Monday, March 6, 2017

DIVERSITY

Students are to post reactions (minimum 250 words) to the assigned reading/listening linked below. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

Click HERE to read "The Apartheid of Children's Literature" by children's/YA author Christopher Meyers.

Click HERE to read Daniel Jose Older's Buzzfeed essay: "Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing." Click HERE to listen to an excerpt from Older's acclaimed YA novel, Shadowshaper.

Click HERE to read an excerpt from Sherman Alexie's YA novel, Diary of a Part Time Indian, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for young people's literature.

Click HERE to review "30 Diverse YA Titles to Get on Your Radar" by Kelly Jensen.

Click HERE to review "60 Diverse Books to Look Forward To in 2017" from the blog "Bookishness & Tea."

29 comments:

Michael Mintz said...

Diversity in writing is important, to deny racism and show its ugliness is the job of all product creators. To create such work is always defined as something that breaks mold, however to create a story like that requires you to write a thought out argument against that idea. Meaning that the story requires you to think what you want to write and do it in a methodical method where you get all the arguments points across allowing you to get your message across. Such writers like Mark Twain successfully showed his disgust in racism in his books. To break such molds is the job of those with enough time and knowledge to do so. Therefore if your already a successful author it is even more important you put your ideas out there then some new author. Not only will those ideas help the new author share his own thoughts but also would progress the issue that is being discussed. Of course if you are writing a book the main character does not need to be a certain race just because you think that would sell more copies or connect to more people. It is better to have the main character connect to the message you are trying to tell or the story he lives in. Writing for money sake is quite droning and often times doesn’t become remarkable stories. Instead they become stories that people read once then completely forget the enxt day and trying to create such a story based on your character’s race only further exemplifies the problems of racism

Rachel Westerbeke said...

In his article, Christopher Meyers discusses the absence of a “map” in literature to provide colored children with possibilities for their lives and their futures that don’t currently exist. It is definitely very important for children who love to read to have characters that they identify with, take them on adventures, and show them the breadth of lives that they can live.

As Daniel Jose Older alludes to in “Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, and Publishing”, a huge problem is finding people who are passionate enough to overcome the difficulties of publishing a book that breaks the mold, takes more risks, and appeals to a demographic that is unfairly underrepresented. Having seen white authors and white characters and white editors successfully sell books over and over again, it would take someone who is willing to market their work creatively and aggressively to reach their readers because they do exist.

Marketing is definitely going to be key in selling books that contain diverse protagonists. I know that there must be MG/YA books that involve such characters, but I wouldn’t know where to start other than combing through the entire MG/YA section to find them. Even looking at the two lists of currently available and “coming soon” books, I don’t recognize any of them. Thus, I think an important part of making such books successful is making sure that those who would read them know what to look for and that they can be found and that is going to require seeking out the audience that the author wrote for.

Marina Martinez said...

In “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature,” Christopher Myers was well written. I liked how he described the young boy at the beginning of the article. I felt the boy had a very good point about all the fantastic things that are made up in children’s book, yet there isn’t enough real representation of diversity in children’s books. It saddened me to read that children of color “recognize the boundaries being imposed upon their imagination, and are certain to imagine themselves well within the borders they are offered, to color themselves in the lines”.

Daniel Jose Older article was very interesting. I was disgruntled to learn that agents would try to hide truths from stories about racism because they couldn’t relate to it. I liked that Dean Myers was mentioned in the article because I think he is an excellent example of how diversity in books can succeed and should be marketed more. I really liked the reference to the article “Where is the Mexican Katniss” as well. I enjoyed the excerpt of Shadowpaper and enjoyed the way that culture was integrated into the story and I liked the narrators sass.

The excerpt from “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” was very funny. I liked the way that the boy described himself a lot. I really liked his sense of humor as well, for example how he said “there is nothing more dangerous than being a kid with a stutter and a lisp”. I also found it sad and really liked the main character. I found all the diverse YA titles very interesting and I am excited to see there are more coming out.

Melissa Cecchini said...

Diversity in literature is something that I've recently started to think a lot about as I write my own stories. The fact that protagonists, or really any characters, of color are confined to a small part of historical literature always bothered me. I think part of it is because people look at writing with color as something that needs to be this really big, groundbreaking decision that changes the whole work. And sure, you can write a novel like that. But that's not the only way to write with color. You don't need to make some larger societal statement to warrant having a protagonist who isn't white. Sometimes when you write a character, they want to be a different race. Or a different religion or sexuality. They demand to be that way because it's who they are as a character. They don't decide to be Hispanic or bisexual to make a statement to their readers.

If you're writing a fantasy novel set on, I don't know, Venus. And you've got aliens and rocket ships and talking animals, why do all the characters need to be white? And if they aren't, why is it such a leap that they aren't? Sometimes people are just different, without any ulterior motive on the part of the writer. Sure, it may have consciously crossed their mind that they would like to include diversity in their work. But it may not be to comment on the struggles of that particular group or the heritage and history of that group.

Samantha G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Samantha Glass said...

Alex, I totally appreciate these reading for this week. While reading Christopher Meyers’s “The Apartheid in Children’s Literature” I realized that most children’s books with children of color are historical, about civil rights, or fighting for one's emancipation. But why don’t the books about princesses and dragons and going on adventures-- that have nothing to do with race-- have children of color in them? I am so guilty of this too!! I just bought two picture books on Amazon, one about RBG and one about civil rights in California for Mexican Americans. Why did I not think of buying pictures books with children of color doing child-like things like going on adventures? Children use books to either see themselves through or to figure out where they can go. Children imitate the stories they read in books and it can be quite confusing for them to not being able to see themselves in these books. I remember my favorite book as a kid was A Bad Case of Stripes and I used to pretend I was the girl as I ate lima beans her (least-in the begining) favorite food. She was white and I could see myself in the story-- I can’t imagine not having literature around me as a kid, with people who did not look like me.

Although-- there is an argument that there are not enough women in picture books. This is a really great video that make that point: https://www.facebook.com/rebelgirls/videos/1596694693691853/?autoplay_reason=gatekeeper&video_container_type=0&video_creator_product_type=0&app_id=273465416184080&live_video_guests=0
Also, both authors of the two pieces you asked us to read are male, and I would like to read more about the lack of women representation in children’s lit. And I mean women who aren’t princesses and are doing fun/adventurous things.

Daniel Jose Older’s article “Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power and Publishing” made me so angry at the publishing industry. Why are there so few books published by writers of color? The industry is such victim-blamers! Like, publish books where the cover has people of color! Don’t white-wash our literature. Books are marketed as being “exotic” if they don’t have white people in it, but that’s ridiculous. All people write and read and their stories deserve to be told and read.

Also, I really appreciate the list of diverse YA lit. These will def be going on my Amazon book list.

jaclyn liccone said...

Diversity is an important concept in our lives everyday, and is even more important when it comes to authors and content creators. Christopher Meyers, the author of The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, talks about literacy pieces and the concept of a “map” which is supposed to provide colored kids with possibilities that their current lifestyles can’t give them. Kids reading books at a young age need to be able to relate to characters or ideas in books in order to be interested and intrigued in something different than their everyday life. It allows for kids to expand what they know while learning and growing which is what books should always be doing for children and even adults. In my opinion, that is the whole point of reading.

When I looked at the list of 30 YA Titles to Know, I can say that all the books looked interesting to read, however I have never heard of any of them before. Maybe these books need to be put out in book stores more in a popular section or advertised more effectively. The only way people are going to know about these diverse books is if other people are talking about them. I know that’s how I hear about books that interest me to read them. I think everyone should expand their reading interests to one of these books because I think reading other peoples stories especially when it comes to race, makes people see things from another perspective and can change how they feel about issues in life.

Leah Usefara said...

Well, I can't say I didn't know about the lack of diversity in novels, but I wouldn't expect editors and agents etc. would reject such books because they're not relatable. I know personally that I wouldn't have the confidence to write a character seriously if they were a different race or gender than I am. I would need to research the little and big things people go through and think as that race or gender. But none of this makes the character unrelatable. Just because the character's something different or new doesn't make them alien. Even if they were a literal alien, it doesn't mean the readers can't feel invested in them as characters. Gender, race, position, sexuality, nationality are all decoration on top of a cake and every character is a blank cake that should be decorated with many things and not just white frosting with a suburban cherry on top(stupid cake comparison I know). Buzzfeed annoys the crap out of me (they can be horrible hypocritical people) and Older seems quite vicious at everyone. People shouldn't be forced to write a character because of pressure to introduce a "safe" or "diverse" one unless it fits the context of the story. I absolutely despise it when people get mad at a character being white or black or a set of characters being women or men. It should be about the characters and not their labels. Write who you want and don't reject someone because their characters don't "look right".
I actually remember seeing a section at the book store that separated the "colored" protagonists from the rest of the YA section. That's just a messed up way to promote or segregate the books.

Maggie Lu said...

It’s so heart-breaking to read the excerpt from the narrator of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and see that he belongs to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club, where he gets beat up at least once a month. He feels like it is safer to stay home that to go outside, which is so sad since he is only a kid. He is different, being that he was born with an excess of cerebral fluid in his skull, as well as having forty-two teeth—ten more than normal in addition to having size eleven feet, lopsided eyes, and being skinny, having seizures and a stutter and lisp. He has been through so much in his life, but it makes me happy that he can at least have drawing as something that makes him feel like he can escape.

I like that the 60 books gives us a summary of the book and reviews about that book. I also like that each one of the diversity factors are so different from the rest and that the author wrote a book with a character that not every author is brave enough to write about issues and characteristics outside of the norm.

I definitely agree with Christopher Myers that it is right to push for diversity since lack of racial diversity is a symptom. It is important to address diversity in books in order for people to identify with and relate to. It may seem scary to publish a book where you don’t know how people will react if characters do not fit the typical mold of how a character should be, but diversity is really a big idea that should be contributed to children’s and young adult literature.

Susan Lee said...

Christopher Meyers's article rings true and as a avid reader of YA novels I agree that representation of characters of color are limited and very difficult to find. It is also very true that no matter what you're background is, and he lists specific examples to provide comparisons (private schools in Connecticut or juvenile centers), children that age are looking to delve into a life and world that is different from there own. Personally, that is also why I love to read. Its a break from the life that I'm living and I can experience emotions and look at things I normally would not be able to.

I also thoroughly enjoyed reading the Buzzfeed essay! Buzzfeed does a good job with opinionated articles that represent major ideas from a minor group and this was no exception. I thought that it really went well with the article by Christopher Meyers. I feel like at a certain point I gave up reading books that represented my race because all the ones that were there were very..traditional. I wanted to read the same types of stories but those were always very prominently filled with white characters.

I actually read Sherman Alexie's novel before when I was in middle school and it was truly enjoyable. It remains to be my favorite book to this day. It represented a race that is not seen very often in the YA world and to me that experience was amazing and I still remember certain parts to it to this even though it has been a while since I read it.

I loved the inclusion of the YA titles because this will truly expand my library and provide diversity. I really want to read books that don't feature the same types of characters and through these lists it is made possible!

Louise McSorley said...

Diversity is undeniably important and with the "recent" tension of race in the US, we need diversity front and center--but we also need it to be genuine. While I agree that the disparity in literature is massive, unfair, and inexcusable, I also think that there shouldn't be "diversity for diversity's sake." There's been a #we need diverse books and #ownvoices flooding Twitters of agents, editors, and the like. It's wonderful that they are calling for diversity, but I just hope the novels that they write and represent are genuine.

The article by Meyers highlights an important point: "...characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth..." Historical context and understanding are important, but as many know, even that is often not given the correct credit. There's of course also the issue of the limited scope concerned with ethnic and racial history. Most history books ONLY speak of slavery or the Civil Rights Movement, and even that is maybe only a chapter or half of one. There is also, often, nothing on immigrants throughout history or other important issues such as special needs acts, LGBT+ history, etc.

The two lists of diverse books do attempt to shine a light on these forgotten groups. I particularly liked the inclusion of fiction AND non-fiction. I preferred the second, more recent list more, however. I felt like 2017 list touched on a wider range of issues: i.e. mental disorders. Also more generally, I really liked how subtle a lot of the diversity was.

Crystal Lam said...

It is hard not to think about race in the present when politics and racial tensions are so apparent in the news. It becomes heartbreaking to realize the lack of diversity in young adult fiction. While the facts have always been there, it took the quote "Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people" from Christopher Myers's article to make me truly aware of the disparity in our reading. As a non-WASP growing up, I knew that life would be different for me than what was depicted in books. Looking at the list of 60 diverse books to look forward to in 2017, I unfortunately only recognized one author. Even then, I was disappointed. I had read another series by her previously that I had enjoyed immensely. Jenny Han is an Asian-American author and her trilogy that I had read in high school was a great read for a girl looking for some escape into another character's life. Her trilogy however was about white characters. Her book about a half-Korean character was not nearly as good as the Summer trilogy.
It is sad to see that so many great authors are only writing stories about white children. Even authors of color are forced to write books that "sell." As Daniel Jose Older's article points out, authors are afraid that by writing about a diverse character, agents will not want to publish their book. However, it is so important for young people to have positive role models in their reading that reflect who they are. Whether it is race, identity, or ability, readers should be exposed to it all. In life, it is not possible to hide the facts from children so why censor what authors can write about? I liked the excerpt from "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." It is everything that people said would not sell yet won the National Book Award, proving that readers are ready to read about diverse characters.

Colleenie vonVorys-Norton said...

Throughout media there is a lack of representation for groups that are not cis-gendered, straight, white, males. This is due to the privilege that these males have and their control over the media and things that are spread. Since they are in power, they are able to be in control of what is being published. In media this is seen by having many book not only written by white men but also being about white males too. only recently women writers have been able to use their real names instead of a male pen name to get their work published. Today, this need for diversity is seen as a problem across all groups that are lacking proper representation. This are a problem because without proper representation it is hard for an individual to be able to see themselves achieving large goals. This is seen not only in book but also in society. When the highest and most powerful people are all white men then it is hard for anyone else to envision themselves in that role. Same goes for books. If the protagonist is always a white boy and there are few people of color then POCs are less likely to read books since they are constantly surrounded by that stereotype. This also extends to people with different sexualities and if they identify outside of the gender binary. These identities are very under represented and when they are they are normally represented wrong. This does not help people who are struggling to forge their identity because they are unable to see themselves properly represented and value in media.

Becky Clark said...

When I read from the NY times article that only 93 books out of the 3,200 that were published in 2013 were about black people, I was amazed. Even though it was only four years ago, it’s hard to imagine that this was the case but from what I remember when I read children’s books, most of them were about white characters. Books I remember clearly with having a black character were the American Girl books about a slave and Bud, Not Buddy. I agree that there needs to be a wider variety of books with diverse characters rather than just having books about the civil rights movement and slavery featuring them. As a kid, books opened up my world. I loved reading about characters whose struggles I could relate too. I’ve been lucky enough to have many books with characters like myself but I can’t imagine what it would be like to struggle to find relatable characters. Reading is so important, especially to children, that it is necessary that books are made for all types of people. In the Buzzfeed article, the publishing industry told Meyers that diverse books aren’t published because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover. I think this is a lazy and intolerable excuse to not feature books with a more variety of characters. Like I said before, I read the American Girl books as a kid. My favorite series was Addy’s, which is about a slave who escapes to freedom. That book sparked an interest for me to learn about the Civil War and I loved it. I do not think kids will be turned away from a book because of the color of a characters skin. Adults are not turned away by diversity looking at bestselling books like The Help, so kids won’t be either. Kids love a good story, just like everyone else.

I am really happy to see the two lists with all of the diverse YA books. Some that I want to read are Like Water on Stone because I enjoy historical novels and want to learn more about the Armenian genocide of 1915 and Allegedly.

Jenny Huang said...

After reading Christopher Myers’ “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” and Daniel Older’s “Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing,” it became apparent to me how much the publishing industry was lacking when it came to diversity. In Myers’ article, he talks about the idea of The Market, intangible and untouchable and something that certainly would not be able to be changed. I think the two articles really hit home for me, being of Asian descent myself. When I was younger, I was an extremely avid reader – for some reason, I never questioned why there weren’t more books about Asian Americans. I just accepted it to be universally true that books could only be written about white children/white people. As a child, I read some books about other races: The Watsons Go to Birmingham, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – but the majority of the books I read were white-centric.
I think that Older is correct in saying that diversity is not enough, that it comes from something deeper. It’s a concept that’s difficult to grasp when it extends so far into industries that it is institutional. A good place to begin, however, would be to start publishing more books that are diverse – and not have the diversity of those characters be the main focus. Something that really struck me in Myers’ article was the fact that “characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth.” Because diverse people are composed of more than just the aspect that sets them apart, and people should remember that.
I think what I took from this is that I will be making more of an effort to seek out diverse books in the future. The two lists of books provided a way for me to expand further, explore more cultures, and find characters who I can relate to a lot more.

Michelle Chen said...

When I was in preschool I never took naps. Whenever I did take a nap, the caretakers would pull my mom aside at the end of the day – “Michelle took a nap today, is she feeling okay?” Instead, during naptime I would read. By the time I left for kindergarten, I had read every book in the little corner library of the preschool classroom, some of them twice.

In grade school, I was always above the “reading level” for “kids my age.” I read everything I could get my hands on; the librarians knew my name, made recommendations. (Nowadays, I have less time to read. Still I’ll zoom through entire novels in a spare weekend, staying up hours on end until daylight sighs over the horizon.)
Myers writes about how the lack of diversity in children’s books creates “a gap in the much-written-about sense of self-love that comes from recognizing oneself in a text, from the understanding that your life and lives of people like you are worthy of being told, thought about, discussed and even celebrated.”

I think about how in all my years of reading, in the hundreds of books I have read, I only remember two books from my childhood about Asian characters. The first, from a historical fiction binge I went on in 5th grade. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes was a tear-inducing tale about a young Japanese girl who dies from cancer in the wake of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m not even fucking Japanese. The second was The Joy Luck Club, which I tried to work my way through in 6th grade, desperate to find some trace of my identity in the books that meant so much to me. I never finished it.

I read, “white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover,” and it reminds me of how the industry says that boys won’t read books with girls on the cover or read writers with girls’ names. I think of S.E. Hinton, in 1967, being told to publish using her initials so that her feminine name would not put off potential readers and reviewers. I think of J.K. Rowling being told the same 30 years later. I think of Maureen Johnson’s gender flip and the version of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why now on the shelves with a boy on the cover.

I read, “white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover,” and I think of all the book with white kids on the cover and I think of all the black kids I knew who would have loved a book with a black kid on the cover and I think of me at 10 years old desperately trying to find a Chinese girl not even on a cover but just on the page. I think of how kids can empathize with wizards and aliens and vampires who speak strange languages and come from strange lands but for some reason the industry still thinks kids can’t empathize with a character of another race and how this is just another way people are pushing their fucking racist agenda.

I think of the agent Older mentions who said that “the change is going to have to come from within those who are affected,” calling again on marginalized people to fight against their own marginalization. (It doesn’t work that way. No movement succeeds without allies in power.)

Just this week Buzzfeed reported that “statistics compiled by The Bookseller found that out of thousands of titles published in the UK in 2016, fewer than 100 were by authors who aren’t white.”

This is not a content problem. This is not a talent, or lack thereof problem. This is a publishing problem. This is a marketing problem.

Those readers of color are out there. We’re right here.

Those writers of color are out there. We’re right here.

Sam A said...

It was an interesting topic to explore when it comes to children's books. I wouldn't doubt that the lack of diversity when it comes to children's books is due to the belief they will not sell as well. At the end of the day, they are there to make a profit and if they have some research saying that minority characters sell less, then it becomes harder to publish a book featuring one. If you look at it solely from a profit perspective, then it makes sense to market your book to the audience you know is most likely to buy it. Catering to the preferences of your customer base is not something new. However, there is a lot of room for considerations other than profit. Perhaps these publishing houses should take on the responsibility of promoting more diversity by publishing books with minority characters, despite research about the sales projections.

All it really requires is a little effort into lessening the gap in minority representation. Publishing a children's book that is relatable to these children can have a lasting impact. Every one of us remembers a children's book we loved. Those books sparked our interest in reading, writing, drawing, creating. To be able to provide that for a group that is represented less can make the world of difference for a kid.

One book at a time can help with this. I'm not saying that these houses have to publish books at a loss or change their way of doing things completely. The simple effort to publish more books where a minority group is represented does not mean the death of profits. It just means recognizing an unfortunate social gap and taking the responsibility to do something about it.

Zakiya C said...

The concept of diversity has never seemed to bother me as a reader. Perhaps because my mother always showed me diverse types of books that had diverse cultural backgrounds. I was always fascinated by the story, even though I knew the characters were likely not my race. So, it is interesting to think that other young black readers may have internalized the implicit boundaries created by mainly white story lines. Maybe this issue is because I mostly read fiction that had nothing to do with the race, and when I did read stories that made a point of race, they were of my ethnic background.
I don’t believe that the way children receive messages in books is all the responsibility of those who are getting the books out there to be read. I believe that the stories a child reads and internalizes should be walked through with a parent. The fact that a young black boy may aspire to be a basketball player, a rapper, and then own a recording studio does not just come from books, but also what society is putting in their path.
We all need to work together to realize that a child’s path can be whatever they want it to be, whether it is in a book or not. It would be amazing if a child could pick up a book and initially identify with the character in a positive light. But this struggle does not start with authors, but hopefully it can end with them.

Sara Hankins said...

Years ago, I happened to stumble upon a book by Malinda Lo called Ash. It was a retelling of a Cinderella story in which the main character is a lesbian. The wonderful thing about it is that the book was not advertised as such; it was just a love story according to the book jacket. I was surprised when I realized that her love interest was a female, but it was a pleasant surprise. Looking at the lists of books coming out that cater to all demographics makes me excited, since I loved the story of a gay Cinderella. I can only imagine what people who are not straight white cis females like myself are thinking at finally having a book they can relate to, a book they can read and not feel like they are being excluded. Christopher Myers must be especially proud, as there are finally agents and publishers helping the authors of diverse books finally being put on bookshelves and into the hand of teens. I don't know if I would have picked up Lo's novel if I had known from the beginning it was a homosexual Cinderella. But then again, this isn't about what my 14 year old self wanted but what 14 year olds struggling with their sexuality want. They more than want it, they need a book like this. They need a form of media to portray what they are coming to terms with as normal and acceptable and that it is okay to be however you wish to be. This is a powerful message to be sent to teenagers as impressionable as they are, and I hope by the time I have children that they will not hesitate to pick up a book about someone infinitely different than themselves.

Katie Steely-Brown said...

I love when YA Lit authors make their writing clearly, unquestionably diverse. For a YA novel to be diverse, the setting needs to be in a non-Western or non-Western inspired fantasy world, or there’s POC / LGBTQ+ / mentally or physically disabled characters. If you’re lucky, you get all of the above! I read a lot of YA books that are considered diverse, and some of my favorites were on the “30 Diverse YA Titles to Get on Your Radar" article by Kelly Jensen. One of them was On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers, which I adored because I love dystopian and cyberpunk plots, but so rarely do you get diverse protagonists in YA dystopian books. Look at the Divergent series with its blonde, blue-eyed, able-bodied, neurotypical protagonist.
The problem is that not enough YA authors give their books obvious, immediate, and unapologetic diversity, which is what they should have to count as a diverse book. Oftentimes YA authors try to “sneak in” diversity so they do not upset publishers and close-minded parents but still have the potential to make “diverse YA lit” lists for the sake of publicity and monetary gain. For example— Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (though there is some debate on whether this book counts as YA or not, two of the three main characters are high school students and teenagers, and therefore the book is included on many YA shelves) has three main characters, two boys and one girl. All are described as white and fairly average in every way. The characters function in their world through virtual avatars that can look like anyone, but Boy A and the girl choose to make their avatars look just like them. Boy B, on the other hand, is revealed to be an overweight, lesbian, black girl— in one of the very last chapters of the book, and then it is never discussed again. This is an example of diversity-baiting.
One good diverse YA book I was sad not to see on the list is Eleanor and Park — it’s such a good YA novel with a Korean protagonist, who has a plot influenced by his ethnic background without being stereotypical or hurried.

Syeda Khaula Saad said...

One of my favorite photographs, to date, is of former President Barack Obama bending down and allowing a young black boy to touch his hair, showing him the similarities between their hair texture and style. You can almost see the young boy soaking in these similarities and realizing that someone who looks like him is the most powerful man in the world. And I am once again reminded of how important representation is.
This Buzzfeed article is very important because it says almost the same thing as the articles we have read about the LGBTQ+ community and its representation in young adult fiction. This is a theme that is repeated because this issue is still not fixed. And one of my favorite points from this specific article is : “The apartheid of literature — in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth.”
These words are so true. First, it is important to note that stories about slavery and the struggles of being someone of one’s ethnic background are super important for other people’s understanding. But, that being said, this is not the only extent of a minority’s experience. In a conversation with my best friend about writing, he told me that he appreciated my use of incorporating my Urdu language into some of my writing, but that he appreciates that I do not use it in everything more. Diversity is needed in stories, especially YA, but it is also needed in characters that do more than struggle in conventional minority-related ways. People need to look at stories and appreciate the diversity simply because someone who looks like them is doing normal everyday things, or not-normal, incredible things. I know I was very excited when I head that Kamala Khan, a portrayal of a Pakistani, Muslim woman (FROM JERSEY CITY!) was a part of the Marvel comics. Other kids should be able to get excited like this too.

Siming Hsu said...

Growing up as a person of color, I only began to notice the lack of diversity in children's and YA fiction when I was presented with actually representative media: the likes of Amy Tan and TV shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender changed my perception and made me realize that it felt good to be represented, and it felt good to have a story told where the character looked like me or I could envision myself actually being in the story. I realized that the automatic default in my head for a main character was one with white skin - which was strange, considering that that wasn't even my own skin color. It was just so embedded.

Christopher Meyers discusses the "Apartheid of Children's Literature," which I found to be extremely relatable. There are so many fantastic worlds and lands to be explored in children's literature, but these adventures are only for white protagonists. This creates a dangerous precedent: that white is, and ought to be, the default. As a young person, I had unknowingly prescribed to this precedent.

Daniel Jose Older delves deeper into this problem in his essay "Diversity is not Enough" by discussing the other, often unsavory, side of literature: the publishing industry. He discusses the inherent and embedded attitudes and problems from agents and publishers, their assumption that stories about people of color are not "marketable" and that people, in fact, don't and won't want to read them.

This is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy that is created by the publishing industry. Nobody is going to read a book that is not published or marketed in ways that more successful books with white protagonists are. Instead, stories with protagonists of color are relegated to telling tales about their heritage, their people's histories, and their struggles. And while these are important and poignant points, there can only be so much. I can only speak for myself, I can only read so much Amy Tan before relating to my own Chinese-ness on such a deep level gets tiring. I want a story where the protagonist looks like me and has experiences that are similar to mine, but I also want a story about adventure, or romance, or fantasy, or tragedy. Stories about ethnicity or heritage and stories about childish adventure are not mutually exclusive; it is the industry that makes it so.

Aishik Mukherjee said...

Diversity as a cultural ideal generally seems to somewhat patronize its audience. Those who accept a variety of cultures and embrace differences that always end up highlighting out similarities do not need to be told that diversity is important. And those who disagree will not budge. Diversity is a tool that seems to be used as a disqualifier in certain contexts. The way people protest affirmative action hires as being hired only through affirmative action, any art that incorporates diversity is criticized to be pandering by being diversified. Older’s “Shadowshaper” proves why diversity foster talent and not makes up for it. The usage of phrases bound in hispanic culture and heritage allow for an authenticity that would be robbed of it if it were tried to clearly relate to someone not familiar with those words. The charm of the story lies in its ability to be a unrestricted look at someone’s life, not yet filtered through the assumed bare minimum for the reader. This charm, notably, only exists in a reader who is experiencing this culture as new, for anyone used to these words and phrases in their home life there is a comfort. This comfort seems to only further the existence of this diversity. A reader feeling comfort or validated in his or her personal life being valid in a book despite of its difference instead of it feeling different from the less diversified books he's read and thus invalid. Diversity gives opportunity for talent more than does it lower the qualifying bar for it.

aliyah m said...
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aliyah m said...

Diversity is what seems to be what’s trendy right now but it is something that has been scarce my entire life. Apart of who I am is being a person of color and I wish this kind of movement was around when I was growing up and thought something was wrong with the skin I was in because I didn’t see it represented in the books that were available at my school book fairs. What Michelle said really felt super relatable to me because I would have like to read stories about people like me.

In Myers’ article, I thought it was sad, but not surprising, that “of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people.” That is less than 1% of the children’s books that contain stories with black people. And I can only imagine the amount there were for other ethnicities and identities. It may be a little better now than it was in 2013 but how much better could it be in those four years?

One of my goals, as a writer, is to write children’s books. I never thought much about what their race would be because I didn’t really think that kids would care that much. So when my father told me that I should make those children white, I didn’t know what to think. I wondered if that meant no one would read it if the children were not white. It makes it hard to want to tell stories if you have to worry about whether people will not read it based on the color of the character’s skin. I just want to tell great, unique stories.

Sierra Commons said...

Diversity in writing is something I've personally been thinking about recently, and a big part of it is shown in "The Apartheid of Children's Literature". Representation matters, it is incredibly important for people, both children and adult, to see themselves represented in media. Just reading some other people's comments about their own experiences growing up with non-diverse media shows why it's so important- and such a big problem. It's something that I didn't think about too much growing up because I personally was able to see representation for myself (for the most part: good female representation was fairly rare) and nobody pointed out the lack of representation of other people until I got older. Just that in itself is a whole other problem. And it's important to have both diverse characters and diverse authors- this brings me back to why I've been thinking about diversity recently: the vast majority of books and stories that are taught in schools are written by white males. I have one friend whose professor recommended a list of 100 authors for advice on how to be entrepreneurs and 92 of them were written by males (and the majority of those were Caucasian).

In "Diversity is Not Enough", this sentence really reflected part of the problem which is that a lot of people believe that there is a lack of diversity just because there aren't many content creators of diverse backgrounds out there, which is just not true:

"Another agent, when asked why less than 1% of her submissions were from people of color, captured what seems to be the publishing industry’s general attitude in just 10 words: “This seems like a question for an author to answer.” "

If anything, you could argue that the lack of representation is a part of the barrier keeping people from even trying or realizing they can try.

It was great to see a list of upcoming books with some better representation, and I hope that we can continue to move in a direction where everyone can see themselves represented.

Elaina Yu said...

Diversity in writing has always been a sensitive topic to me. I read a lot as a child, but over time I stopped reading all together. For a variety of reasons, it’s because I no longer related to. Their troubles didn’t seem as troublesome and the tropes often used became old quickly. After a while, even the romance wasn’t enough to hold me. Growing up a bisexual Asian woman, there was no space for me in the YA books I read.
I think that’s why I gravitated towards fanfiction midway through my writing career and where I’ve stayed. I get to be experimental, I get supported, and I get to read a diversity of writing. I found that very few of my creative writing classes were beneficial to me because most people outside of fanfiction in general just don’t get it. The openness and acceptance and bending of rules and understanding of characters. In my writing I’ve played with gay/bi members, lithromantic, asexual, and even aromantic. The kinds of labels that would be shocker outside of the fanfiction world.
If I had read more books that had characters like me (the only book I’ve read that I’ve every identified with was the Joy Luck Club, for my 10th grade English class), I think I would’ve grown up happier with myself and my struggle for identity – of being too American for Chinese people and too Chinese for Americans; or too straight for gay people and too gay for straight people; and the intersectionality of the two. And I absolutely adore the explanation of being map charters, because that’s exactly how I saw books. More than just an escape, it was a push to the boundaries of what I could imagine and what I could be. Thank god for my parents and fanfiction for helping me find it within myself.

Benji Sills said...

Christopher Meyers talks about literature functioning as a map for under-privileged children, which I thought was a really interesting point. Literature can be a guide and provide inspiration to anyone (that's one of the many things that keeps people connecting to it), but for some it may be the best guide they have. I think understanding that literature provides hope and the promise of a better life to many is critical to understanding its value as a roadmap for children to seek guidance from.

One of the main issues with publishing for minority groups, as Daniel Older points out, is the inherent risk behind it. With a long established tradition of safety behind stories surrounding white people, publishers are putting themselves at a monetary risk to publish something that appeals to a minority group and isn't a surefire success that fits the established formula. It takes a publisher committed to the cause of diversity to take the risk with no way of securing reward. For a book to successfully achieve this, it is going to have to be pushed to the right demographic until such a time as pushing for a specific demographic becomes irrelevant because diverse characters have started to become integrated into the general body of YA and MG fiction.

ALEX LYU said...

When I read Christopher Meyers’s “The Apartheid in Children’s Literature” it dawned on me that most books/short stories/movies/tv shows about any non-white characters usually involved some sort of "reason" for that fact. The public is not accepting enough of anything outside the white status quo, and so publishers, directors, producers, marketers fear that their work will be type-cast and dismissed. To a certain extent, I see the need to slowly "introduce" race relations to people, as unfortunate as the need is, because people don't like change and reject what they don't know. In order for them to feel comfortable with diversity, they need to understand people enough to know consider them part of the same community, not just "those people" and "our people." Older actually discusses this, and I'm not sure I have an answer to the problem. I think it's very important to continue to keep an eye on things like this and encourage change, but I think we also have to be very patient. I admit that growing up Asian was somewhat difficult and that the completely white-culture made me feel a bit lesser, so hopefully one day we'll have a large variety of books to choose from, so that we can all enjoy and learn about each other's cultures.