Who Should Represent Minorities in Literature? [A Discussion]
Today’s discussion post is going to be something I have had praying on my mind for quite a while now. And that is simply representation in YA literature, especially that of marginalised people, or minority groups. I’m going to touch on a lot of things here and don’t mean to offend anyone, or call out anyone specific. But I’ve been seeing a lot of drama going on across the bookish Instagram and Twitter realm and wanted to add in my own little opinion. Meek as it may be.
Lately, readers have been demanding more representation of minorities in novels. I think that is GREAT. We are getting more romantic preferences, gender, race, religious, and feminist representation, to only name a few. There seem to be more authors on the rise who identify as a minority themselves and their works are finally hitting the light. Diversity is trending, or at least starting to trend in YA literature. We’ve come quite a long way, but we have longer to go. But as it goes from the progress we’ve made thus far? It’s definitely a reason to celebrate!
But… hang on.
Sometimes, non-minority authors decide to be brave. They see we’re asking for more diversity, and that we want to see them in lead roles. So they have a genius idea. Although they may be European, they’ve decided to have an Asian main character. (Okay, this is an example, so bear with me.) They do their research. They talk to people who are within the culture and know more than they do. They understand they are out of their element, but they are trying… because we’re asking for it.
A lot of the time these authors end up getting called out for doing this. Mostly because they are writing about something they cannot entirely relate to or completely understand. And I do believe that is tricky. Maybe it’s better their Asian character is a side character instead of the main one because it’s hard to write about things you haven’t experienced before. These characters have to be written with sensitivity. One of the novels I’ve written in my past is about a Caucasian, rich American girl who gets kidnapped in China and forced into factory work. I am not Caucasian, or rich, or American, and never have been kidnapped – let alone done any factory work. But I do my research, very carefully, and I interview people who may have experienced or identify as any of the above.
I’m not excusing all authors. Some authors don’t do as good research as they should do, or make a grave mistake in representing a culture they are attempting to take on and perhaps even offend people in the process. There are some who believe you should only write what you know. But if you keep focusing on what you know, you never get the chance to learn anything new.
By calling out authors who are not a minority and are attempting to write minority characters – whether that is a central character or a side one – I think we, as readers, need to cut them some slack. If we keep on badgering and pestering them for every mistake, they may get scared away from writing minority characters. And wasn’t the aim in the first place to see them represented in literature? Yes, good representation is what we are aiming for, but maybe it will take some work to get there.
Some authors will only be including minorities because it’s a trend. Some will be including them because they believe they need representation. Sometimes they will be side characters, sometimes main characters. Sometimes they will be written by someone who identifies with that minority group, which is brilliant. They are authors that need more limelight. Sometimes it will be by non-minority authors – that is also good; it means they understand why we need representation and want to support us by including it themselves.
My main point in all of this, is that we need to be helping each other rather than fighting against each other. Especially if the result of the cause is something which means more equality and living in harmony despite differences across cultures and history. A goal like this might seem idealistic, but I’m the kind of person who believes it is a possibility in our future if we try to achieve it.
There needs to be less us against them, and more us and them.
Olivia’s Question: Do you think marginalised and minority characters should only be written by those who identify as marginalised/a minority? Why/why not?