We asked some of our newest Teen Trendsetters to write blog posts about something important to them in the YA/publishing world. Check out Zaheera’s post, on diversity and race, below! You can learn more about Zaheera on Twitter @zaheerahkhalik.
Diversity and Race in YA Fiction
“I decided at 14 I would stop being Negro—that was the phrase then. Books transmit values, and if you don’t find your life in books, bingo, you have to reach the conclusion that you are less valuable.“–Walter Dean Meyers, African-American New York Times bestselling author.
I’ve been an avid reader and lover of Young Adult novels (YA) since I could ever remember. And with that being said, I’m also a strong supporter of diversity in YA novels. Not just YA novels, but with all things fiction: television, films, etc. I want characters of color, disabilities, speaking different languages, and accurate portrayal of different cultures. I want real people. As a young Muslim woman, the issues of diversity particularly appeals to me and the quote above really resonated with me. But more so the ways in which such contentious issues are dealt with in contemporary society and the media.
I read to enjoy the experience of reading a character’s story. And what makes it even more enjoyable is identifying with the character and this is why representation is so important. Everyone wants to read a book with a protagonist they can identify with. But the reality is, especially for YA readers, is that these kinds of book exist very few and far between for any person of color (POC). Though they do exist, but barely any of them make the spotlight and when you look at best sellers’ list, especially the NYT bestseller, it’s flooded with a majority of white authors writing about their white characters, with one or two books by POC authors or books with POCs.
I should note that this is not a put down of any book on the Times’ bestsellers list. I have read and enjoyed many of the Times’ bestsellers. But they’re not the only books out there in the vast genre of YA literature. Without greater recognition of this issue, this trend will continue and, when called out, some people won’t even notice there’s anything wrong with that.
While we have a broader and better conversation about intersectional representation than we’ve ever had before but it’s still not enough. Far too many books get a pass for pretty appalling representations. In the end, anyone who writes, no matter what their skin color, will always get criticized. But we shouldn’t ignore it, and hope that it will slowly go away. We need to face it and learn. We should keep on writing. And keep writing better.
As Ambelin Kwaymullina said it well in a blog post: “We need diverse books because a lack of diversity is a failure of our humanity. Literature without diversity presents a false image of what it is to be human. […] The continuation of existing inequities, […] widens the gulfs of understanding that are already swallowing our compassion for each other.”
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