Note: I do not mean to offend anyone with this post. So if you find anything offensive, I’m really sorry.
Diversity is something that YA severely lacks. And how it is often implied in books doesn’t help. At. All. Take for example, the controversy over Rue’s race when The Hunger Games movie announced its casting decisions. Why was the fact Rue was African-American so shocking to so many people. Maybe one reason is because she wasn’t explicitly stated as being of African descent. Sure it was implied… it’s mentioned that she has “satiny brown skin” and “thick dark hair”, but wasn’t outright stated until Suzanne Collins confirmed in a interview that Rue and Thresh were supposed to be African-American. To me, those descriptions hint that they are African-American. But that’s just me, and I grew up and live in a very diverse town. I’ve learned to associate those descriptions with people of African descent. Some people may not have that experience with “minorities” and only have “mainstream” media.
But in all honesty, the implied description wasn’t the only problem. Sure it’s short and Rue’s race is barely mentioned which can cause people who are scanning (or rushing through) the book to miss it. It’s really an honest mistake. But that’s not the point. The point, and the sad reality, is that if Rue didn’t have such an important role in the books, her race wouldn’t have mattered as much. I feel stupid for typing this, but sadly, it’s more or less true. Because of her actions, how she’s viewed as a brave heroine, she’s automatically assumed to be of European descent. And that’s the sad truth in many novels nowadays. Every character is White unless otherwise stated.
But why is it this way? Why can’t characters be assumed to be of a “minority” race like Asian, Hispanic, or African, for example. Why White? Because in the world we live in, and in the “mainstream” media, almost all the main characters are White and the “minorities” are just the help. I get it. I really do. In America, majority of the people are all of European descent and it’s better for marketing and all that. Don’t want to alienate your audience, be bad for business. But would it kill the industry to put a character that’s not white in the spotlight once in awhile?
And then there are the stereotypes. When The Maze Runner (the movie) first came out, I made the mistake of checking reviews… of movie critics. One of them, much to my surprise (and later annoyance), criticized Ki Hong Lee’s portrayal of Minho because “it wasn’t Asian enough.” Ummm, excuse me? He went on and explained how he pictured Minho with an Asian accent. He did have a point – apparently Minho has one in the audiobook and theoretically all the Gladers came from different places. Newt has an accent, why not Minho? But the point is, the book never mentioned Minho with an accent. The reviewer (and supposedly the person in charge of creating the audiobook) automatically assumed he had one. Just like how a lot of people assumed Rue was White because of her actions, some people assumed Minho had an accent because of stereotypes.
Okay, so I admit, this one hits close to home because I am of Asian descent. And because of that I’m suppose to know Kung Fu (or some sort of Karate) and have an exaggerated accent when speaking English. But Asians aren’t the only ones that are stereotyped. Every race has stereotypes attached. What made me really annoyed with that reviewer is that Minho’s lack of an accent is one of the things I really liked about The Maze Runner. It defies a lot of stereotypes. He’s not just the smart quiet Asian nerd, but a Runner, a leader, someone of importance.
What I’m trying to say, is that YA books don’t have enough characters of different races. Characters that need to be explicitly stated of another race. Characters that need to defy stereotypes. Stating that a character has “caramel colored skin” is nice and all but doesn’t accurately reflect reality. No one describes people like that in common life. Sure it sounds prettier than saying “she’s African-American” but who cares about poetry? Get to the point. A character is either one race or another (or biracial). Just say it, no need for the dainty language. Characters that need to shine in their own light. In real life, not all the Asians are quiet nerds. Not all of them know Kung Fu or speak with an accent. Just like not all blondes are dumb. And not all Southerns (in the US) are red necks and racist. And how Hispanics are criminals. And how they are supposedly good at landscaping. And how all African-Americans are athletic and gangsters. Stereotypes are not always true in real life. They shouldn’t be true in books either. Also, in real life “minorities” don’t just play the supporting role. Take US President Obama for example. He’s of African descent and he runs the show. Why can’t that happen in books? Why can’t someone of a different race be the main character?
What do you think?
Do you think YA needs more diversity?