|YA Epidemics is an original feature in which I |
numerous trends and cliches plaguing the YA genre. The Epidemics are posted most Saturdays.
Comments and discussions are encouraged!
The world we live in is a beautiful mosaic of origins, races, ethnicities, colors and orientations. We all wear some mark of our ancestry and history on our skin, and each and every one of us should be proud of this. My country and the setting of most popular YA books I read, America, is known as the melting pot because of how we embrace different cultures and swallow them up into the whole that makes our nation.
Or so we like to claim. But taking a look at most major media will tell you differently. A vast majority of the most popular movies, music, and of course books feature prominantly middle-class white people. In fact, it's a standing joke when you see the one African-American character in a movie that he's the "token black guy". And nearly every single book I pick up features a white protagonist, with mostly white friends and a white love interest. There's even a whole section of books called "urban books" that are written for the black community. And this isn't a form of segregation, how...?
I'm white. I don't think I often really realize what this means, but when I stop to give it some thought I know that I'm initially perceived as White. As having certain characteristics because of the color of my skin. I also know that I'm lucky, in a way, because there are so many people being judged in that inexcusably superficial way much more harshly just because their skin is a little darker, or the inflection of their voice less Western than my own. And thinking about that, about how most of Hollywood is white and most popular books are white, it makes me wonder if that doesn't play a big role in racial/ethnic perception.
It just doesn't make sense to only utilize one type of person in these books. Wouldn't diversity help make them stand out? Wouldn't it make them more real, and more accessible as a result? I've read books set in publich schools in Philadelphia - where I'm from - with no black characters, which is just so blindly unrealistic it's almost insulting.
If books are a mirror of reality, that mirror must be one racist f#&k.
Authors don't do this on purpose. The vast majority of writers that I know of are liberal, open-minded people. It's just gotten so ingrained that book characters are white and perfect that it just seems natural to write them that way, which is possibly even more sad than if there were a ton of racist authors. Why? Because that's showing us that it's just an accepted way of thinking. Most YA books are white. It's a big deal when you do have a minority for a main character, which is just plain pathetic. It shouldn't be. I shouldn't know before I open a book, before I even read that book's synopsis, that it's going to follow a white protagonist through whatever adventure he/she's having. I just shouldn't.
I can only imagine the self-esteem issues this may cause in anyone who is Other. Anyone who isn't white, who isn't pretty and straight and Western. To basically be told by ommision that they don't match the conventional definition of what pretty and important is. Diversity in books isn't just about realism or originality, it's about representing people of all walks of life. It's about making this country live up to its idealistic Melting Pot nickname in actuality. Because no matter how many of us want to shout out our color-blindness when it comes to people, these books and movies tell an entirely different story.
I was hesitant to write this post, scared it would come off as some white girl crying about the injustices of inequality. But then I realized that this is yet another example of what I'm talking about. I'm white. I'm also pissed off about the lack of racial/ethnic representation in the books I love to read. I can be both. And I'm not going to shy away from a topic that I feel needs addressing just because I'm scared of a few butthurt people reading it. Don't like it?
This is far from my typical YA Epidemic post. What are you thoughts? Do you agree? Is more diversity something you'd like to see in upcoming YA novels? And do you think it's even something that can happen in the near future? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!