Yesterday while casually scrolling through my Twitter newsfeed I came across a few angry posts aimed at a well known author who just released a new book. I then saw some more posts on a few bookstagrammers stories where they outright said this book was racist. Since I haven’t read the book myself, and therefore cannot say whether it’s true or not, I won’t mention what book it is; but I will say that if so many people took offense by the story then there is definitely cause for concern.
These kinds of angry outbursts seem to be happening more and more lately, which is quite disheartening since we’re supposed to be living in a time where this should no longer be an issue. So I thought I’d share my two cents on the matter given that I am a Muslim, South African woman of colour who agrees that books lack diversity and don’t represent the world in which we live in today. This is why diversity in books is important to me:
NO ONE GETS EXCLUDED
If you write a book with only “typical, mainstream” characters, immediately I start to question where on planet Earth is your story based that there are no other cultures, religions and races present. In my mind you are saying that there is just no place in your little world for anyone whose different in any way and that straight up pisses me off!
BE MORE INFORMED AND EDUCATED ABOUT PEOPLE’S DIFFERENCES
This point is largely aimed at authors: PLEASE, for the love of all that is good and pure, DO YOUR RESEARCH! When you write about a character who is suffering from anxiety, or a character who lives in Botswana, make sure that you know what the F you are talking about. Make sure that the people who will most likely relate to your character CAN relate to the character in question. When you do proper research it definitely shines through and it will then educate people who are not familiar with these dissimilarities.
Oh, and just FYI, adding a pointless secondary character of colour is not good enough! You need to realize that the difference doesn’t stop with skin colour; there are cultural differences and traditions that you are not even aware of because you didn’t do any research about this person you’re trying to portray. It’s not just about adding a person of colour – make them relatable to the people whose asking for these characters to be included in your stories! They want to form connections that are not just based on skin colour. Adding a vague description of a character’s skin tone is not relevant information if all the characters are exactly the same in every other way.
IT WILL PROBABLY BE THE ONLY WAY SOME OF US GET TO SEE THESE DIFFERENCES
People who are similar often get drawn to each other, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I remember during University there was an incident where someone was so utterly unaware of other people that it would’ve been funny if it wasn’t so completely sad. This person never ventured out of their comfort zone, never took the time to learn about other people or even bothered to think that hey, there are folk out there who don’t celebrate Christmas! It boggled my mind that someone could be so ignorant! But the sad truth is that some of us will only ever learn about other backgrounds through books, so it is crucial that stories represent all types of people in this world.
IT MAKES ME FEEL LESS ALONE
No one enjoys feeling alone, especially when going through something difficult. Whenever I am facing a challenge I always turn to books or blogs so that I may find someone to relate to. I want to see my story in books. I can’t begin to describe the feeling I get when I can relate to something in a book, specifically because of my difference from the vast majority. I once read a book where a Muslim character changed his accent so that a policeman won’t blame him for an attack on their high school and I thought: “FINALLY an author voices the struggle of every Muslim in the world!!” Another time I read a book that was set in Cape Town and the author described Camps Bay. I felt so damn happy because I GO THERE!!! It was so refreshing to read a book that wasn’t set somewhere in the Western part of the world.
TO UNDERSTAND AND RESPECT PEOPLE WHO ARE DIFFERENT TO YOU
It is so important to be respectful and mindful of other beliefs, cultures and backgrounds because it’s a really sensitive issue. If we’re not aware of these differences then we may say or do something seriously hurtful to the next person which causes further rifts between us. We should be aware of people’s struggles with eating disorders or their battle with mental health issues. We need to get a glimpse into the live’s of people from all over the world who are going through different trials and tribulations; because it may just make a difference in the way we handle a situation one day. By incorporating these matters into books we become more comfortable with it and in turn we get to carry out this new understanding and respect toward people we interact with in the real world.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
― Audre Lorde,
TO LEARN HOW WE ARE DIFFERENT – BUT ALSO HOW WE ARE THE SAME
When all is said and done and we get to read a book that we can relate to, it makes us more aware about our differences; but also we get to read about the ways in which we are the same. We learn that people are people, no matter where we are in the world, no matter what our beliefs are or what we struggle with – we are all the same. (I know this is a picture of a human boy and a Gorilla but it’s all I could think of when writing this post!)
This year I am being more aware of the books I read, and especially the books I put up on my space. I want to read books that broadens my mind and makes me think about matters outside of my comfort zone. I want to read books that are diverse in characters, settings and authors, so I wrote a post over on Lavender Prose sharing 5 Diverse Books on my TBR for 2017. I do hope you’ll give it a read!
Why is diversity in books important to you? And are there any books you enjoyed that offers diversity in their story lines? Let me know in the comments below!