The push for diversity in books has been an uphill battle. Most books have white, cis-gendered, healthy protgaonists. Have you ever read a book with a Lebanese superhero? How about a Cambodian adventure hero? A Ghanan visonary? A Guatemalen action star?
These people exist in the world, but they don't exist in literature, and that's a huge problem. Because of whitewashing, minorities believe they cant be the protagonist, be the hero. That seems like a position reserved solely for whites.
The Mortal Instruments - white protagonist
Paper Towns - white protagonist
My Sister's Keeper - white protagonist
Mistborn - white protagonist
Steelheart - white protagonist
Divergent - white progatonist
Fifty Shades - white protagonist
Harry Potter - white protagonist
Eragon - white protagonist
The most popular books of our time feature only caucasians as protagonists. There might be a side character who's gay or disabled or a POC, but they're never the protagonist, the hero.
POCs (people of color) can be the hero. Disabled people can be the hero. LGBT people can be the hero.
You want proof? Hiccup from How to Train your Dragon lost his leg, and he still saved all the dragons. Mako from Pacific Rim defended the world from giant sea monsters. Will Smith found the cure for the zombie apocalypse in I Am Legend and stopped a robot invasion in I, Robot.
Entire nations/ethnicities/cultures that are severely unrepresented in today's literary market. People from spain, laos, cambodia, sri lanka, brazil, guatemala, egypt, sudan, lebanon, south korea, ghana--where are these protagonists? Theyre people too. They have stories to tell too. It has nothing to do with the color of your skin. It has everything to do with the fact that 90% of protagonists are healthy, cis-gendered, caucasian, middle-to-upperclass. That is just a tiny group of everyone in our world.
We need diverse books so those people can know they can be the hero too. But we also need diverse books so healthy, cis-gendered whites can know they can be the hero too.
Minorities--in ethnicity/culture/sexual orientation/gender/disability--can be the hero. They aren't just side characters. They have every right and ability to be the protagonist. They have stories to tell too.
I was debating this with someone, and her argument against adding diversity and promoting white-washing is that the author writes "people" not skin color. That's great, but then why are you still only writing white people? Are Koreans not people too? Are the Spanish not people too? Are the blind or amputated not people too? People with austism or ALS? Kids with learning disabilities or mental disabilities? The gays?
Why are only healthy, cis-gendered, white people the protagonists of most books on the bestseller list? (I'm not making this up. Look at the graphs in the sidebar.)
One of the big reasons for white-washing and against adding diversity is that publishers like to take on stories that are "in" at the time, and many don't like to gamble with stories that are too out-there, because those have a higher chance of flopping and losing the publishing house money. In other words: white characters sell books, so we'll keep churning out books about white people.
Same goes for the movie industry. How many blockbuster films have you seen with a non-white protagonist? (Pacific Rim is a huge exception with Mako Mori, a japanese woman, as the female lead, and her character and representation of her culture was SO well done!! That's why Pacific Rim is one of my favorite movies of all time.)
That's why I love Disney, too. They've been making movies about cultures and countries all across the globe. Africa in Lion King, Ancient China with Mulan, France with The Little Mermaid, New Orleans with The Princess and the Frog, the Middle East with Aladdin, etc.
Just making a character of a different race doesn't mean you're making a big deal about it. What I've found personally is just by seeing a PoC protagonist, I'm stoked. In Pacific Rim, there was very little said about Mako's Japanese culture or heritage directly save for a split-second flashback of her growing up and learning sword fighting, and she sometimes fell into talking in Japanese mid-sentence, especially when she was really emotionally riled up. She also bowed to her adoptive father and showed him the utmost respect.
But she didn't have to be Japanese. She could've been almost any other race. She could've been white and the story wouldn't have changed. It really didn't matter plot-wise, but by making her Japanese, she gave Japanese (and other minority) children hope that they could be the hero of the story and be epic.
However, overemphasizing the race/culture/ethnicity would set them apart more (the same concept I talked about in the LGBTQ how-to). That's why I love to subtly add characters of different races with a detail or two highlighting something from their culture. You don't need to do a ton to add diversity to a story, and simply including PoCs/LGBTs/disabled characters would make those types of readers connect with the story and characters a lot more. Of course you still need to do your research so you don't end up stereotyping or misrepresenting, but it isn't as hard as you think. Creating a diverse cast of characters not only makes your story and character dynamics more interesting, it helps others become more open-minded toward other races/cultures/sexual orientations/disabilities.
Most people probably don't agree with me, but I'd rather see diverse characters--even a small nod to the fact that they're a different ethnicity than caucasian--then have an all-white cast. You DON'T have to make a big deal about them, because that's when a lot of stereotyping happens. I've you've seen the Big Hero 6 trailer, the protagonist didn't have to be Japanese, but he was, and that makes the story seem more vibrant to me because it's highlighting a minority that doesn't usually get the spotlight in American movies.
THIS TUMBLR POST (source: http://merryweatherblue.tumblr.com/post/94638266248/i-took-my-little-brother-who-falls-on-the-autism Linked to in the EXTERNAL LINK) is a great example of why being inclusive of other races/cultures/sexual orientations/disabilities is so important:
"I took my little brother (who falls on the autism spectrum) to see Guardians of the Galaxy and after this scene he lit up like a Christmas tree and screamed “He’s like me! He can’t do metaphors!” And for the rest of the film my brother stared at Drax in a state of rapture.
So for the last 6 days I have heard my brother repeatedly quote all of the Drax lines from the movie verbatim (one of his talents), begin studying vocabulary test words, and tell everyone he knows that people with autism can also be superheroes.
Now I am not saying that Drax the Destroyer is, or was ever, intended to be autistic. All I am saying is that it warmed my heart to see my brother have an opportunity to identify himself with a character known for his strength, badassness, and honor. And that is pretty damn awesome.
So while I adored Guardians of the Galaxy as a great fun loving film with cool characters I can do nothing but thank Marvel Studios and Dave Bautista for finally bringing a superhero to the screen that my little brother can relate to."
Everyone needs a hero they can relate too, not just caucasians. By writing only white, healthy, cis-gendered protagonists all the time, you're fueling the rift between minorities and whites. So in a way, you're alienating minorities/LGBT/disabled people even more because they don't even exist in your definition of a hero since they never are the hero. They're just side characters, or worse, non-existent in film and literature.
I would put in a few extra hours of researching and be inclusive rather than take the easy way out and write the "normal, white" characters and ignore every POC/disability/LGBT out there. It's like kids in the playground shunning the blind girl because they dont know how to interact with her or deal with her. Because she's too different to understand. I remember in elementary school, we had a blind girl in our class, and only one or two people ever stepped up to sit with her or talk with her at recess.
I want to include everyone, whites and POCs both, in my stories because that's what our world is made of. Yeah you have to research, but what in our stories DONT we have to meticulously research? We research settings, mental disorders, weapons, and personality types, so why not minority cultures and disabilities? Guiermo del Toro is hispanic but he wrote a Japanese protagonist beautifully in Pacific Rim. You don't have to be disabled to write a disabled character or gay to write a gay protagonist. It can be done with an open mind and a little research.
You cant stay in your comfortable bubble forever if you ever want to grow as a writer and a human being. There are so many types of people in our world, but literature only highlights a small subgroup of that, ignoring the other beautiful and fascinating cultures and countries out there. Yes, caucasian cultures are fantastic too, but why is that one of the only cultures people write about?
So, what's your take? Is the lack of diversity in today's literature because of a lack of diverse books being published, a lack of interest in diverse books by readers, or a combination of both? Why?
Do you have stories with protagonists of color (this isn't just skintone; it means different cultures/ethnicities and representation of minorities), LGBT characters, and/or disabled characters? Do you make it a point to write stories inclusive of diverse characters?
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