Welcome back to my discussion feature, Freadom Speaks!
I’m pretty sure all of you guys have seen this particular topic coming, mostly because everyone around the book community has been talking about it. I wasn’t actually going to do it at first, everyone else is and most people might not want to read, etc. But this particular discussion has helped me learn a lot of things about myself and has helped me define what my thoughts on diversity are. And I feel like I wouldn’t be a good blogger if I didn’t at least try to throw my two cents into the conversation, however cheap those may be.
SO let’s get started!
If you’ve been around the book community and social media these past few weeks, you must have seen the rally of this community toward the positive though around and necessity for diversity. What a weird sentence, I hope that made sense. I’m not going to talk about the catalyst that spurred this discussion because I don’t think it’s something that needs more attention and I don’t believe it’s worth anyone’s time but I am going to talk about my thoughts on this topic. I have a lot of them and if you read them all, thank you because this might be a mess!
I’m not going to put a disclaimer here because I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ve always been honest with you guys, I share a lot of personal things on my blog and I’m pretty sure you all know that I try to speak as clearly as I can. I do ask however, that if you disagree with something I say, that you approach a discussion with me in a kind and respectful way.
On My Experience With Diversity
Thanks to this amazing discussion, I discovered a few things about myself: 1. I learned that I am technically a person of color (even if I’m white as a sheet). I was born in Venezuela which is a country in South American making me Latinx and Hispanic which as far as I know makes me a POC, please correct me if I’m wrong. If I’m right, I probably will never identify myself mostly again because I am really white and it’s not something that I think I will ever be conscious about. 2. I learned that I have white passing privileged. If you didn’t know because I didn’t, this term refers to a person of color who can pass for white in social situations which would be otherwise uncomfortable/dangerous for someone who does not have that privileged. This affects how I’m viewed and treated as an individual in certain countries, I’m talking mostly about the US in this post. One part of me is relieved to finally have a term that explains my life and how I’ve felt for a long time. But another part of me just feels incredibly guilty because of it. I know it’s not my fault, I know I didn’t do it on purpose but it still makes me feel like I should be ashamed of it. I’m still trying to come to grips with the term and on how to handle it but it’s been an eye opening experience.
On Diversity In Books
This is actually what the whole discussion is about, advocating for diverse stories, characters and authors in literature which is something I’m all for! I think it’s very important to make sure that the media we consume is a direct representation of the world around us. For a lot of people, the only way to learn about other cultures and lifestyles is by watching a movie or reading a book about it. I’m the kind of person who likes to watch reality shows to learn about other ways of life. Shows like Bring It!, Little Women: LA and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding are absolutely fascinating to me (something my mom hates). And yes, I’d probably learn a lot more if I watched something like the History channel but these shows are not only entertaining, but I get to know the lives of real and modern people that live in a completely different way than I do and that I’d probably never encounter in my day to day life. That’s how literature should be too. In every genre, for everyone, everywhere. Yes, I am including white, cisgender and able bodied people. Yes, they are always represented but I am trying to say is that by asking for more diverse representation, we don’t mean no more white representation. That’s not the point of the movement. Every person around the world should feel recognized and represented by the media that surrounds them. Period. No questions asked. So let’s make it happen!
On Demanding Diversity From Authors
Now this is where things get tricky. Part of the reason this discussion started is because someone on Twitter questioned Victoria Schwab for writing an all white cast of characters in her book “Vicious.” You guys should know by now how much I love this author and her work and I was actually very upset to see someone being rude to her, because that’s the way it felt like from the way the tweets were written. She was “called out” so to speak. Personally, I don’t like that term. I think using it already creates an aggressive approach to a conversation therefore making the other person defensive and I feel like it makes it hard to have an open discussion. And this incident also caused various people to complain about similar issues with authors like J.K. Rowling and Sarah J. Maas, which is again referred to as “calling them out.” I’m not saying that the readers are wrong for raising those concerns and addressing the author about them, I just think it needs to be handled in a different way.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with casts of all white characters. As I said above, I’m from Venezuela but I look white. That’s because on my dad’s side, I have Spanish (European) descent and on my mom’s side, my grandfather was born in Massachusetts and his ancestors came from the Netherlands. So I’m both Venezuelan and American, Latinx and Caucasian. I feel represented and can connect to a white cast of characters as well as a Latinx cast of characters. I’m extremely blessed and lucky to have that kind of feeling and experience while reading and after this discussion, I am sure I will never take that kind of circumstance for granted.
But my thought process in this particular part of the discussion is that I don’t feel like I have the right to tell an author how to write their books. That’s why I’m not a writer. I don’t have stories to tell or characters speaking in my head or whatever other way a story is manifested for an author, so who am I to fault a white author from writing what they know? Specially since that’s one of the first pieces of writing advice people get. It’s the first thing my 4th grade English teacher told me to do for creative assignments. And I think the problem only escalates when an author feels forced to write a diverse character and it doesn’t come from a genuine belief that that is who the character really is. It’s almost worse in my opinion! There’s nothing that pisses me off more than seeing Spanish written wrong in a book. Because it tells me that all the people involved in the process of making that book could care less about if those two sentences were actually written correctly, it tells me there was no genuine interest in that culture or language in the first place. I’d rather have an author, any kind of author, genuinely research and accept the diversity of their character than an author who only adds it in because that’s what they think they need to do.
However, that doesn’t mean that white authors should be exempt from writing diversely. It just means that I feel like it’s something that needs to be done with a great desire and lots of research first. Something I wanted to add here quickly, I saw a tweet (I don’t remember where I saw it, I’d add it here if I could) that explains how people would like white authors to include diversity and I definitely agree. Add them in your cast of characters because that makes your story realistic and representative, but don’t write stories about and revolving around diverse characters if it’s something you’ve never experienced before. No matter how much research you do it won’t ever be completely real and honest. Let the people who know what it’s like to be that diverse character share those stories. Just include them in your cast, because that’s how the world is: diverse.
AND (last thing I promise) there is a way to point out problems or problematic representation in a book or series without resorting to bullying or harassment. Maybe you feel like the way you approached the conversation is harmless or that it isn’t in a negative or aggressive way, but it’s really important to remember that we don’t really know the authors we’re approaching. You don’t know their boundaries, their triggers or who they are as a person. So I’ll leave you with this.
Be kind, be respectful and be aware, not only of your reading but of yourself.
So that’s it for this post! Thanks so much if you’ve read all of this. I would love to chat and discuss with you guys in the comments but again please make sure to be respectful to anyone you chat with in the comments. This is actually pretty terrifying to share and one of the reasons I avoid sharing my thoughts on hot button topics unless asked but I feel like it’s something really important to talk about specially right now. Thanks so much for reading and I’ll see you on my next post!