Teen Post: Why Does Diversity Matter?

One of my goals for the Hippodilly Circus has been to give teenagers a place to speak and be heard.  Salem is a fantastic person who is thoughtful, brilliant and reads more books and remembers them better than anyone I know. I am honored that she has chosen to share this story with you on Hippodilly Circus. I hope that she’ll find a great and supportive response. 

Thank you, Salem! 

I’ve been in love with books for as long as I can remember. From Junie B. Jones to Mia Thermopolis, every phase of my life has been marked by a snarky heroine going on adventures. Often, readers talk about how books make them feel more connected with others, that someone else is out there like them; but that hasn’t been the majority of my experience. These characters and I go through many of the same emotions and problems, but I rarely see myself in them. Growing up, I read more about synesthesia or talking dragons than black kids. The only time there was a real black protagonist was when it was a historical novel about slavery, but black children didn’t have voices the way white children did, and neither did I.

This isn’t to say that black or other minority kids can’t properly relate to white stories, it’s the opposite. White kids aren’t expected to relate to kids of color, aren’t expected to see us as human, and so they don’t. This isn’t just a YA problem, it’s a media and societal problem with dangerous real world applications, such as when when black children are viewed as older and less innocent even after their murder, or paramedics believing black people feel less pain. Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds and Racial Bias in Perceptions of Others’ Pain and many other studies reveal this to be true.  And the burden for this problem doesn’t rest entirely on the shoulders of YA, but the media we consume does greatly impact our worldview and how we treat others. It’s important for people in positions of power to be taught empathy and the struggles facing others who aren’t as privileged, and novels are a great way to impact people, especially youth.

But more importantly, minorities (racially or otherwise) need to see themselves represented. YA does a great job of amplifying women’s voices, but not a great job for really any other group. Recently I’ve been trying to actively search for less represented groups in the media I consume and it’s been hard. A big advantage of works written online such as fanfiction is that it becomes much easier to find a wider array of characters, as the authors are often people who don’t find themselves represented in the canon work. YA can be frustrating, and the bar is so, so low. Once, I saw a black girl with natural hair displayed prominently on a shelf at Barnes and Nobles, and it made me want to cry. I didn’t even buy the book, but just the fact that she was there on the cover, smiling, meant the world to me; especially knowing how hard it is to get cover art with minorities on a novel, not to mention having them marketed publicly.

There are a lot of people working hard to change this, from organizations like We Need Diverse Books to different tumblrs spotlighting diversity (such as DiversityInYA). Some of my personal favorite diverse authors include Julie Anne Peters and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Diversity matters, to both the people seeing themselves and to the privileged, and it’s our responsibility as consumers to work for the kind of fiction we want to see, and make it a reality.

Salem is a 16 year old student from Burke, Virginia and she is very excited to be given the opportunity to be published in Hippodilly Circus! She reads far too many books to choose a favorite author or book.

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