Will we read them? Will you write them? And will they publish them?
In the past few days I’ve noticed the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign all over Twitter. I’m not sure what prompted it (though I am going to try and find out), but I’ve seen more tweets with this hashtag than anything else in my timeline lately. I’ve also seen a number of people I follow having switched their profile picture to support this idea.
[Clicking the image links to the # on Twitter]
And while this may be very true – that we need more diversity in the books we read – it has made me wonder whether this is just another one of those trends of the moment or is an actual movement that is going to spark change.
We’ve needed more diversity in books for years. It seems that while television and film have evolved to include more diversity in the characters on screen, books have lagged behind.
Which makes me wonder why.
I’ve always thought of readers as more forward-thinking than non-readers. Therefore it follows that readers would be more accepting of change. But maybe they’re not. Or perhaps it’s simply that publishers and writers aren’t willing to risk change because the industry is struggling and no one is willing to rock the boat. If it ain’t broke… but isn’t it?
Maybe it’s simply that readers are so used to making connections with characters that fit a certain stereotype that they’re unwilling or unable to expand their imaginations to encompass those of different ethnicities, races, sexual orientations. But this, too, makes me wonder. If readers can make connections with vampires, werewolves, shifters, witches, zombies and aliens, then it would follow they’d be just as able to connect with someone who is from a different culture, background, or who has a different skin color or sexual preference. Shouldn’t they?
In film and television it’s the filmmakers that ultimately decide who the characters are that we get to see. Our imaginations don’t factor in. But in books, while the author has some input, it’s ultimately our own imaginations that fill in the missing pieces. We decide what a character looks like with the bits and pieces we’re given. We determine how they sound in our heads. We make that connection to them or we don’t.
The fact that significant change hasn’t already happened makes me wonder whether we as readers aren’t as open to diversity as we say we are. Because if we really were, then shouldn’t books have been the change leaders, not film or television?
And if we aren’t as open to change as we perhaps should be, then maybe, just like in film and TV, it is up to those writing the books and publishing the books to decide for us. If we’re not progressive enough to expand our minds to encompass a boy with caramel skin or a girl with different customs and culture, perhaps it’s up to those putting books on shelves to give us that nudge.
We’ve taken such tiny steps, so it seems, in the industry. As YA has been my focus in recent years, I can only speak to this market. And it seems there is very little diversity, both in the characters and in those who write for this market. Most authors are younger, Caucasian, female, heterosexual. Most of their protagonists are also Caucasian, female, heterosexual. Which makes sense as writers generally write what they know.
But are they the only writers looking to break into the YA market or are they the writers who are proven to be marketable, selling readers on characters of similar ilk?
While it may take time for readers’ acceptance levels to change, shouldn’t there be someone or someones pushing to make that happen? Especially in YA which reaches young minds that are potentially still open to change?
Through technological advances this world has become a much smaller place. Our societies are becoming more blended. We’re able to see and learn and experience things we couldn’t have done twenty-five, fifty years ago.
But when the majority of what we read about in fiction is of a world which lacks diversity, are we saying that’s the fantasy? Are we, in our heart of hearts, dreaming of a world that doesn’t exist, where everyone fits a stereotype? Do we wish we were other than what we are?
Are books backward-looking, holding onto a past that no longer exists? Are we as readers?
I’m not sure.
But I do think that we aren’t bothered enough by the lack of diversity in the books we read and the authors who write those books or change would already have happened.
And it makes me wonder whether this campaign for change is going to dissipate as soon as the next big thing comes along.
What about you?
As a reader are you ready to see your protagonists be other than who they have typically been? Do you find it easier to connect with characters who are “white” and whose ethnicity doesn’t factor in?
Are you really ready for change or do you simply like the idea of change?
And do you think this campaign has legs or do you think it will run its course when talk turns to RT or BEA? Do you care?