Hello guys !
A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about how drastically my reading habits have changed over this last year and it hit me that around this time last year is when I decided I had to make a conscious effort to read more diverse books, and I wrote a post about My Diverse Reading – Or Lack There Of (please don’t read it, it’s awful haha) and I was impressed with myself and really proud of the changes I have made to my reading and how that changed me as a person and made me see things about myself I was subconsciously ignoring.
I actually wrote that post exactly a year ago -and I swear it is purely coincidental that I’m writing this now- and had even set a little TBR for myself to start off of. I only read 3/10 from that TBR –More Happy than Not, When Michael Met Mina and Written in the Stars– all of which I adored (all 5 stars I believe). I know that might seem like a small number but since then the number of diverse books I read in a month has been increasing until I started reading them exclusively in January 2017. Now every book I read has some kind of marginalisation in it and I find that my enjoyment of the books I read has increased a lot.
In the last year, I went from being intimidated by these books (because I knew I wasn’t doing right by them) to reading them, to screaming at the top of my lungs about them and it’s been quite the journey. One I loved being on even if some of it was hard, which I didn’t expect. Anyway, enough ramblings ! All of this to say that that’s what inspired this post, my journey from reading no diverse books at all a year ago, to reading them exclusively right now. This will be a basics as well as appreciation post for Diverse Books because they are important to me and to thousands of other people.
I remember I had included some kind of definition in that post from a year ago but you know, I was a noob and even though it was pretty good, it was lacking in some ways. So here’s the updated and somehow more condensed version:
Diverse books are books of which the MAIN CHARACTER (yes not side characters, spare me with that nonesense) is part of one marginalized group or more. May it be race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, physical disability, learning disability, mental illness… If the main character is part of a minority group then the book is diverse.
The definition is a bit more complicated than this when you start taking into account the author’s marginalizations (or lack thereof) but for the sake of simplicity, this is it.
That’s how the world is
The world is such a rich place, in cultures, in religions, in genders and sexualities, in experiences that are specific to those marginalizations. And we cannot forget about intersectionalities, I’m one example of them. I am part of more than one group and those shape my life significantly and make my experiences different from those of people who are part of other groups, only share one group with me, or are part of no group at all.
Once you actually broaden your vision of the world and try to look at things beyond what’s seen as the norm, you see that there’s a lot more to the world than the able-bodied allocishet white person with no mental illnesses, the rest of us exist too, a non negligible number of us, and we deserve to be seen as well. The sad thing is, I never knew I had a choice in reading beyond that until I was shown otherwise and even that I had a lot of internalized bigotry to work through and deconstruct to actually be able to see that it is okay to feel represented by a book, that it is more than okay, it is great and I as well as many others need more of it.
Just to give you an example of how that impacted me growing up, I was a Young brown Muslim kid who wrote exclusively in the “norm” because she didn’t think she had a right to write outside of that, a right to see herself in books, a right to be happy about that. It is actually sad that I only realized all of that at 19 years old, but it’s better late than never.
Erasure is real
If we are to compare the numbers of books written by/about white people to the ones written by/about people of color (ALL POCS combined) the number for the latter is ridiculously small. Same goes for allosexual/alloromantic vs. asexual/aromantic, straight vs non-straight (gay, bi, pan…), cisgender vs. transgender, able bodied vs. disabled, and the list goes on. Every minority is crushed under the weight of what’s seen as normal and that goes beyond books as well. People from all minorities are erased, overlooked, oppressed and pressured to assimilate, and what happens when you think you’re alone in this situation (re: when you lack representation) ?
- You think there’s something wrong with you and keep trying to fix it (which was the case for me).
- You never stand up for yourself because you don’t think you have a right to/ because you’re abnormal. (Guess what? me.)
- You fold in on yourself and try to hide all parts of you that are different from what makes other people comfortable, and pretend those parts of you don’t exist (also me)
This is what I meant by internalized bigotry, when you keep being erased and told that there’s something wrong with you, you end up believing it, and unbelieving it is hard. Incredibly hard. And THIS is why we need more diversity, we need to not have to justify our existences, we need them to be normalized, and books play a big role in doing that.
Diverse stories/authors are as good as the rest
Better in my opinion. Hear me out. There’s just so much you can do with a trope when the main characters are pretty much the same, as I said, marginalizations and intersections play a big role in shaping one’s world so that would make any given book trope different. ANY one of them. I double dare you to prove me wrong *grins*. They just offer new perspectives, perspectives that can be unknown to a lot if not brought to light by media, and in our case, books.
There’s also the issue of creating spaces for marginalized authors because we cannot deny that publishining is dominated by non-marginalized writers and no this is not a case of “taking away from them” just making MORE space, so that marginalized authors can get their stories out there. The more stories are put out there, the more they are read and the more spaces are created because publishers realize that there IS a market for our stories (yes, hi, hello, we’re here!).
I also want to put out there that they do not have to write ownvoices stories for their stories to matter, and even their ownvoices stories can’t cater to everyone. I think that as long as they proceed with care and with extensive research (yes, even when the story is ownvoices). And that for various reasons among which is the fact that some people aren’t ready to share about themselves as well as when the author isn’t out/ doesn’t want to be outed when it comes to gender and/or sexuality so they don’t feel comfortable labelling their work as ownvoices and that’s fine too. As I said, as long as it is done with care and doesn’t butcher any marginalization, there’s not problem to it.
We deserve representation
Do you know how many books I read that represent all of me, not parts of me, not me having to pick and choose which part I want to see but ALL of me, all my intersections? NONE. Zero. Not one book. Hopefully, one is coming my way soon but even one is not enough. ONE. OOOONE. I shouldn’t have to choose what part of me I want to read about because when I do that, the representation isn’t as close to me as it could be. As an example, a queer muslim’s experiences will not be the same as an allocishet muslim’s or as a queer non-muslim’s, they’re entertwined. So what we need more of are:
- Characters of all skin colors
- Native characters, indigenous characters, latinx, asians (East, South East, West…), africans, middle easterns… as well as multiracial characters.
- Trans characters, bi characters, pan characters, aro/ace characters, non-binary characters, etc…
- Muslim characters, jewish characters, hindu characters, etc…
- Characters with mental and physical disabilities
- Fat characters
But most of all, intersectionality. Characters with multiple marginalizations are close to my heart because more often than not, that’s how we are, multiple pieces of our identities come together to make us who we are.
So pals, this is why diversity is important. This is why I’ll forever be grateful to this community for helping me discover I would’ve never picked up otherwise, books that today, mean the world to me.
That’s it until next time.
Share your story, why do diverse books matter to YOU? What books you feel represent you?
What are your favorite diverse books?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.