emayaosi said: It's really disappointing to see you co-sign that Holly Black post as if the majority of YA authors don't write about very whitewashed worlds where queer/trans/poc people may as well not exist. Telling people to change that reality with their purchasing power is a tad hypocritical when you all write a certain way because you know that's what sells. I'd be more sympathetic to your point if you weren't directly contributing to the problem.
The point of Holly’s post is that buying works by PoC/LGBTQ/trans writers will literally change the landscape of what’s out there and what’s a bestseller and what’s mainstream. I do sign on to that.
As for the need for more diversity in all books being written, yes to that too. Though, I wish you wouldn’t say I am doing something because “you know that’s what sells.” People think writers do EVERYTHING because “that’s what sells.” People are always reading our minds/explaining our motives—people from every standpoint. Most book banners use the “you do this because this is what sells” in order to denigrate work. My goal for myself is to try harder and do better and make good stories.
But the point remains that diverse writers of diverse books are out there, and by buying their books, the playing field changes. It sounds like maybe you aren’t aware of all these writers. That’s a problem. But it’s something that so many good people are working on now, to bring these writers up to the front of the store/the reading list.
I’m sorry - am I missing the part ..
As a reader/aspiring writer and not a published author I’d like to take a moment to examine your post.
am I missing the part where damn near every YA book in the mainstream focuses on beautiful white girls with their pale, milky complexions?
No you’re not.
Regarding the authors I’ve seen post in response to this namely Holly Black, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan…well.
Of Sarah Rees Brennan’s four published heroines (excluding Turn of the Story, Mgnus Bane Chronicles and other works I haven’t read) only one is white and she is stated to be chubby, her younger brother is also gay. I can’t remember if it’s stated where Sin is from but my impression was she’s black? (someone correct me if I’m wrong or using offensive terminology) Kami and Mel are both asian, Kami’s paternal heritage is Japanese but I think Mel identified as American-asian but I don’t remember entirely. Not to mention Ty, who is also a main character in Team Human, is both black and gay. (not to imply there some sort of point scoring system where you can hold up characters and say LOOK HOW MANY MINORITIES THEY REPRESENT, me done good yes?)
I confess I’ve only read The Shades of London and 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson and I don’t remember 13LBE enough to comment. But there’s Boo and Callum, who are Indian and black respectively, in The Shades of London. Admittedly they’re not the main characters but they are very much present.
Of Holly Black’s work I would point out Curseworkers where the lead, Cassel, whose race comes up frequently has ark skin and darker hair and a lot of mixed up family history. Best friend Sam is described as a tall, chubby asian. Both male. Tithe features Kaye who goes from being asian looking to GREEN…so lacking in the white there. But dealing with Fae and fantasy races muddies the water somewhat with regards to addressing the question of diversity.
But I’m assuming you’re not attacking these authors directly as being the root or the example of the problem you point out but more their response?
It’s not like publishers choose to buy those books, then aggressively market them and pay for placement in stores. It’s not like scores of poc write about white people because that’s what they’ve learned is most acceptable. It’s not like books about poc characters are released with whitewashed covers. Its not like we see those books get made into movies where non-white characters are either erased or recast as white. Or perhaps, as you suggest, the burden is on the consumer, who’s just too narrow-minded or ignorant to know better. After all, you did make the assumption that I’m not familiar with the diversity that’s out there. It must be that we just don’t like to support those writers, not that the industry and society at large is hostile toward them.
I think at this point you have missed what they were trying to say. The publishing industry is a cyclic one.
Readers buy books.
Readers read books.
Readers become writers.
Readers and writers become agents and editors and cover artists and publishing houses.
The publishing industry makes books.
Readers buy books.
The cycle repeats.
What, I believe, Holly Black, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan were trying to point out is that you cannot slap a label on THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY anymore than (as you so aptly defend) you can slap a label on THE CONSUMER and say it’s all their fault.
It’s not all ANYONE’s fault but it is EVERYONE’s problem.
To again use works of the authors in question Team Human, The Demon’s Surrender, Unspoken and Tithe have all featured ethnically appropriate models/illustrations on their covers. So again I must assume it is their response you don’t like.
Yes the publishing industry publishes what sells. Just like every other commercial business.
And here we tread a very fine line.
You would not walk into a toy shop that sells red, green and blue toys and tell them to only sell blue toys because you yourself are blue.
However you would, quite rightly, expect there to be even amounts of red, green and blue toys in creative mixed and matched and solo displays. So that, to all intents and purposes. Red toys would be as appealing as green toys as would blue toys etc.
So it would be up to the shop owner to stock even amounts of toys and to promote them evenly.
It is then up to consumer to buy red, green and blue toys. If consumers were only buying, for example, green and blue toys, the shop keeper would be making a loss. So he would only buy green and blue toys from the supplier. He might keep the red toys out until they sell out but he wouldn’t re-stock on them.
Now scale up the problem so the majority of stores are all having difficulty shifting red toys. In this example, in real life, the producer of the toys might choose not to produce red toys for a while because they would be making a loss if their did. But in this analogy the author translates to the toy manufacturer and this would imply that authors choose to pull the punches with regards to the diversity in their books based on the market which is not the point I was trying to make.
But in all buying and selling industries whether it’s toys, food or books etc there is a relationship between what is being bought and what gets put up to be sold.
Now what, I believe, Holly Black, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan were trying to imply is not that THE CONSUMER is RESPONSIBLE, as you have objected to. But that CONSUMERS have THE POWER TO AFFECT CHANGE.
If conscientious readers made a point to source books with diverse covers and diverse main characters whether it’s race, gender, sexuality etc and BUY them then the STATISTICS would indicate a more even distribution of purchase. This would statistically and financially indicate to publishing houses that PROMOTING ‘Queer and poc writers [that] have always been there’ in equal measures to their non-minority kin would still result in the books being bought. Which sustains the industry that allows authors to be paid to do what they do.
None of that changes the fact that certain stories and characters are valued more than others. It’s bordering on willful ignorance to suggest otherwise, as if this all exists in a bubble and, aw shucks, I just write what I know and it just so happens that thousands of people are attracted to the familiar and cosy world I’ve created.
Do you not see the posts these women, and many others like them, constantly make pointing out the flaws in the industry with regards to its sexism? Something they frequently rally against? Have you not seen their posts about the abuse they get for defending women?
I’m pretty sure they’re not living in a cosy bubble. But this leads neatly into your next point.
By the way, I’m not at all convinced by Holly Black’s argument that writing about experiences other than your own is the difference between a secondary source and a primary source. Really? You can’t imagine the life of someone other than you? It sure is easy to write about vampires, aliens, ghosts, and werewolves, but god forbid you try to imagine the inner workings of a black person’s mind.
You do know that vampires, aliens, ghosts and werewolves don’t exist right? Just like, for example, Curseworkers don’t exist. Now if you haven’t read Holly Black’s Curseworker’s series it involved a world just like ours, with people just like us. But there are individuals born with magic. Like benders in Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s pot luck sometimes. Sometimes it runs in families.
And one of the big plots in the book involves Curseworkers as a whole being regarded as criminals. Cassel has grown up on the fringe of mob territory. His family cons people for a living. Where people use their gifts to lie, cheat, steal and kill and there’s a couple of really poignant moments where Cassel reflects that he’s ‘never considered using working for anything fun’. But, in the history or this world, curseworkers were locked up in worker camps. Like Italians were during World War 2 for example. And in the current timeline of the books politicians are trying to encourage the whole population to get tested to see if they’re a worker, to build a database. The logic being that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. But, as I believe Cassel’s brother points out, the only ones that will have reason to refuse the test are the ones who know their workers. So they’re damned either way. This can easily be compared with the current struggle with the gene bank. As much as analyzing the DNA of every individual on the planet could do wonders for modern medicine there are concerns that that information could be used the wrong way.
That kind of segregating information could be used to affect where people go to school, what jobs they get, who they’re allowed to be with.
History repeating itself yet?
But vampires, aliens, ghosts, werewolves and curseworkers don’t exist. As writers we can make up their history. We can make up their struggles. We can make up how they deal with them. We can look to history for a pattern. We can, as readers, dissect and compare and contrast and find all sorts of analogies to our modern world.
We can base it on our experiences and our thoughts and put in what we think they’d feel. The fear, the joy, the sadness, the freedom, whatever it may be. And readers can go along with that journey and like it or not.
But if, as you suggest, we do the same with a black character. That runs into rocky ground. I don’t know what ethnicity, gender or sexuality you are. I haven’t even clicked through to your tumblr to try and check. But I have seen articles, comments, reviews, you name it where (and this is purely playing to the suggested example) black readers have taken offense and even rallied against non-black authors for writing from a black POV. Telling them they can’t possibly know what they’re talking about and X black writer has done it better.
Writing about fairy tale creatures gives you a lot more freedom to make mistakes without offending masses of people who are, in their own way, just seeking representation. Well written, positive representation.
But writing outside of your gender or your race or your sexuality does make it secondry source writing. Because the only way to get the perspective you’d need without just using your imagination is to read accounts by those who have had personal experiences. That makes the subsequent writings secondry sources. It just does.
I continue to be disappointed by bestselling authors who won’t even admit that white supremacy and hetero- and gendernormativity are forces at work in their own lives and in the market, and judging by your response to these criticisms, I guess I’ll have to continue to be disappointed. I will also continue to support authors who write with the vibrancy that reflects the world we live in, and I’ll even read those mainstream books about people we’ve read about a thousand times before. I’ll be briefly entertained, all the white scratching my head in confusion. Why, I’ll wonder, do these writers see the world in such a narrow way? Why does only one type of person exists? And if this is their version of a fantasy world, what does it say that I’m not in it?
Writers write what matters to them. Now where in the history of the universe does it say that if a person sits down to write that it has to be to change the world or even matter to the world. Under that kind of crippling pressure I’m not sure anyone would choose to write at all.
There’s also the common phrase, ‘write what you know’. Well that just circles back into the previous section really.
But what I will include here is my own experience. As a ‘writer’ I’m been writing since I was like 9 (I have notebooks full of story ideas and snippets). I’d write about my own characters. In my teens I wrote about characters I loved (aka fanfiction). Now I write about my own characters. Thing is…all my main characters have been white. Some have had tanned skin cause I thought it looked pretty. Most of them had red hair or black hair.
And I just wrote for myself, I have backlogs of stories.
From coming onto tumblr and meeting other readers and connecting with authors (something I never even realized was possible until a couple of years ago) I am now more aware than I ever was (I wasn’t aware) of the struggles of diversity in literature. And I look over my scripts and I think…well I have some gay characters but it’s never really an ‘issue’ in the books. They don’t get abuse for it, not for actually being gay, they just get in and out of relationships or trundle along the plot.
And then I think…well I don’t really have anyone who isn’t white.
Now I’m a white, heterosexual girl. I was bullied extensively at the boarding secondry school I went to. By other white girls. There were literally a hand full of Asians at the school and they nearly without exception just came to do their A-levels. They all did some combination of economics, maths, further maths, business studies and physics. They spoke in their respective languages and kept to themselves. They were the only ‘friend group’ that transcended year groups. As, in my experience, because we had little to no contact (outside of sports and even then each year group had a team) with other year groups, friendships were near exclusively per year group. There was only one black girl at my school, Nellie and her older brother. I have no idea whether any of them were subject to racism. It never occurred to me to ask. I never had any classes with them outside of maths and physics.
I work from home so I don’t really meet people. My parents are disabled.
Through cosplay I now have a close knit friend group that consists of one homosexual guy, one homosexual girl, a gender fluid bi-sexual person, a bi-sexual girl and a heterosexual girl. But we’re all white. I have two Asian and one black friends. And one who identifies as part Arabian part gypsy. The rest of my friends are white. But I’ve never thought to ask them if they’ve encountered racism. Or sexism. Or homophobia.
And personally…I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a lead that is something or someone that I don’t have personal experience with. Without having a very long and possibly very personal conversation with people who have had experience with the subject.
So maybe there are authors like me who don’t have experience of a world saturated in diversity. Who write what they’re comfortable with not BECAUSE IT SELLS, not because they LIVE IN A BUBBLE, but because they would rather do justice to a character they understand and injustice to one that they don’t.
Through cosplay I’ve met all sorts of people. One very memorable introduction had someone say to me ‘you’re straight? Like actually straight? I’ve never met a straight person before.’. But I wouldn’t presume to write from that perspective. Mostly out of fear of offending someone.
Because even though we see more and more people talking about diversity.
We still see people saying ‘you wrote this kind of character wrong because’.
That isn’t accepting diversity.
Having an open mind isn’t about saying you like everything, it’s accepting that you like something and someone else like something else and that’s okay.
So saying ‘you’re wrong and you disappoint me because you write about white, straight, thin girls’ is racist, sexist and heterophobic. Even though those traits are the majority. This still isn’t accepting diversity either. Because those kind of girls do exist.
But you’re write when you say there are ‘Queer and poc writers have always been there. Those characters have always existed, and certain groups have supported them and continue to support them.’. And that’s fantastic. Everyone of all backgrounds should be encouraged to write. And to write about what matters to them. Whether it contributes or not.
‘A tiny fraction may even get noticed.’
Hopefully we can make this a bigger fraction. But not just the CONSUMER, not just the AUTHORS and not just the PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. But ALL OF US.
Buy books that appeal to you. Read them. If you like them, review them on goodreads (it does a lot more than most people think). If you don’t like them, also review them on goodreads.
If you want to see a certain story written. Pick up a pen.
If you want to see certain books published. Get into the publishing industry come hell or high water.
We can everyone change the world. But not by shouting and screaming at each other about whose fault it is.
Disclaimer: If I have, in any way, caused you as a reader of this post personal or indirect offence in this response, please contact me via the ask box and tell me how so that I can improve myself and apologize directly.