Friday, May 2, 2014

The We Need Diverse Books Campaign

I don't know how many of you have been following the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag on Twitter, but I have been and the stories and pictures attached--and the sheer diversity of people wanting to read more books about different races, religions, cultures, abilities, sexual orientation...

It's insanely inspiring. From what I understand, the campaign began as an effort among YA authors after a panel at BookCon was announced--all Caucasian authors--and a cat. 

No, really. 

Diversity in life--and in books--is one of those topics that gets me fired up, simply because of my own background (Irish and Japanese) and where I grew up (New York City, land of Every Language Ever Spoken). My best friends are, in no particular order: black, Puerto Rican, Indian (from India), Jewish, white, Irish, Hispanic...

I read one book as a kid that reflected my background--I'll post the link later--called How My Parents Learned to Eat. The ONLY book I read where the mother was Japanese and the father white American. 

I'm writing a book where a white man has two daughters: one of them is white (but illegitimate, which is a problem in their time period) and the other is half black and half white. Surrounding them are a cast of whites, blacks, rich, middle class, slaves, free, Quakers, Anglicans...It's not exactly New York-diverse and yes, there are a lot of white English people in it. I don't believe this means don't write about white people ever, by the way, but be mindful--and white, blond, straight, Christian shouldn't be a default. They aren't any more "normal" than the rest of us are "the others."

My older cousins have young kids: my "nieces" are Filipino-Japanese, my "nephews" are Japanese-Irish (on the Japanese side of my family, if you're curious). I don't want them to not see characters like them in books and other media. I don't want biracial kids to not exist in the world of stories. I want them to have their superheroes and princesses and others characters who also meld cultures and races and other differences just as much as my white cousins have had their princesses, superheroes, military heroes, girl detectives and vampires. I don't want to hear people say that they find dealing with diversity challenging.

Tomorrow, the We Need Diverse Books campaign asks readers to buy a book written by a PoC author or with diverse characters. Show them we want it and we'll read it. 

Check out We Need Diverse Books here. 

11 comments:

  1. I haven't been following it, but I've heard people talking about it. What I want is for books with diversified MCs to be intermixed with all the other books. I know there are a few, but the vast majority of them are in their designated sections, and I think that is just ridiculous. People don't know it's there if the books aren't in front of their faces, you know.

    I don't feel particularly led to write a lot of different ethnicities and such in my stories, but I agree it would be nice to pick up a book and everyone in the book not be the same all the time. Not because I want to see more diversity in books, but because I want to see more diversity on TV and a lot of times, books translate to TV when they get optioned for TV series and movies and then the cast is completely non-diversified and it's like, where is everyone else?

    I guess I don't think about it when I'm reading much though. I definitely don't want people to feel like they HAVE to have rainbow soup in all their stories. I just want people to stop being afraid of rainbow soup, and that will happen when they start seeing more diversity in other mediums.

    That said, I do automatically diversify my cast a little bit because that just happens to be the way I see them in my head. Also, it's fun. ^_^

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    1. Because a lot of what I read is historical, I didn't really think about the issue much all that much. I mean, I've always wanted more diverse characters, but then, I didn't necessarily go seeking them out either. Because sometimes, squeezing in different types of people just seemed like tokenism.

      But then I think about things I've written over the years and they often have a mixed character as the protag, usually if it's a contemporary thing. Haven't read all that many well-written mixed characters.

      And like you, I noticed the lack of diverse characters in movies first.

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  2. I've heard about it. I honestly think that's one of the reasons I stopped reading YA- because the default character was either an awkward brunette with pale skin and brown eyes or a blonde. Like wtf is going on here? The PERFECT CHEMISTRY trilogy was the first mainstream YA book I read that had Mexicans as the mcs. And even then it alternated between the Mexican hot guy and his white girlfriend (except the third one where the third brother dates a Latina). It was still refreshing and made me feel normal for being with a white guy (because we still sometimes get stares despite the times and our location and despite it being so portrayed in movies and shows).
    Before the PC books, I got my Asian, Middle Eastern, Latina, African mcs from world literature books. It's like as soon as people see a mc of color, they quickly place it in a different category. I wonder if a book where there aren't any white mc or supporting characters would sell as well as others. For example, a Hispanic girl who has a crush on a black man and whose best friend is an Asian girl. Which reminds me. Why are books with black characters written by black authors separated in their own thing???? It's so weird. *sigh*
    *sigh*

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    1. Yeah, you know, I don't know why books by African-Americans are put into an African-American section! It's weird. Like, what happens if a black author writes about white people or Asian people or aliens? Where do they put that book?

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  3. Hi Michelle,

    I love this concept and thank you for posting this because it NEEDS to be said! You are officially my Sunday Series blogger feature this week because a.) I love you blog anyway, and b.) this post deserves exposure.

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  4. Hi Michelle! I posted my "Sunday Series" post about you, just to let you know. I hope what I wrote is ok with you! :)

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  5. I'm half white and half Japanese as well. This post made me think about my own writing. When I look back at all my writings, none of them mention the protagonist nationality. I hadn't thought about it, but this makes me feel like I could write a pretty compelling novel if I were to insert my experience growing up in a multi-cultural family (mom was Buddhist, father Catholic - mom from Japan, father from Chicago, IL). My husband is part American Indian.

    I can tell you that there are stereotypes for a reason, but I can only imagine that if I spoke truth in my novel, there would be some very angry folks on my mother's side of the racial divide.

    I love my background and wouldn't trade it for anything, but if I ever wrote what I feel is truth, I'd be disowned. Well, not really. They probably would agree with me, secretly.

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    1. When I write contemporary stuff, which isn't often--for example, my last NaNo project or Last Request, one of my trunked novels, I think I have a decent balance of diversity in them.

      That being said, I don't ever see myself writing a story with someone with a Japanese-and-Irish background. It'd be too close to reality. I could write some honest, not-so-great things about both sides of the family AND the cultural/racial divide. I still have some not-so-great memories of Japanese Saturday school.

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  6. Great post, Michelle! Diversity is needed so much more these days, especially if we aim to keep our writing as realistic as possible. Not to say we have to add ALL different background, cultures, or whatever but a good balance is much more appreciated, I think. Glad I found you through Randi's blog ;)

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    1. Hi S.K! Thanks for visiting!

      I think it depends on the story and I don't think we should add diversity to every story because that smacks of tokenism, but to keep diversity in mind as we write. I have two plot bunnies in mind and I realized that in one of them, I could have mixed and diverse characters because it's a fantasy-contemporary and it would work.

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Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts. Check back soon. I reply to all comments. Happy reading!