We Need More Than More Diversity

Originally posted at Super Justice Force

The recent death of celebrated author Walter Dean Myers has seemingly left a void in that corner of Young Adult literature that is aware of representation and diversity, and produces works of fiction populated with a rainbow coalition of characters. It seems like every week I’m reading something about the lack of diversity and representation in YA (as well as comics and films and whatever else you care to throw into the mix), much like this piece. And now that Myers is gone, he can join the list of authors frequently cited as those that did the most for those who are represented the least.

Unfortunately, while he was alive, a significant amount of what was written about the lack of diversity in YA failed to mention Myers and his work — which speaks to a problem almost as bad as the lack of diversity itself. That problem, of course, is the lack of dialog about those books and those writers who do put in the work to ensure diversity and representation.

I’ve already written about this before, and I talk about it all the time, and yet few people seem to be paying attention. Yes, there is a lack of diversity and representation when it comes to YA (and just about everything else, for that matter). But there are books out there that do have diverse characters — and most of those are never mentioned in the “there’s-not-enough-diversity” conversations. I can walk into any well-stocked bookstore, go to the YA section, and point out at least a dozen books that grapple with diversity and representation, and yet none of these titles are ever mentioned in anything I ever read about the need for more diversity. I’ve mentioned some of these books before — More Than This, Drowned Cities, The Offenders, Devil’s Wake, to name a few.

Recently, I got around to reading Jonathan Mayberry’s Rot & Ruin series (a bit late, I know). Admittedly, the zombie apocalypse may not be your cup of tea, but the series features a Japanese American hero, his brother, his best friend (who is Chinese American), and three strong female characters.

Perhaps it is because the writer is a white man, but I don’t understand why these books are not mentioned in conversations about diversity in YA. Is it because the writer is white? Is it because the books are about zombies? Or is it because most people complaining about the lack of diversity and representation in YA aren’t bothering to look for or mention the books that are offering what they are looking for?

It’s time to face some very real truths — if we want greater diversity and representation in YA, we need to realize that the publishing industry is not going to give us what we want, just because we write some passionate blogs, or because we use certain hashtags. Rather than talking about what we don’t have, we need to pay some attention, and balance that conversation with what we do have.

Yes, it’s great to refer to Walter Dean Myers and Octavia Butler — both were tremendous talents. But you know what? Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes are both tremendous talents, and they are both still alive and producing incredible work. How come so few people mention their books Devil’s Wake and Domino Falls?

If you are concerned about diversity and representation, complaining about the lack of either is not enough. You, me — all of us — need to talk more about what is out there. We need to find books that deliver what we want, and then we need to share recommendations with our friends, family, and social circles. If we can’t do that, then we are as bad as the publishing industry that we keep complaining about, and maybe just a little bit worse. After all, there are publishers putting out the books we claim to want, but in our frustration and rage, some of us don’t talk about those.

4 thoughts on “We Need More Than More Diversity

  1. I one hundred percent agree with you on this. I had very similar thoughts about women’s representation in the media, and that’s why I created the website HerStoryArc.com. The goal is to focus on all the creators out there doing a good job of representing women (from all backgrounds, abilities, religions, etc). I was tired of seeing over and over again examples of people doing it wrong. Call out culture is depressing, at worst, for those already aware of the problems, and enlightening to the unenlightened at best. When things go hate-viral I can’t help but think it’s hurting the cause more than helping it. Maybe a site needs to be made called OurStoryArc.com dedicated to giving a shout out to strides being made with regards to racial diversity? If anyone reading this has the time/resources to do so, feel free to take the url I just came up with. I would love to see a site like that 🙂

  2. This is a very late comment–I just ran across this post via discussion of this post–but you make a very good point, one that I hope continues to be made the more this conversation comes to the forefront.

    What I loved about #WeNeedDiverseBooks was the emphasis on action wherever we are: if we are readers, we need to seek out and support diversity in our reading, purchasing books ourselves and/or requesting our library do so, etc. The third day of the WNDB event was dedicated to going out and buying books, and they’ve had a summer reading series dedicated to diverse book recommendations.

    Another problem is that the publishers who have been dedicated the most to publishing diversity are small presses, and the attention on lack of diversity is often with the larger houses. As Rene Saldana says in the link above, supporting small presses who have been working on this issue for decades will make a HUGE difference. Yes, it’s good that bigger publishers are thinking about diversity more, but be sure to seek out good diverse books wherever they are.

    I loved the Rot & Ruin series, by the way! All your suggestions are a great start. If you’re looking for more suggestions of diverse YA, be sure to check out Diversity in YA, Rich in Color, and WeNeedDiverseBooks blogs for more recommendations.

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