The recent #WeNeedMoreDiverseBooks movement has made certain that the lack of diverse characters in mainstream publishing is an issue most bloggers are aware of. It’s gotten many bloggers talking and one of the concerns raised by bloggers, such as Emily at The Loony Teen Writer, is that some characters are defined by their diversity. I think she makes a great point! A character should not constantly be referred to by their race/gender/abledness/sexuality or any other single feature. This makes for a flat character in general. In the case of a trait which makes a character a minority, the implication that a single trait defines who that character it completely defeats the purpose of diverse reading, playing to stereotypes instead of dispelling them.
However, I’ve noticed that I don’t typically remember a character’s race or appearance if it’s only mentioned once or twice. In a way, I’m happy about this and think it says good things about the importance I place on race. I don’t think race defines an individual. Unless a book specifically focuses on a racial issues, race often doesn’t affect how a character interacts with their world. I can slip into my lazy default of imagining the character looks like me – yes, white skin, but also hazel eyes and brown hair. So I may like to imagine I’m the heroine or hero, ok? 🙂 I also empathized with Nara at Looking for The Panacea who mentioned that she’s not a very visual reader. Most of the time, I’m not imagining what a character looks like at all. This is something I might personally want to work on (I don’t want to mentally whitewash the books I read!), but I think it also highlights a bigger problem – a lack of books which focus on experiences specific to minorities or which feature non-mainstream cultures, showing diversity in a way it’s impossible to ignore.
Although I’ve been focusing on how I ignore race when it’s not highlighted, I think this applies to other types of diversity too. Sure, it’s awesome to have books which treat being part of a minority as the norm. Everyone should be able to find themselves in books. LGBT teens should be able to read books like David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, where LGBT teens are accepted by their community. Black teens should be able to read books like Gone, Gone, Gone which BookRiot contributor Jessica Pryde praises for only mentioning once that the main character is black. Heck, other teens and the rest of us should be able to read them too, to remind us we should all be striving for a world where race and sexuality and other possible sources of discrimination are not a big deal any more. I just don’t want the message we’re sending publishers to simply be “have diverse characters, but don’t highlight their diversity too much”. I want publishers to know that I want both books where diversity is commonplace to give me hope for the future and books which highlight the difficulties being a minority can cause individuals or which highlight the history or culture of minority groups, books from which I can learn.