Why Diversity and Representation in Literature Matters

By August 27, 2016Authors, Culture, News, Reading Habits

Over the last couple of years, a lot of attention has been brought to the lack of diversity in literature, and how people of colour are poorly represented in the literary world. Almost the entire school reading list is made up of ‘middle aged white guys’, and white privilege still reigns supreme, from schools to literary awards and bestsellers.

With that in mind, we threw the question out to you, almost a million of you in fact, asking you who your favourite author of colour is. Now to clarify the term, a person of colour is someone who is not white. We realise this is a huge, diverse group in itself, but it encompasses everyone who is lacking in literature and the aim is to create a diverse reading list.

Firstly I have to say how bitterly disappointed I am with some of the responses, while we’re happy to explain ‘acceptable terms’ to people, the whole ‘white authors matter’ got old pretty quickly. Person of colour is the acceptable term, which is why we choose it and no offence was meant by that term. As for some of the replies, no we’re not suggesting you check the colour of every author you read, we’re not even suggesting you try any of these new authors if you don’t want to. We’re not being politically correct (in the UK we just call that not being an arsehole), and we’re not being racist or bringing attention to colour in a negative way. And for those who said we should now have a favourite white author poll for equality, when we have favourite author polls, nearly every author is white (despite having fans from around the world) rendering your request unneccessary.

Most of the responses from people who stated ‘I don’t check what colour my authors are’ were from white people, and as a white person myself I can’t even imagine what it would be like to get to middle age and never have seen a positive representation of myself in literature, because that is the story I hear from a very many of my friends who are people of colour. Imagine only ever seeing yourself reflected back as a terrorist, a thief or a drug dealer during the whole of your formative years.

So many of us love to disappear into the magical worlds between the pages but we do so because those worlds reflect our heroes, our own viewpoints and they validate who we are and form our characters. Just as a point of note, those who have read Harry Potter are less likely to vote Donald Trump (yes, someone did a study), so literature does matter. The stories we read shape us, they shape who we are and what we become.

In truth, every character, protagonist, antagonist and side character in literature is white, unless they are specified not to be, you only need to look at the casting of Hermione Granger/Weasley in the Cursed Child to see this. Never in the books is it specified that she is white, in fact with her ‘bushy hair’ and her ‘prominent teeth’, I always imagined her as possibly bi-racial, honey coloured with a splattering of freckles… clearly many readers disagree.

And that’s why representation in literature matters.

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