When you grow up in diversity, it’s much harder to identify it. Where I grew up, we distinguished people by color and race because we were all different colors and races. Someone would say, “Did you hear that chubby kid threw up at P.E. today.” You’d say, which one. They would say, “The latin kid that’s always eating pretzels.” You’re like, oh yeah that guy. There was nothing racist about the exchange. Just information passing from one person to the next.
We just said things like: the big ass black dude. The gay Asian kid. I’m from California so anyone who spoke Spanish was the Latin dude or that Mexican chick with the cute hair. The nice Samoan guy and the scary Samoan girls, the crazy Russian chick, and a bunch of random Filipinos.
Then you had the white guy – not be confused with those loud Irish bastards, the cool Scottish dude, or that one guy from England.
The white guy, is really just a white guy. He has no racial identity. His last name is Miller or maybe his first name is Miller. He drinks Heineken or an IPA nobody’s ever heard of. In literature guys like Miller are described as sandy blonde with hazel eyes, or jet black hair and with an icy blue gleam in his eye. They are rich and always have great abs. I am guilty of this, very much so in my first book. I’m getting better. I’m all for diversity in books and life in general. I’m just not sure what diversity looks like. Does it mean more people of color, more talking animals, more rainbows? What makes a story diverse? A gay BFF, a Chinese grandmother. Do the words inside the book even matter? Or is it all about the cover? What sort of person does it display? White, Black, Chinese? Will that tell me all I need to know about the book? More importantly, will the person displayed on the front determine whether I will identify with the story?
In my writing, I try to add as much color as possible. I do this by not adding color at all. I want the reader, whatever race they may be, to see my characters through their mind’s eye. I came to this conclusion when I was casting my first book (Thizz, A Love Story) for a blog interview. I started scrolling through actors and models and realized that I was casting everyone as white. You can insert whatever politically correct word you think should replace white, but really, it’s just white. Like black is just black. Unless you’re Haitian or Dominican or some other non-English speaking race with a tan complexion. A white person in general is someone that is from a country with white, English speaking people. Any of the “ish” countries. Scottish, Irish, British. (Australians are exempt from this rule, just because Australians are bad ass.)
Let’s not forget the ‘whites’ that are still clinging to their old world roots. The Spanish, Italians, even some Mexicans, that are so far removed from their Spanish-rooted last name, that they check the “White – Not Hispanic” box on credit applications. They drink Pacifico on Cinco de Mayo and still think they’re celebrating Mexican Independence Day.
I’m deviating from the point of this blog. What is the point? Oh yes!
I purposely leave some traits to the reader’s imagination. In Thizz, I left one character very ambiguous. If you’ve read the book you might have caught this. It was Arnie. I mention him being good looking and athletic, but I never reference anything about his looks. I wanted the reader to make that determination based on his behavior, the way he spoke, and interacted with other characters in the book. To some, Arnie is a loud mouth Greek guy who thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Others might think he’s a hot Latin male model type. While most will see him as a cocky, basketball playing black dude. Whichever way you cast Arnie in your head, I hope his personality is what you take away from the story. What he looks like has nothing to do with the person he is. Nobody’s looks should.
Side note: I wrote the antagonist in Thizz as a blonde girl named Heather. I had a beta reader tell me I was stereotyping. She said it was too cliché to have a white girl named Heather. The beta reader was white, and I thought, you would have no issue if I was speaking about a gardener named Jesus or a drug dealer called Tyrone. But whatever. So I made her a red head that dyed her hair blonde, it made her a bit more diverse. In hair color, anyway.
Diversity in books is something I’ve seen thrown around a lot lately. People are demanding more Latin, African-American, Asian, LGBT protagonists in books. I don’t think the stories are the issue, it’s the book covers. How many countries has Twilight been translated into? Or Divergent? Those books didn’t have people on their covers. When you see a pretty blonde couple on the front of a book, it is presumed to be a book about a white people. I read a book recently about car thieves, the front had a picture of a pretty brunette in aviator sunglasses. That story could’ve been about a Puerto Rican girl or someone from Siberia. The story stood on its own. The only reason I pictured the girl white was because of the cover.
By not painting a picture of what my characters look like, I think I’ve made my stories more diverse than ones considered diverse because they show a black couple of the front. Will some readers shy away from a book with a gay couple on the cover or a chinese one, yes. I’ve done it. I don’t like minions. I won’t read a minion book. My daughter loves Walter Dean Myers. She’s a Greek/Filipino girl from San Francisco, yet she connected to the young African American males from Harlem that Myers often wrote about. Who is to say the book is written for boys or specifically, young black males. The book is a book. Words on a page to be enjoyed by the world. The face on the cover shouldn’t matter. But it does.
I am guilty of typecasting to a specific genre. It’s because I fear rejection (which is an entirely different blog). Authors naturally want to attract the type of people that will give them a 5-Star rating. I haven’t done that, only because I can’t find the people my book was written for. I don’t know where my target audience hangs out. I would create a playroom for them online, but I’m afraid they won’t show up. See, there’s that rejection thing again. A book group for people that hate book groups. Hmmmm.
Ok, back to the topic at hand.
When you say a book is diverse because the main character is black. You’re really making the story less diverse. You’re saying this is a book about a black girl, just like another book is about a white one. When really your story is about a girl in love with the wrong boy. Bad teen choices are devoid of color. Diversity means variety. A diverse book will have characters of many colors, shapes, sizes, races, social standing, and sexual orientation. A book isn’t diverse because you put a set of nicely toned chocolate colored abs on the front.
Diversity should not be determined by a book cover.
Like Water for Chocolate is not a diverse book, it was a Mexican book translated to English. It is not diverse because the characters are Mexican. The story is diverse because it stands out from any other book I’ve ever read. Stolen, by Lucy Christopher isn’t considered diverse because the main character is British. If her skin was black or if she were of Indian decent, would that make the story diverse? To me, it is diverse because it’s written in a way I’ve never seen before.
I always judge a book by its cover. Always. It isn’t the color of the person on front that draws me in. It’s how I connect the image to the story, because at the end of the day, it’s the story that keeps my face in the book, not the image on front.
Luckily, I have one hellava cover designer. I welcome readers to judge my books by the covers. They are phenomenal. And they represent the look and feel of the words inside. Because the words are what matters.
I will continue to paint my books with emotion, not color.
I will try to write books that readers of the human race will enjoy.
Here are a few books I probably would not have read if the covers were visual representaion of the characters. These are beautiful people, I just don’t identify with them. How many others feel the same way? When you leave things to the imagination, you allow the reader to make the story their own. The people their own. You allow the reader to add their own diversity.
In no way was this blog written to be demeaning or racist. It is just the opinion of one overly opinionated person who forgets that growing up in a culturally diverse state makes her ignorant to the lifestyles of others. She believes everyone thinks like her. Cause Californians are cocky like that. It’s all the sun and fresh produce.