There are a variety of reasons for the lack of the representation of British Pakistani young adults in literature as well as the lack of British Pakistani authors, but the prime reason is perhaps the fact of how the publishing industry is perceived. That’s not to say that there aren’t many other marginalised groups such as British Bangladeshi, British Indian and British Chinese…to name just a few, there’s a whole long list, but because of my own experiences I’ve decided to focus on British Pakistani.
Unfortunately, most will not even consider to think that it is an actual possibility to get published (not that that isn’t difficult, but then which career isn’t?), it doesn’t help that our outdated education system that’s sole purpose is to manufacture qualifications and not fully rounded thoughtful independent human beings.
These same institutions will have buckets to tell you about the STEM fields, but creative writing? Oh, that sounds like a lovely hobby, they’ll say. This mindset isn’t just unhelpful in encouraging British Pakistani writers, not only are these potential authors discouraged by family because British Pakistani culture dictates there’s nothing better than becoming a doctor – not to say that many do genuinely love the idea or to say that many go onto do different careers. Also if they do study English they assume they can only become a teacher. But let’s be honest the stereotype isn’t based in a lie, how many British Pakistani go into medical/ science/ maths fields because they, neither their parents can imagine going down the route of getting published with such high associations with financial instability (of course we’re all aware class systems play into this too, if your parents were immigrants who moved country with high prospects for their child’s career, the worry would be tenfold.)
The mindset isn’t just unhelpful but disrespectful to those actually in it – what are you trying to say about those who make their livelihood on writing, is there work somehow less? Absolutely not and if you’re a writer reading; you work hard so be proud, don’t let anybody say otherwise. But as an aspiring British Pakistani author myself, harsh criticism comes from all side, because tell me where are all the British Pakistani authors? If we aren’t published regularly, how can you be so sure it’ll happen? You can’t be 100% sure, and because of this it seems almost impossible for us, family worries about your future as they should. Sometimes their worry can transcend their trust in you, and I learnt this the hard way. But we not only need support from friends and family, but belief in ourselves too.
Then there’s the whole being Muslim British Pakistani, which I have no doubt many have assumed that’s the rep in YA I’m talking about, and it’s your assumptions that don’t give space to entire experiences because Atheist/ Agnostic/ Christian/ Jewish British Pakistani exist to name but a few (because let’s be real there’s way more than that). It’s time you stop asking for overarching labels and start opening to all experiences and existences, because they are here and the more they’re ignored, the worse it gets.
That’s not to say it isn’t improving, New York Times Bestselling fantasy author Sabaa Tahir is literally my role model, who is proof that marginalised authors can and will succeed. Not to mention London Shah’s The Light At The Bottom Of The World that comes out next year (super excited would be the understatement about how I feel about this book getting published!). But that still isn’t enough, diversity and representation (especially own voices) aren’t some trend, it’s an issue in the publishing industry that must be addressed.
The point I hope for you take from this article is to always encourage the writers around you, you may not understand their experiences, but can you imagine the feelings in a reader that not only felt seen, but accepted, valid and strong.
Book blogger @ Atomic Asian Reads
Sara Jabeen is a British Pakistani blogger, bookstagrammer, and aspiring author. She loves supporting diversity and own voices representation in literature. Morally grey characters are her aesthetic and you can expect them in anything she’ll one day publish.
Diverse Book Bloggers Discuss is a way to boost diverse bloggers who are brilliant and have a lot to say but have smaller platforms and don’t really get as much reach as they deserve. What this is, is basically a guest post feature where twice a month diverse book bloggers will discuss things they are passionate about on my blog.