As some of you may have noticed already, I am a big fan of diversity. Should I have to emphasize the fact that I believe literature should be diverse? No. Do I still have to? Yes.
I had a lot of doubts about writing this article. Me, I’m as privileged as shit gets. I have never in my life not had food on the table or a roof over my head or no place to go. I didn’t have to fight for acceptance when it came to my sexuality, identity or religion. I enjoy free higher education and have never been scared for my life. I live in a stable democracy with universal healthcare. Also, I am paler than Dracula’s shoddy cousin Miracula. I’m on the other equation of diversity – there’s just way too much me in pop culture right now (figuratively).
When I open a book, I see loads of mayonnaise. White, whiter, whitest. Everybody is gorgeous and able-bodied1 and mentally healthy and (most of the times) straight and cis2.
When I look around outside, that’s far from an accurate representation of reality. Life is colorful and has so many dimensions, and yet, most books only care about the reality of pretty white people. Now, obviously there’s exceptions, so no need to bombard me with book suggestions – still, there is a huge perception gap between reality and the portrayal in pop culture, or, in this case, literature.
For a while now, YA has been the genre that has been pushing new limits; there’s loads of beautiful LGBQT+ stories out there (albeit a whole lot LGB than QT+), such as Caleb Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving. Once again, I shouldn’t be here praising Roehrig for writing a story with a gay protagonist, because stuff like that should be normal. Fun Fact: It isn’t.3
First and foremost, what needs to happen is increased supports for writers, makers and creatives who belong to minorities.
Where’s the love for niche literature and other view points than our ethnocentric little cosmos?
The German Book Prize’s Long List was released this week. Out of 20 nominees, 6 were female. One single Author had a migrational background, stemming from Budapest. Zero POC authors were nominated. Zero.
As of 2014, a total of 20,3% of the population had some sort of migrational background – that being, they were either foreigners or migrants in first or second generation. If you need a number for that, that’s 16,4 million people – a number so enormous the gap between reality and literature is screaming. It’s a wide, open abyss and for some reason, we’re all cool with it.
Support arts. But don’t just support arts for privileged people who had the chance to visit great schools and were raised on the language spoken in the country they live in; who had means to go to museums and travel and take trips. Support arts for everyone, and support arts especially for those who cannot support themselves.
I can see some of you screaming already “But but but there’s just not enough GOOD literature from underprivileged groups!” – Congratu-fucking-lations, you missed the point. Key phrase here is equality of opportunities; and that is something we, as privileged parts of society, need to work on. Tackle the problem by the roots and not the symptoms.
Secondly, we, as writers, need to open our eyes and be more beautiful. We need to talk to people and understand them, we need to stop saying hurtful things like “When she was still a man” to trans people and we need to not call it “suffering” from a disability. We need to integrate characters that do not fit the mayonnaise narrative and we need to stop making them look like they are something other than the default. “Oh look, here’s my group of white rich friends and they even have an Asian buddy” is not how diversity works. “My character drunkenly makes out with another girl at a party” is also not diversity. Research, and then get your facts straight.
For me, the sword of appropriation hovers over my head. I do not want to appropriate other people’s lives and cultures and struggles; but I also do not want to contribute to our personal, little mayonnaise narrative right here.
So what do we do?
I don’t know. That’s the entire point. I really don’t. Appropriation is subjectively perceived; what someone else might consider no biggie, another person is deeply hurt by.
Should privileged authors write out of their privilege? Personally, I believe – and I am aware loads of people might (validly) disagree) – yes. Yes, we should, but we should only do so under the condition of extensive research, factual correctness and intense conversation. Sometimes, we do not get to make realities, we merely get to be megaphone for other people.
At times, that might mean to put our opinions and realities behind and to discover new worlds. But: Those realities are just as valid and important as ours, and, just because we are the majority, we cannot forget them.
1 not disabled
2 identifying with their assigned gender
3 then again, “normal” is a horrible word anyways.