see themselves in stories that right now don’t represent diversity in leading roles. I want a brown Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a mixed Bella Swan just because. You don’t have to whitewash a POC in order for them to be a leading character of a “non-issue” book. Not everyone has a problem with their race. The problem is society.
Look, I know that there are still kids assimilating, and not all third generation kids ignore their roots. But if we don’t write them, then you can’t hope that someone else is going to.
To play devil’s advocate, maybe changing the ethnicity of a character wouldn’t make a title an astronomical seller. Would The Fault In Our Stars have been the same if Agustus was a Black urban teen and Hazel was Asian-American? If Katniss has been portrayed by an “olive skinned” actress like the books describe her as opposed to J Law, would it be a #1 movie?
In a world where people don’t understand the importance of race in cases like Mike Brown vs America, how do we even begin to place diversity in books just because? Where white people think Latinos are dangerous? How do we begin to accept casually placing POC in “regular” roles?
I don’t have the answer. Except, maybe, write my own.
The fundraising campaign for We Need Diverse Books is closed but there are still plenty of ways to work to diversify our bookshelves. Please visit their site and see how you can contribute to making the stories out there ALL of our stories by clicking –> HERE – it’s vital, folks.
Zoraida Córdova was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where she learned to speak English by watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker on repeat. She studied English Lit at Hunter College, and The University of Montana before finding a home for herself in the (kinda) glittering world of New York City’s nightlife. She prefers her whiskey neat, her bacon crispy, and her men with a side of chivalry. She is the author of The Vicious Deep Trilogy (YA) and the On the Verge Series (NA). Visit her at www.zoraidacordova.com
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