Monday, March 21, 2011

Tropes, Myths, and Racism in YA Books: What Can Be Done?

Don't miss this brilliant post by YA author Nicola K. Richardson in which she eloquently addresses some commonly held misconceptions about race in young adult literature. For example, when it comes to the claim that young white readers won't cross borders of race to read, Ms. Richardson has this to say:
Kids of color give white writers a chance all the time. But white kids won't do the same for a writer of color? The same kids that buy a CD cover with a black artist with no problems would hesitate over a book cover? The same kids that go to school with and have friends of all races would refuse to be diverse when it comes to reading? I firmly believe that this is just as wrong as the assumption that blacks only read urban fiction. Again, MANY believe this and it shows in the heinous whitewashing of book covers. It shows when bookstores won't carry books with characters of color on the cover. It shows when salespeople swear they can't sell these books. The problem with this is that it assumes an entire group will respond the way that a few do.
Read the rest over at YA Highway, including some world-changing advice for all of us in the industry. Writers, apparently we have to "go hard for our books." Ready for the challenge? I am. Thanks, Nicola.

5 comments:

AudryT said...

In my experience, bias against others in reading choices comes from conditioning handed down to a child by their parents and their community. It's not something we're born with; nor it is something we're stuck with our whole lives. As a pasty white, narrowly religious, blonde country girl, I rebelled against the attitude that I should stick to "my own kind" and read widely and diversely in a time when there wasn't much diversity. I read everything from ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY (NOT as part of school reading) to THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS to ELFQUEST to any comic I could find that featured the X-MEN superhero Storm. I know kids who read widely now, too, even though they also come from a pocket of culture that pressures them to stick to their skin color, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

People don't naturally live in boxes; those boxes get built around them when they're still babies. It's up to them to break out of those boxes, and books can be tools that help them do so. The more opportunities publishers give the general populace to read widely and diversely, the more likely it becomes that they will do so.

Nicola K.Richardson said...

Thank you so much for mentioning my post. I am a pretty blunt person and I had to let some things out. YA fans come in all shades,but as my cousins and their friends say,it's discouraging to never see anyone who resembles them in the books from this genre. Hopefully,the industry sees that this massive audience(with all that lovely money from mom and dad)are ready and waiting. I am loving your blog and plan on visiting a lot.

Sayantani said...

YES!!! I was recently feeling so distressed when I was having/witnessing a conversation about whitewashing covers and the common consensus among authors was that whitewashing was a necessity to 'lure' kids to multicultural books. Perhaps I'm naiive to the ways of marketing - but as a mother, a lifelong activist, I can't believe that 'if we build it' (a better, multicultural book world) they (the readers) won't come! Covers which reflect a diversity of faces and experiences is a part of cultural change work too... THANK YOU for this post!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

This makes me think about the casting for the Hunger Games movie. My heart sunk when I saw they cast a blond, blue-eyed beauty. Katniss is described as having olive skin and dark hair. I will despair if they whitewash the character of Rue. What an opportunity they have lost with the casting!

tamarapaulin said...

I live in a multi-cultural Canadian city, and yet, whenever I go to writer's workshops and such, I see all white girls just like me. Specifically, they're 25 to 45 and wear funky glasses. It's such a homogenous group! I think a lot of us are afraid to take on dissimilar protagonists. There are so many ways to be shot down as a beginner writer already! But thank-you for blogging about the issue. I hope it gives many writers lots to think about and results in more diversity on the shelf.