Diversity in fiction has become somewhat of a curse word. I’m actually so tired of discussing this, because every time it’s brought up, it feels like a constant fight for and defending the right to have stories like mine and other marginalised people told.
Over the last few months or so I’ve been noticing an increase in hostility around call outs for more rounded literature featuring more inclusivity and less harmful and stereotypical portrayals of marginalised communities.
Something I’ve always felt is more than fair. Literature and other forms of pop culture alike are a driving force in how the world is shaped around us. Think of common tropes and stereotypes we see in them – we laugh at the harmless ones because we recognise elements of it in ourselves.
But poking fun is completely different to seeing a character being portrayed in a way that dehumanises them. Calling this nonsense out – has only been the beginning of fighting for fair representation.
Not only fair rep, but we also need more books with people of colour (POC) and more covers with black and non-black people of colour on them (the idea that books with black models on the cover don’t sell is one that definitely needs to die. Angie Thomas’s bestselling hit, The Hate U Give being on the number 1 spot in the New York Times Bestseller list is more than proof of that).
Unfortunately, like most things that start off with good intentions, the diversity in fiction movement has been co-opted by so many different factions within the literature that it feels like debate around it will run in a continuous circle.
I have my own issues with it – for one, people have started labelling diversity as a trend. My problem with this is that it shouldn’t actually trend because the subject focuses we’re begging to see more of are part of our everyday lives and shouldn’t be seen as a marketable commodity.
Trend also implies that it has a shelf-life.
We don’t want diversity to be treated like a trend – we want room for organic growth that makes accurate and meaningful representation an inclusive foundation for literature across all genres.
So like I said, in that respect I do have some issues with the concept of diversity, but that definitely doesn’t mean I don’t embrace that there have been many people across all lines that have been making concerted efforts, recognised their privilege and used it to boost stories told by black authors.
Writers like these understand how underrepresented so many POC authors are and are secure in the knowledge that the publishing industry has enough space for everyone.
No one, has, by calling for more diverse representation, asked for the exclusion of authors who’ve always occupied these spaces.
And yet, the authors (the unwoke white author specifically) who have been owning most of the publishing space for all these years are suddenly feeling threatened. Now accusing people and publishers who are making the effort to be more inclusive of being drunk on virtue.
And yes, I’m talking about bestselling author of We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver who recently left the bibliosphere aghast when she criticised major publishing house Penguin Random House for wanting to promote marginalised voices, implying that they’re sacrificing quality for the sake of diversity.
As if the two can’t go hand in hand. And as if black and non-black people of colour aren’t capable of telling their stories and telling it well.
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The Guardian reports that Penguin Random House released a statement and hit back, defending their diversity drive, stating that they want to publish books that reflect the “diverse society in which we live.”
They also added that while they certainly want diverse voices, their focus would be on talent and writing ability.
(Of course, I should add there are well-written diverse reads and badly written ones – in much the same way it applies to books that don’t fit into the category.)
Lionel Shriver may have won awards for her books in the past, but it does not mean she has the authority to decide whose voices gets to be heard. Or whose doesn’t.
Her elitism shows that she feels threatened by the emerging new voices.
But while seeing an overwhelming amount of love for diversity shows us the world is at least working to start creating more equal opportunities – all it really shows is that Lionel is more comfortable with the status quo.
Historically speaking, the level of visibility we’re seeing from talented authors of colour is not enough to readdress the balance. You don’t fix a centuries old problem with a few years’ worth of efforts to be inclusive.
WATCH: Diverse books recommendations
Yes we celebrate the progress made, but we don’t forget that this could have been avoided if everyone was considered of equal value in the first place.
Lionel needs to take several seats. The uplifting of others is no threat to her security or her place in the world. And is by no means any form of oppression.
You just have to look at the list of books still being published this year to see that the advantaged community are still getting the same opportunities that many others will still be fighting for, for years to come.
Our very own country is a perfect example of that.
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