Bookish posts · opinion

Discussion: When Diverse Characters Are Only Defined by Their Diversity

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Diverse books are important. Reading diverse is important. Representing all human beings is important.

And I feel many books are getting better at being diverse, especially in the YA genre. Finally, because I can’t really phantom why a lot of books struggle to represent minorities. When I go about my day, I see and speak so many different kinds of people, but lot of books still don’t reflect that. And they should! Let’s talk about all the different human beings. Make your books relatable and don’t be scared to talk about taboo-topics. (Because, you know, that’s how they become less taboo). 

And like I said, while we are definitely not where we’re supposed to be yet, diversity is becoming a bit more prominent. Progress! But there is something that bothers me about a lot of diverse books being published right now.

A lot of diverse characters are defined by their diversity. 

And I also want to read books where diversity is a part of the character, but it’s not the entire character. I want books like: ”Oh yes, this is my best friend Tim, he is bipolar. But hey we are going to save the world now.”

I feel like most books that represent diversity are all about the diverse aspect: “And this is a story about a blind girl and how goes about her life” etc.

And it’s not that I don’t want to read books where diversity is the main aspect in the story. I do want to read about that, but I also want to read books where the diverse aspects are there, but it is not the main point of the book. Because while diverse aspects are an important part of – in my opinion – any book, it shouldn’t be the driving force of every book. Characters are more than just their diverse aspect. Real, relatable human beings are certainly diverse, but aren’t just defined by their diversity, all the time.

It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting similarity and uniformity for the sake of realism and representation.

I want to pick up thrillers and mystery’s and fantasy’s and science fiction books with diverse characters. And right now, I feel like most diverse books are contemporary’s where the diverse aspect is the main point of the story. And I want to read both!

Bottom line: I want both kinds. I want books where diverse/minority characters feature the book, and I want adventures and fantasy with those characters but with their issues as part of the story, not the entire story.

I’m curious: how do you feel about diversity in books? What do you feel is important in the conversation about diverse books? And if you have any recommendations for GOOD diverse books, please let me know!
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21 thoughts on “Discussion: When Diverse Characters Are Only Defined by Their Diversity

  1. This is amazing. And actually something I think about a lot across many platforms. Whether it’s a book, movie or TV show. I absolutely hate it when the person, whether it’s a woman in male environment, a poc etc is purely defined by that and not given any kind of storyline or arc. It’s so infuriating x

    Sophie
    http://www.glowsteady.co.uk

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    1. Really good point that this is something to think about across different platforms, not just books! I agree it’s infuriating!

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  2. What an interesting post – I can definitely see what you mean. It would be great if it wasn’t the main focus majority of the time but maybe this is something that will grow more now and will see it change in the future. Will just have to read more books in the future to find out 🙂

    Amy,
    https://creativenails.uk

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  3. I do feel like there is not enough diversity in books and that yes, indeed when there are diverse characters, their only identity goes through their diversity. However, I do think that it is harder that it seems as when you write as an author, you take inspo rom your close surroundings and if you are not in a very diverse environment, then it is hard for you to include it in your writings. which is why you need to go see the world 😉 xx corinne

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    1. Thank you! I’m trying to make an effort to read more diverse this year, both in authors, characters as well as settings. You can find lists online with books set in almost every country in the world as well as ‘diverse’ lists, I’d recommend looking into those. 🙂

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  4. I couldn’t agree more! I really struggled with this side of diversity when I read The Upside of Unrequited. I felt like the characters that were “diverse” (not white or heterosexual) were simply there for the author to say “Hey, look at me! I write diverse characters.” They were not well-developed at all and it was more harmful (in my oppinion) than useful. I found that the author was saying without meaning to that your diversity defines you and there is no escaping it. They will never be doctors, artists, lawyers, writers; instead they will only be bi, black, Native American, Asian, and so on.
    Absolutely loved this post, great work! 😊

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    1. I haven’t read The Upside of Unrequited for exactly this reason – I’ve heard other people say the exact same thing as you. Thank you so much for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Finally, someone speaking my language. But I’ve learned that if we want more diversity, we can’t just demand it. We have to use our powers as consumers and support the authors that are writing these types of books. The world of entertainment is mostly run by money, so let’s show that there’s a huge profit in marketing the diverse books.

    I also have a major problem with books about or written by, say, black authors only being in the “African-American” section. That’s another issue onto itself.

    I highly recommend “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng. It’s about an Asian-American family in the aftermath of one of the daughters’ possible suicide. Spoilers: it’s ambiguous whether she actually committed suicide or if it was truly an accident. While their race is important to the story, there are so many major themes that most people of any race can relate to.

    And “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. It’s about an African king’s inability to adapt to the changes set in motion by the British missionaries. Again, his race is relevant but not too important to understanding the themes of the story. And that’s also the title of the book I couldn’t remember in one of my comments on an earlier post of yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make some really good points. I agree that we have to vote with our wallets, and support those who write the type of content we WANT to see more of.

      I also agree with your sentiment on categorizing literature. When white, cis, or male is the standard, we tend to categorize everything that doesn’t fall into that definition, which then become the label by which work is judged by before it’s even read.. And that can hurt the chances of a book, sadly.

      Thank you for your recommendations, I’m checking them out on Goodreads as we speak. 🙂

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      1. Goodreads is a website where you can catalogue everything you’ve read and everything you want to read. You have profile where you can add friends, and you can review books as well! Based on your reviews the website recommends you other books to read. I really like it!

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      2. Well I’m not too invested in reading right , but when I get back into it I’ll be sure to give Good Reads a try!

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    2. I often find people’s view of this on facebook writing groups that whenever someone mentions that they need help portraying PoC in their book most sadly(white) commenters always say something along the lines of write whatever, people get offended by everything.

      I understand that everyone is different, but their meaning gives complete lack of regard. Some people say I’m not sure if I should but any diverse characters in their book just so it’s diverse. It’s the world they created and it just so happens it has to be completly white and other races appearing is odd.

      My point is writers themselves are struggling with putting diversity in their story and not just in race but in mental health, LGBTQ+ characters, and disabilities. Making sure these people are people first then the rest. Though there is hope! If check social media sites like Twitter you’ll find We Need Diverse Books, there are many PoC authors partnering up with them and they help promote books with POC characters.

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      1. In my opinion, we shouldn’t have to have a reason to include people of color or with disabilities or LGBT, etc. in media. It should just be inherent for writers that want to include more diversity. For example, I recently made an animation for my YouTube channel, and I included more characters in color than white characters. There wasn’t a particular reason im the script for it, I did it because I want to see more PoC in the genre.

        Writers don’t “have to” include diversity of any kind, but if they want to, they should, and we should vote with our dollar and support the people who include diversity in their stories if we want to see more in the writing medium.

        I think it’s great that writers are partnering with people to (as much as possible) accurately represent diverse characters. Like you said, it’s a great step in the right direction!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Brilliantly worded. I couldn’t agree more. Although I LOVE books where diversity is the main focus of the book, I would love it even more if it was there but wasn’t made to be the main focus.

    Liked by 1 person

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