It sounds like it, but it's not. I do think that people wanted it to turn out that way, though. In fact, I think that a lot of people think that it did turn out that way.
But when you look at the "we need diverse books campaign," and I mean really look at it, it's clear that something has gone horribly wrong.
Now, before you decide to throw me into the Petranaki arena, give me a chance to explain. Here are 4 errors I've noticed in the diverse books campaign, along with some suggestions as to how to fix them:
Solution #1: Go outside and look around. Then write down what you see. As long as you have eyes and don't live in Antarctica, this is probably what you'll see: People. Pure and simple. You'll see human beings, not people labeled as minorities or hot topic issues. Go put that in a book. Write about the girl who likes to play the violin who also happens to be Samoan. Show the man who is getting his Masters in biology, likes cream soda, is half African American and half Mexican, and goes to mass every Sunday. Tell us about the young man who loves video games, enters in skateboarding competitions, and is struggling with his sexuality. Your characters should be people first. Don't try to define them by one part of their life, such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or religion. Yes, those are important and help shape people's personalities, but people are more than their labels. So open your eyes and start looking at people as people, not as "diversities."
Error #2: It's being exploited as a sales point. I can't tell you how many books I've read that won awards, got great reviews, are of "critical acclaim," and also happen to be some of the suckiest stories I've ever read. I rub my eyes, stare at the pages, and try to figure out how in the world this book got so much attention. And then I see it: the Asian and lesbian supporting characters and the main character (conveniently both religionless and without ethnicity) that learns to be accepting of everybody. Clearly, that's what makes a good story. It's not as if plot line, dialogue, or writing style have anything to do with it. Duh. Should've caught that earlier.
Solution #2: Don't just blindly follow a trend because it gets sales now. If supplying diverse books is really your passion, then go after it with all of your heart. Good for you. But if you're just throwing in so-called diversity to get a publisher's attention, stop. Not only will those aspects feel forced in your story, but you're going to be selling your soul to the whims of the publishing industry. Yes, I said whims because here's the truth: if disabled dogs was a hot topic right now, that's what publishing houses would pretend to be caring about, not diverse books. Harsh? Yes. Disgusting? Definitely. But that's how it is. So instead of joining them in their exploitation, go and write something that you care about, not what the publishing houses are telling you you should care about.
Error #3: The diverse books campaign is always right. Have mercy on the poor soul who dares to point out its flaws, especially if said person happens to be white or straight. Whoops. Did I just write that out? Uh-oh. I think I did. *runs and tries to find a place to hide* Seriously, though. as I sat down to write this, I realized that if I mentioned that I'm a 1/4 Mexican, have Lyme disease, and attend a college that is about as diverse as any one place can get, my words would suddenly become a lot more credible to certain people. And that's just wrong.
Solution #3: People need to be allowed to disagree with one another. People should be able to voice their concerns about having their six-year-old child surrounded by books featuring homosexuality without being shouted down as a bigot. If diversity is such an important topic, then shouldn't it be important enough for people to be able to sit down and have adult conversations about it? I think so. But what do I know? I just have a working brain, something that doesn't seem to count for much these days.
Error #4: Diversity is often shoehorned into a story. I think this is largely a result of error #2 and 3. In an attempt to fit the current market and not come across as square, writers are starting to frantically plop minorities into their stories. I just recently read a book (Six of Crows) that had a supporting character that was gay. This character was awesome. He was actually my favorite character in the entire book. But the author kept hinting at the fact that he was gay, over and over and over again, even though it had absolutely no bearing on the storyline. I couldn't help but think that the author was just trying to fill some sort of diversity quota without taking the time to consider how it fit into the story. I keep running across very similar mistakes, such as times when an author feels it necessary to keep pointing out that a character is black or Islamic, though doesn't ever stop to point out why this matters to the story (or the character).
Solution #4: Make it matter to the story. This goes back to solution #1. Write your character as a human being. Tell us who he/she is and explain how their "diversity" affects them in the storyline. Maybe your character is extremely feisty though slightly insecure, something that is connected to the fact that she has a birth defect that makes it difficult for her to talk clearly. This defect is part of her, just like the fact that she's good at karate and adores her dad, so make that part of the storyline, not a weird "oh yeah, she has a speech impediment" add on. Or you could take a different approach, one that I learned from Ursula K. Le Guin. In The Wizard of Earthsea, the main character is brown-skinned and his best friend is black. This is mentioned a few times in passing, simply because that's how the people in her world looked. She didn't make a big deal out of it. She just wrote it that way because that's what's real: In our world, there are people with dark brown skin and black skin, so why shouldn't they go into her fantasy novel? It gave her world a very realistic feel. All that to say: Your characters "diverseness" should matter to the story and make sense within it rather than being something you can use to make your story seem open-minded and hip.
Now, I am fully aware that the stance that I have just taken is not extremely popular. But I didn't write this post to be popular: I wrote it because this is a problem that bothers me, and because I see a lot of potential in the diverse book campaigns that is being wasted. I'd like to see that change. Who's with me?
Is my assessment right? Completely wrong? Why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the diverse books campaign. All I ask is that you keep your comments thoughtful and respectful. Also, it would be nice if people would read my post in its entirety before leaving an angry comment, but that might be a little bit too much to ask.
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