Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Diversifying YA

I do not actively seek out more diverse reading material. Why? Because I don't care if the main character is black, white, yellow, orange, chartreuse or puce. I don't care if they like boys, girls, aliens or holed watermelons. I don't care if they're trapped in the wrong body, if they're not fitting in, if they're having an identity crisis. I just care about the story. If the blurb catches me and the story's good, I'm going to read it. The rest of the stuff is irrelevant.

I don't know the colors of the characters in the books sitting in my TBR pile. They can be hot pink with yellow spots for all I care. I care about the story, not how the characters look or which gender they're interested in. The book sounded good, so I picked it up. Period.

Of course, books are judged by their covers. Publishers whitewash covers with non-white MC's because they feel the majority of their readership (aka whites) won't want to pick up a book with someone that isn't white on the cover. We've all proven that's absolutely absurd but there is judging going on, just not how I think the publisher thinks.

Let's take Cindy Pon's SILVER PHOENIX. At first look, just looking at the cover, it appears there's a heavy Asian cultural influence there. Personally, on first look, I'd pass over it. Why? Because I have zero interest in Asian culture. I don't read about Asian history. I don't seek the information out. It just doesn't interest me. But getting past the cover and reading the blurb, it sounds really freakin' good and based on the reviews I've read, yeah, it's pretty awesome. Does that make me, at some level, racist? Had it been a white girl in the same garb, would I have grabbed it? No. One, something wouldn't match there and two, it's not about the person.

I won't pick up a book with a cluster of uniformed school girls on it because I'm pretty sure I know where that's headed. Does that make me prepist? Any TWILIGHT-looking covers get an immediate pass from me because they're trying to appeal to the
same readers and thus the books are probably nominally similar. Does that make me TWILIGHTist? Half-faces covered in hair on book covers make me cringe thus making me less likely to read them. Does that make me half-faceist (as opposed to half-facist)?

Context helps. I'm sure some would say my lack of interest in Asian cultures is fed by my latent racism, simply because I'm a white girl. I'm racist by default, whether I like it or not. To that I say bite me. I am no more interested in Nordic cultures than I am Asian cultures. If I don't have an interest in something, all the persistence in the world isn't going to make me like it.

As a writer I don't write with color or intent in mind. My finished WIP is a cast of whiteys. Why? Because that's what the story dictated. I think inserting a token black guy would be far more offensive than not using anyone of color to begin with. As this article points out, contrivances are far more insulting. In my latest WIP, my MC is Hispanic (rather she's from another world but where she's from the complexion is closest to that of a Latina), her love interest is black and her friend is an amalgam of a bunch of different characters (literally previously written as such but in this rebirth it's just the one) and she's white. Why? Because that's what the effing story dictated. I didn't color my characters intentionally; they were born that way.

I'm not a believer in forcing diversity on people for diversity's sake. I'm not a believer is forcing diversity on myself for diversity's sake. But I do think the publishers have a very wrong idea about what people will buy and why. One, people should have the chance to decide for
themselves what books to buy and why instead of having that decision already made for them. I don't like being told that I'm not going to by a book because of the color of the person on the cover. That's putting words in my mouth and I don't like that.

If diversity is actually given a chance to flourish in the YA world, if people are actually given the chance to decide for themselves what they'll buy and what they won't, I don't think we'd be having this discussion. It kind of skews the numbers to say white people don't buy POC books when that option is actually removed from them whether by whitewashed covers, misguided blurbs or product placement.

I think that it's silly that we have to go out of our way to diversify our reading when it should just be there for us. Maybe if we pound it into the publishers' heads that the color of a character's skin or their sexual orientation really doesn't matter, maybe THEY'LL stop caring about it so much. Because we don't. If I don't read a book it's because the blurb/story doesn't interest me, not because there's a [insert color here] person on the cover. That's the least of my worries when it comes to reading. It's a much harder pill for me to swallow when shit bombs get published over so many fantastic works out there.
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