I’ve started this blog post three times. This is the fourth.
In the first draft I was going to tell you all about the things I learned while writing Promise of Shadows: how the stereotypes that you grow up with appear like cancer in your pages, sudden and unexpected; how you search for words that mean what you really want to say (like “nappy”) without having the gut punch of an insult; how you’ll agonize and worry that people will think all black women are angry instead of just your flawed main character; how you become terrified that you’ll become one of the voices of your race because you wrote one of the few characters of color in YA, even if you only are half black.
But I didn’t, because that blog post was too long and rambling and no one would care anyway.
So then I wrote a blog post about the problem with only having white characters in literature, how it informs our reading until we see all characters as white characters, making white the default. I was going to share how I didn’t even realize that Rue was black in The Hunger Games until I read the book for a second time, and how that made her death all the more poignant (of course the black character dies!).
But that blog post was depressing, so I scrapped it.
The third post I wrote was all about the pervading stereotype that black people don’t read fantasy and science fiction, not as teens and definitely not as adults. I was going talk about how this has led to a very homogenous landscape in genre fiction, of plucky princesses and brooding farm boys, all of them white. I even had a great anecdote about the man who came up to me once in Barnes and Noble asking me where the African American book section was, and how I had to admit that I didn’t know because I’d never been there. I was even going to share that I was in my late twenties before I read a book containing a black main character where the story wasn’t about suffering or racism.
But that blog post was angry and alienating, so I decided not to go with that.[Image: Author Justina Ireland]
So here I am with my fourth attempt at writing this blog post. And really, I’m not sure what to say. We need more black characters in YA. We need more gay and queer and bisexual and transgender and disabled and Asian and Latino and Native American characters in every branch of literature. We need characters with illnesses where the story isn’t about their illness. We need stories about the inner city where the story isn’t about how terrible life in the inner city is. We need characters and stories and books that reflect this big, amazing, screwed up world we live in. Stories that uplift and emotionally crush, that are terrible and brilliant, forgettable and memorable.
We need to live in a world where having a main character that is black isn’t as equally fantastical as having a main character who is a Harpy. When did black main characters become equal to creatures of myth?
I don’t want to write about diversity anymore. It’s too hard.
I’m not that great at writing about things that should be obvious to everyone.
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Justina Ireland enjoys dark chocolate, dark humor, and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows. Visit her at JustinaIreland.com.
TWITTER IS DOWN AND I AM DISTRAUGHT. HOW WILL I TELL YOU ALL ABOUT THE JACKHAMMERS OUTSIDE NOW.
Through Tumblr, apparently.