The poppets and bubs were casually chatting online, when suddenly, aliens attacked! Well, not really, but it was close! A book just landed in our faces, and we started talking about one of the factors that could make or break a book for some readers : race.
While we are all for diversity in books, we have to admit that we still have our own biases, don’t you agree?
Is the race of the main character important when reading a book?
Dre : I do believe in diversity in books, but I would have to admit that it was hard for me to get into a story before, when the main character isn’t white. It has changed tremendously for me, though, after getting exposed to a lot of books, especially within the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genres.
Daniel : I agree that diversity is a critical part of literature; I have always lauded authors who manage to include people of different ethnicities, cultures, and sexualities and seamlessly incorporate them into the story. Strangely enough, I too have had problems getting into a story where the main character isn’t white. I often wonder why that is.
Dre : Do you think that it has to do with your own ethnicity? Personally, I do like books that have Asians in them. It’s the feeling of being proud that Asians are being featured in a story. Could it have an opposite effect on you, Daniel?
Daniel : It’s incredibly ironic, but I actually find that sometimes, I have trouble connecting to and rooting for Asian characters in fiction. I’ve been struggling for a while to really understand why that may be; I am Asian myself, so shouldn’t I have an easier go of it trying to relate to Asian characters? Why don’t Asian characters speak to me as much as they do to you?
Dre : I’m just going to guess. Maybe it’s an age thing? As we mature, we get a better understanding of what works and what don’t for us.
Daniel : It could be an age thing. I still don’t know why “immaturity”, for lack of a better word, would prevent me from being able to embrace my culture in YA fiction. I’ll keep thinking about this; Kelly and Kynndra, what are your thoughts on the importance of race of the main character when reading a book?
Kelly : To be honest, I’m sick of seeing the typical caucasian blonde girl in young adult. It’s not the colour of her skin, it’s the persona behind her character. Blonde apparantly equalling fun, naive and typically not all too bright. But then you have authors who squeeze in the token Black, Asian or hispanic character just to create the appearance of diversity. I think it comes down to authors producing what the general audience is looking for, does that mean we’re all secretly wanting to read about vain, wealthy white girls with perfect hair and blinding smiles?
Kynndra : Well, I suppose I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like my characters appealing. Does skin color factor into that? No not in particular. As long as it’s not a main point about a character I don’t really care. If they have a good, genuine persona I’ll love them either way. Plus, I’m awful at visualization so I don’t pay much attention to those things. I just focus on who and what the character does.
Daniel : Kelly, you’ve got a point. I think you are onto something when you say that perhaps authors are just giving us what we secretly want. As much as we refuse to admit it, maybe we really are looking for physically appealing white characters, and we’re just hiding that for fear of being reprimanded. You know, I’ll open up a bit. I love being Asian- I am proud of where I come from and I try to embrace my culture whenever I can. But secretly I’ve had moments where I’ve wanted to be a good looking white kid. You know, blond wind-swept hair, crystal blue eyes, slightly sunkissed skin, all that good stuff. I occasionally feel like my life would be easier that way. Maybe that’s coming out here. Maybe it’s easier for me to like characters that have the looks that I’ve sometimes dreamed of. I’ve always admired characters that have unwavering loyalty, selfnessness, and courage- three traits I wish I had. Perhaps I also like characters who have looks that I often wish I had.
Kelly : I think all types of media have a hand in that too Daniel. Whether it be books or movies, they all depict the same type of attractive caucasians. Even if you’re secure in your own ethnicity, we secretly measure own own success whether romantically, financially or personally against that. It’s a grass is greener on the other side type scenario.
Dre : Like how Hollywood steps away from what was originally in the book and changes the race of a character to appeal more to its audience.
Kelly : Then you have the flipside of that too, like with the remake of Annie recently that substituted the original white characters. I haven’t seen the remake, but for me diversity isn’t swapping the colour of the characters in an old classic, but creating their own storylines that is more reflective of our own diverse communities.
Daniel : Kelly, when I was in elementary school, the production we did of Annie actually starred a black girl. So all along I was under the impression that Annie was always supposed to have dark skin. I was wrong. LOL But yeah, media for sure has something to do with it. Hollywood almost tries to reinforce the point that we like attractive white characters, and I think, combining that with my childhood wishes about being white, it’s working. Sometimes I just can’t get into a story where the main character isn’t white. It’s a shame, but it is what it is.
Kelly : I’m actually reading Diverse books for a challenge at the moment, and we really shouldn’t need to seek out these titles. I hope one day characters that represent all walks of life will be the new norm, rather than us needing to label those reads as ‘diverse’ in the first place.
Daniel : Very true, Kelly. When I read Gone by Michael Grant I was amazed at the diversity of the cast. Well, it shouldn’t occur so infrequently that I am surprised when diversity IS in fact present in the book. I think the combination of my personal wishes to be white as well as the media’s focus on fair-skinned people will make it hard for me to accept main characters who are not white, but hopefully, like Dre did, I’ll be able to improve on that front. Are there any examples you guys have of this issue? Maybe name some non-white characters that you liked or didn’t like? I can say for sure that all of my favourite ever characters are white, which is a bit annoying, I guess. Do any of you have non-white characters that are among your favourite of all time?
Kelly : Saba from Moira Young’s Dustlands series. I think she’s supposed to be Hispanic, although it’s never really discussed. But my favourite by far is a character called Ashala Wolf, from the Aussie series The Tribe. She’s actually an Indigenous Australian (Aboriginal) and the storyline heavily features the Dreaming and infuses myths and beliefs of the native Aussies. It’s dystopian with a fantasy fusion and just incredible.
In my personal opinion, our preferences change from time to time. Age may be a factor, and so is your own race, when it comes to liking a book. At my age, race is not a big deal. What I dislike is when the race of the main character is severely emphasized. For example, her skin is as white as snow. Then on several more chapters, we read about her skin as ever-glowing under the moonlight.
What about you?
What is your opinion regarding race in the books that you read? Is there a book that you can recommend?
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