This one is a personal, short discussion post I’ve meant to write for ages, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to perfect it. I’m still not sure I’ll able to pen this down well, but I still want to go ahead and put this up ♥
So, I don’t know how many of you know this, but I’m Indian! I’ve been a reader since I was almost 8 years old and have been reading avidly for the last 11 years. Diversity in books, as a concept, was introduced to me only recently. It was only a few years ago when I even realized that the characters I read in books were a) not like me and b) there is something most certainly wrong with it.
As a young reader, I simply gobbled up the books I could chance my hands on. I picked up books written by Americans and about Americans. I was very young when I moved on to books like Twilight, Divergent, and The Hunger Games. These books portray main characters with extremely common characteristics (as in, their skin color, sexuality, etc.) and yes, some side characters are diverse but the main characters, doing all the action and saving the world and getting to shine – there’s hardly anything diverse about them.
Back then, I took that as normal. I did not find such characterization and portrayal as wrong – I just took it as the norm and accepted that maybe I’d never read about anyone like me unless the book was written by an Indian author. I accepted it very easily, I took it as the norm, and no one pushed me to think about what was wrong with that sort of thinking.
I grew up, I read more books and expanded my genre game. I opened a book blog and started looking at and viewing the dialogue and discussion in the online bookish community. 3-4 years ago, that was when the change started.
When the movement (yes, I call it a movement) to read and publish diverse books started, the word ‘diverse’ was so new, used in this context. I was still too young to understand the full implications of why and what diversity would bring to the book industry, but it still made me happy. Starting to read diverse books made me excited because it opened me up to new things. I was just like…
Reading about new types of people, new types of experience was SO EXCITING. It made me immensely happy and diversity actually taught me so many things. It introduced me to all these new cultures and races and experiences I didn’t know existed and the best part is, the learning never ends.
But still, I could never see anyone like me in the immense number of YA and adult books published in America and UK. I wanted to read about more countries and people from these countries, and I did get glimpses of them, but I still felt that something was lacking when it came to my own representation.
Slowly though, I started seeing more people like myself in the books that I read. People I read about in books seemed to look and act and seem more like me, and that made me glad. Yes, it has often been marred with stereotypes or misconceptions but nevertheless, I got the idea that people like me could be main characters too!
Diversity in books, for me, has been an emotional, up-and-down battle. There have been days when I’ve felt like banging my head against the wall because of how wrong and deceptive my representation is in some books. When I’ve felt despair about the book portraying something in not the most accurate way, I’ve felt helpless. But there have been good days.
There have been times when I’ve sighed in appreciation, at how an author perfectly touches the emotions of a particular character, or perfectly encaptures the behaviour or a diverse character. I feel so happy when I see myself, any little tiny part of myself, in a character or a situation.
A book doesn’t even have to have characters exactly like me (i.e., Indian) for me to see myself represented in the book – a simple situation or experience that I recognize with makes me happy enough. For example, where I come from, gender roles take up an important role in society and cooking is considered a very, very important part of things women should be able to do. I’ve always hated this concept; I can hardly cook and I’ve been ridiculed about this for pretty much all my life – so whenever I see a character like me, who can’t really cook but is made to stick to such societal norms, I instantly connect.
We, as the bookish community, aren’t perfect. We’ve long way to go to make books completely diverse, to come to a point where diversity doesn’t have to be appreciated, where diversity is the norm but so far, we’ve been doing great. We’ve done well in producing some rich, diverse experiences on paper and making people feel at home in the books they read. For me, I’m glad that this has come to be ♥