I`ve been following several writers and #diversityinYA tags on Twitter and Tumblr for a while now because, as it happens, I think diversity is pretty important. I enjoy not always reading about white, straight, able-bodied people. After all, books are a way of learning other people`s different stories and lives, and with only a very small amount of people in the world being white, straight, male, and able-bodied, I think it`s very unfair that these people get the majority of the attention both as characters and as writers.
So last week I decided to put the books I own myself to the test, and started compiling information into Excel.
I didn`t finish it (like I said before, I have trouble finishing projects) but it got pretty clear fast: the vast majority of books I own are written by white straight men from English-speaking countries, and they are mostly about white straight men.
For real, here are two of the statistics I did already find:
-Out of the 56 authors I own books of, 42 are men.
-Of these same 56 authors, 45 are from English-speaking countries. The other 11 are spread over Japan, France, Russia, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
On top of that, I can only find one author in my collection who I know is gay (Patrick Ness).
I didn`t get around to analysing the books themselves, but suffice to say they`re equally bad. I do know that there are only about two books in which the main character is gay (both white men – “Maurice” and “More Than This”). There are no books about disabled people, whether physical or mental (aside from a couple of minor characters).
So what`s happening here? Is it so ingrained in me to look for these books that I find it difficult to consider anything else? Am I that racist/sexist? Do I simply just prefer these books?
Probably a bit of all the above. But also very important: books by diverse authors and with diverse characters also get less publicity, less marketing, and less attention on a whole. The majority of books in bookshops are written by white men. There`s a massive lack of diversity in the industry on a whole, and it`s very internalised which just makes it all the more difficult to both realise what`s happening and try to change it.
Now you might be wondering: why do I even care? Well, for starters: as someone who has studied international communication, who has lived abroad, and who has a lot of interest in other cultures, I`d like to read about the experiences of other people. I`m very aware that the majority of the people in the world live in different cultures than mine, and I`d like to know how they see things.
But besides that: representation is important. In a country like mine (the Netherlands), where 20% of the population is in some way foreign (meaning that at least one parent was born abroad), with 10% Western and 10% non-Western foreigners, and where our capital city has the most different nationalities in the world (more than 170), more even than New York has, it is also important for these people to be able to find other characters like themselves, to see themselves represented. It is important for the LGBT community to find other characters who have experiences similar to their own, to know they`re not alone.
Representation is important in a country where 20% of the population is foreign and gay marriage has been legalised for years, yet racism, sexism and discrimination are rampant.
Besides, as a bisexual girl, I have never read about a bisexual girl, because those books are hard to find (I`ve found some on Goodreads that look interesting, but when I was in high school there was no Goodreads, or YouTube, or proper resources).
Here are some more links and articles written by people who are better with words than I am, if you`d like to learn more about diversity in books or if you want to help in some way. But remember that the best way to help is with your wallet: buy diverse books, show your interest, let the industry know what you`re willing to spend money on. Capitalism responds to needs, and we as consumers have the power to show where the need is.
–The indiegogo project for We Need Diverse Books (with goodies!)
–The website for We Need Diverse Books
–A Tumblr blog for diversity in Young Adult, with new releases and recommendations
–A Huffington post article about why we need diverse books
–Lists in Goodreads with diversity in different genres
Feel free to leave more links and resources in the comments below! Or recommend me some books – I`d love to read more fluffy YA like Fangirl except not about a straight white couple.
(Source about statistics in the Netherlands: http://www.multicultureelopleiden.nl/samenleving/diversiteit/allochtonen-en-nationaliteiten/ )