Let’s Talk About: The Diversity ‘Catch-22’ – Misrepresentation vs. No Representation

diversity-catch-22

Recently, Jeann from Happy Indulgence posted a fantastic post, When ‘Diversity’ Isn’t Actually Diverse, and I implore all of you to read it. There has been a great deal of discussion and debate surrounding diversity lately. The intensity of the discussions made waves in the Twitter book blogging community, but I found the discussions necessary and absolutely important.

Something that came up a few times, however, was the precarious situation that authors face when writing diversity. In discussions, comment sections, and Twitter threads, I observed that some people described a ‘catch-22’ when writing diversity. Today, I want to discuss the so-called ‘Catch-22’ that people have described, my note to authors, and emphasize – again – why diversity is important.

 


The Catch-22 at hand

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a Catch-22 (from the book Catch-22 by Joseph Heller) is a paradoxical situation in which an individual cannot win or escape from due to its contradictory rules. An example of a Catch-22 (that most graduates may be familiar with) is: To get a job, you need experience. To get experience, you need a job. 

I have read a lot of discussions and debates surrounding diversity, and often raised is the ‘Catch-22’ that authors face when writing characters with social identities different to the author. (And mind, I am using the phrase ‘Catch-22’ very loosely.) The Catch-22 goes something like this:

If an author does not include diversity in their narrative, they’ll receive backlash, but if the author does include diversity and gets it wrong, they’ll receive backlash too. 

I understand. I understand that authors tread a very fine line when writing characters with a social identity that is different to theirs, and that one small slip can entail backlash. But.

Before I offer my opinion on the matter, I want to discuss misrepresentation and no representation.


No Representation and Misrepresentation

On no representation:

The effects of no representation have been discussed many times over, so all I have left to say the matter: I live and grew up in a very ethnically diverse and multicultural city. From when I was a child right to now as an adult, my classrooms, workplaces, communities, and social circles were, are, and will, continue to be diverse. There is nothing wrong with portraying white characters, there is nothing wrong with portraying cis characters, there is nothing wrong with portraying heterosexual characters, and there is nothing wrong with portraying able-bodied characters. The endeavour to include representation does not go hand-in-hand with erasure – of any kind. However, a book that features characters that are all white, all cis, all heterosexual, and all able-bodied is not representative of reality and is a norm that needs to be challenged.

People deserve to see more of themselves in the media. People deserve to have their stories heard, told, and listened to. In a post I wrote last year, I discussed why I needed representation as a child and need it now as an adult. I wrote about having no representation as a child and how seeing all white characters affected my imagination, my identity, my self-esteem, and my self-perception in very negative and insidious ways that I am still trying to undo and unlearn.

On misrepresentation:

Something that I said in response to Jeann’s post was that ‘misrepresentation grinds my gears more than no representation’. I dislike the idea of pitting two negative things together and choosing which is ‘better’, so let me put it this way that is purely for argument’s sake: instances of misrepresentation hurt me more than no representation.

There is something deeply exhausting about seeing a part of yourself and part of your identity being twisted for a story, especially when the characters are no more than mere caricatures or token characters informed by stereotypes. Not only is misrepresentation often inherently exploitative, but misrepresentations perpetuate misconceptions which are harmful and hurtful, and have real life effects.

The books we consume inform us and shape our perspectives. If you are unfamiliar with, for example, a culture, you are likely to believe anything about that culture, right or wrong, that is presented to you. More so, a harmful portrayal can perpetuate the stereotypes and prejudices associated with it. (And so, that’s why it is important for people to celebrate narratives that do a good job at representation, and critique narratives that do not.)

Furthermore, people who are constantly being misrepresented in books and the wider media have to constantly fight against stereotypes, stigma, and prejudice. It is exhausting and painful to fight assumptions, prejudice, and dehumanization constantly. It is not something that people should have to deal with.

Essentially: no representation and misrepresentation are both harmful and hurtful. Representation and the call for more diverse books are more than just social justice issues; it is not something that exists in a vacuum. There are a plethora of reasons why people want diversity, reasons unique to their experiences, but among them are: we want to see ourselves and see our experiences validated, we want to learn about others, and we want our books rich with complexity and depth.


Dear all authors and writers (and readers):

I want to tell you that I understand. I understand that your job and your endeavour is hard. I understand that it is difficult and scary to write characters with identities that are unfamiliar and different to you. I get the ‘diversity Catch-22’ that you are faced with. But.

The simple solution is this: if you are going to write diversity, write it well. It is not easy but anything less isn’t good enough.

1. Write and be inclusive with sincerity. If you want to write a character because you genuinely want their story to be told, then you have taken a step in the right direction. Ask yourself why you want to write characters who are different to you. Is it just so your book isn’t dismissed as lacking diversity? Is it just so your book isn’t criticized for being too white and too heterosexual and too able-bodied? If you answer yes to those two questions, stop and re-evaluate. Don’t slap an ethnicity on a character purely because you want to write a ‘diverse’ book. If it is insincere, it is very obvious.

2a. Read, read, read. I know most of you authors out there are bookworms, but read a variety of stories. Diversify your reading experience, read books with a variety of perspectives, characters and voices. Read books that challenge your perspective and what you know. Read critically. Read, engage, and empathize. Read a lot of books.

2b. Read and support #ownvoices. Whether it is existing, yet to be released, or projects in the works, support authors who are writing #ownvoices. Understand that people who write #ownvoices are, and should be, at the forefront of those narratives. Read them, buy them, share them. Their stories are incredibly important. (Goodreads #ownvoices book list, #ownvoices tag on Twitter)

3. Research and check. If you are writing something beyond your lived experience or something you are not familiar with, chances are what you know is not good enough. (Fantasy stories and magical creatures are, of course, exempt from this.) If you are willing to research 93472739 ways to kill a person with a fork, you should be willing to research a culture that you are including in your book. Check with others if what you are writing is good representation – and ask people who you may be representing. (Note, no one is obligated to help or educate you, but there are people who would not mind.)

4a. Listen. In discussions about representation, listen to people who belong to the group that is being represented. Their opinions and their voices matter. Listen to understand, not to reply. And rather than asserting yourself in conversations that do not involve you, consider amplifying (retweeting, quoting, sharing) things already being said by people who are involved. Listen to discussions, such as #Diverseathon. Understand that lived experience – and human experience in general – is highly diverse in itself (there is no monolithic experience), but also understand that there are fundamental things that you can get right. And most importantly, before speaking, listen and think.

4b. Listen to criticism. I understand that fear of criticism and backlash is a real and valid thing. But, probable backlash of wrongful representation is not an excuse for no representation. If others receive criticism, listen to it. If you receive criticism, listen to it. If you receive criticism from people who you are representing in your stories, definitely listen it. Take criticism as an indicator and opportunity to improve, to learn more, to be self-critical. If your work is problematic, take responsibility for it. You can always learn more, so strive to learn more.

Alyssa also shared with me a post she wrote, How Can We Write Diversely? As Alyssa is a writer (she’s writing a Swan Lake/Mulan retelling!), I strongly advise that you read her wonderful and insightful post.


Again: Why diversity matters

Read and write characters from a variety of backgrounds and life stories. Read and write stories and characters that can shape a better, more inclusive future for all readers. Celebrate, share, and support books that do a good job at representation. Critique books that do not.

Diversity in books is important, and will always be important. The stories that people tell have the power to create connections, foster understanding and empathy, and pave the way to more inclusivity, and more accepting readers and people. Books with good representation are a message: they say, I hear you, I validate you, I stand by you — and being told this is so important for self-love and acceptance.


Let’s talk about it!

As usual, this discussion has been on my mind, and I’m relieved (and a wee anxious) to finally share my thoughts.

In the future, I will endeavour to read more #ownvoices books myself, and challenge myself by reading a variety of stories. I’ll also be writing a book recommendations post of some of my favourite books that feature good representation, but for now, I’d like to recommend the #diverserecs tag, started by Jeann!

Anyway, I would love, love, love to hear your thoughts, and I implore you to share them with me in the comments below. Some questions for you to get the conversation going:

  • What are some books that you feel represented you? Do you have any recommendations?
  • Are you an author who has included/hopes to include diversity into your story? Tell me about it!
  • What do you think readers and authors can do to ensure that we have more inclusive and authentic stories?
  • Have you written a post on diversity lately? Please share them!

Some small thank yous:

I would also like to take a moment to thank a few bloggers who gave feedback and suggestions regarding this discussion. Thank you to Aentee from Read at Midnight, Daisy from Feminists Read Love, Reg from She Latitude, Alexa from Words Off the Page, Vicky from Books and Strips, and Alyssa from The Devil Orders Takeout, as well as those who offered their help. Thank you; I appreciate all of you.

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56 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About: The Diversity ‘Catch-22’ – Misrepresentation vs. No Representation

  1. Such a great, great discussions!! I love and agree with all your points! :D I agree that no representation is better than misrepresentation and while I encourage more diversity, I don’t support bullying white authors to write diverse characters. But, I also think that while own voices authors have better understanding about the issues, it doesn’t mean white authors aren’t allowed to write a story about diverse characters. You have some amazing tips here for all authors! I love And I Darken because it portrayed Islam as something so beautiful and I recommend it for those readers who prefer fantasy (not that And I Darken is fantasy but it has similar vibes haha). I’m writing a post on diversity and will post it later today. I hope you don’t mind if I link back to your post :)

    • Hi Puput, thank you so much!

      I do not support ‘bullying’ either, particularly with the alleged threats of violence going around. I think that crosses a line. I do agree with calling out/criticizing bad representation though.

      I agree, I do not think white authors cannot write characters beyond their experience, but as I said, I think #ownvoices authors should be at the forefront of those stories. :D

      I’m currently reading And I Darken, and I absolutely agree with you! I ‘felt’ through the writing and Radu’s piety how beautiful it was.

      I don’t mind at all, and thank you so much for sharing my post! I really appreciate it. <3

  2. Wow this was such a great discussion. So well written. I’ve been wanting to write diversity discussion but I’m so scared everyone will hate me. I hadn’t heard of Catch 22 but now I know what it means and it makes so much sense. Diversity is difficult to achieve and if done wrong, say goodbye to your fans. Fantastic job girl, seriously I ate this post up!

    • Hi Claire!

      I think you should definitely write your diversity discussion post! The more voices and perspectives out there, the better imo. And of course, I am sure there are plenty of people who can help you with your post if you are stuck or need a second opinion! (Myself included!)

      Haha, I had been seeing it around comment sections of posts that talk about diversity, so it inspired me to address it.

      Diversity is difficult to achieve, but it is absolutely necessary that we try and endeavour to get there.

      Thank you so much, Claire! Hehe, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! <3

  3. Love this post so much! I always appreciate discussions that move things forward. Listening to each other is such a crucial point. I’ve been a part of writer’s workshops and short story magazine teams where I’ve pointed out if certain characters have been exoticized and/or orientalized during feedback time and it’s great when people listen. Writers need to widen their circles. I’ve loved genuine well-rounded books like Cloudwish and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda but agree completely that #ownvoices should never be pushed away from the forefront too.

    ‘If you are willing to research 93472739 ways to kill a person with a fork, you should be willing to research a culture that you are including in your book.’ This made me giggle but it’s also a really spot on observation – I’ve spent time with writers during NaNo who are really concerned with the former and not so much the latter. I grew up reading books that weren’t very inclusive and I justify my current voracious reading habit as the best research. It’s fun, humbling and inspiring – widening one’s world feels like that.

    I’m happy youtubers in DiverseAThon are bringing attention to other issues like problematic rep. and long-term diverse reading since they have a bigger platform for change. I think having a wide array of book blogger friends or book club friends help with authentic inclusivity too. One of my friends from my book club loves to read LGBT lit and will discuss the issues she finds in a book. I also love reading critical reviews from you, Aentee and other book bloggers I respect and admire when it comes to rep. I’ve also spoken up about problematic rep in some books I really enjoy, so I appreciate when the reading community listens too.

    • Thank you Glaiza! I’m so glad you approve of this post. :’)

      Ah, I’m glad to hear that you’ve had positive experiences in workshops! I would find the experience very daunting, but I am glad that there were people who listened to your feedback. And agreed – if people listened with more sincerity and intent to empathize and understand, things would be better.

      Haha, I’m glad it made you giggle! I see the joke made all the time, so I couldn’t resist. I grew up reading books that weren’t inclusive either, and I’ve been reading books with good PoC representation lately. And yes! It is very fun and inspiring and humbling. Also very validating too – I feel more invigorated to read more.

      Absolutely, and I agree and support the idea of having wider circles. I’ve been fortunate and grew up in a very multicultural suburb, which have fostered very wonderful friendships that understand that we are all different and respect those differences.

      Aw, thank you! I feel like I haven’t written a critical book review in a long time. I feel like I have relaxed a little, and am trying to read to enjoy, but I hope to find a book that engages me so I can write a critical piece soon.

      And I love your reviews and everything you have to say about diversity! I really look up to you.

      Thank you Glaiza for, as always, sharing your thoughts! <3

  4. This was such a great insightful post to read !
    I actually have never thought of being represented in the books I read growing up. I just read a book, enjoyed the story and that’s it, no further thoughts put into it and that extended up until recently.
    But now, at almost 20, I just started to realize how important, mine as well as other people’s minorities deserve to be acknowledged, we all have stories that need to be told and that everyone should know about and just now, do I start getting out of my way seeking more diverse reads so that I can expand my knowledge on author people’s cultures, joys, struggles etc… and especially stories told by #Ownvoices authors because I think they’re the ones that can share their experiences with the most authenticity.
    And I get what you mean by bad representation is more hurtful than no representation, as an Arab Muslim, I’ve read my fair share of crap twisting my beliefs and misusing my culture and I would’ve felt better if those authors just stick to what they know or even greater if they research right !!
    It should be normal for me to relate to a character in a book instead of feeling like it is a privilege of some sort.
    Anyway, this was a lengthy comment, so I’ll stop here haha!

    • Hi Fadwa!

      To be honest, neither did I! I wasn’t aware of things called representation or why it was important (in a way, I didn’t know I *could* have representation?) until I started reading more and joined the book community!

      I completely, completely agree with you. We all have stories, we are all here and we should be visible in stories. I’ve been reading some #ownvoices stories lately, and it’s been wonderful. I’m starting with books that might have *my* story, and will branch out to other stories later in the year!

      I’m sorry that your beliefs and culture has been used. I empathize, and I understand how hurtful it is. I definitely think that if authors want to include a culture, they MUST research – anything less is not acceptable. I hope you will be able to find a book that represents you and validates your experiences.

      Haha don’t worry about lengthy comments! I enjoy reading and replying to them! But thank you for your thoughtful comment, Fadwa! I appreciate it! <3

      • Exactly ! And that’s an issue when young people don’t know that they CAN and have the right to be represented in fiction so that they can relate to some of their reads. It was the same for me, the community is so eye opening !
        I’m actually starting with a little bit of everything at once haha! Though I must admit I’m most curious about stories that feature Muslim protagonists etc…
        Thank you ❤ I hope so too !
        Of course ! I can’t resist commenting when it’s such an engaging topic 😊

        • That’s absolutely right, and yes, I think the presence and general awareness of our community is a blessing!

          Now that I really think about it, I haven’t read a book with a Muslim protagonist (unless And I Darken counts?), and that’s not good. I need to do better, and I definitely need to read more books that come from a wide range of backgrounds.

          I really appreciate the comments. <3 It feels like more of a discussion when people post, so it makes me happy. Thank you!

  5. Well articulated points! A very thoughtful post.
    I am someone who identifies as a cis white female who grew up with minimal ethnic diversity in my life, but tons of sexual diversity. That said, I’ve always been fascinated by ethnic and cultural focused literature. But, growing up I struggled to find that in contemporary literature. Instead, I’ve found ways to solve for this need by mostly reading historical fiction. Historical fiction seems to be removed from the stigma of misrepresentation. Or, well, I’ve personally never heard anyone attacking historical fiction for this. I wonder why that is…
    I just wish the angry internet masses would provide coaching like you did above, CW! It’s encouragement and assistance these authors need, not people yelling and throwing things at them. I commend people who are embracing diversity in their literature, even if they aren’t part of #OwnVoices– this is a hard time to write diversity if you don’t know it first hand. We are a critical bunch.
    Keep writing posts like this– they are AWESOME.

    • Hi Jackie!
      You make a really interesting point about historical fiction. I haven’t read much of historical fiction (though when I was young I went through a Philippa Gregory phase, which I heard isn’t the best of historical fiction?), but historical fiction can be biased and/or misrepresented too. Maybe it’s due to lack of interest, particularly in the YA book blogging community? (I don’t know though; I’m mostly involved with the YA community!)

      I don’t mind writing these posts at all; I was very ignorant once upon a time (and am still learning today) so I hope that my post can help at least one person. Sometimes people are angry because representation is a very emotional and personal issue, and it does hurt when misrepresentation happens, especially when they perpetuate the bad things that people have been fighting against all their lives. So I understand why people are angry; their feelings and responses are valid, and I believe they are entitled to it. ^_^

      I’ve been trying to read more diversely, and it has been a very, very wonderful experience, and validating too! I’ve learned so much when I challenged myself to read different narratives, and it’s awesome.

      We are a critical bunch indeed! But it’ll foster a more thoughtful and aware community, so that’s a positive to look at! :D

      Thank you so much! And thank you very much for your time and your comment. <3

  6. This is an awesome post! You make so many great points there. At the same time I feel like most of them at least should be given – which makes it all the worse that they are so clearly not. I mean… doing the proper research about something before including it in your book? That should be a given. And I guess for most cases it is – as you said, it is totally normal to do elaborate research on ways to commit the perfect crime or the procedures that follow one, so why the hell is it any different when it comes to cultural matters?
    I don’t have any troubles with representation for myself seeing as I belong to the most privileged group there is – well I’m not a man, so possibly the 2nd most privileged.
    In any case, I recognize the need for representation for everyone and therefore diversity – be it in literature, film or whichever are of life. I also believe that learning about other cultures and other people’s experiences makes us better people and reading is a good way to do that. I’m also not reading diversely enough myself, but I’m making an effort to change that.
    I’m taking part in a weekly meme called “Diversity Spotlight Thursday”, which I think is a wonderful idea as it allows me to reflect on past diverse reads and remind myself of diverse books on my tbr that I might want to bump up on my list and discover new diverse reads – and of course spread the word about all of them!

    • Hi M! Thank you so much!

      Haha, I agree with you there! I do people get genuinely confused about how to approach diversity. You’re right though – it should be a given, but unfortunately the evidence of otherwise is ubiquitous. :c

      That’s great! I think everyone should make the effort to read more diversely. I’ve been trying to lately, and it’s SO nice and validating? The #diverserecs twitter tag is a goldmine of recommendations! I recommend that being your first port of call!

      AH YES!! I love Aimal and her blog, and I’ve been getting a ton of recs from her and other people’s posts! I’d love to see what you recommend, so I’ll follow and keep an eye on your posts!

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment – I appreciate it! <3

      • I’m really not up to date with today’s world – I don’t have twitter :D Thank you for the tip all the same! I guess I should be able to check that twitter tag regardless? (oh my god, I have no idea!)
        In any case, Aimal’s lovely meme helps a lot and having joined the book blogging community does, too – I’m discovering lots of books through other people that I might not have noticed otherwise & it’s awesome :) It also made my tbr EXPLODE, but that’s a different story :D

  7. Thank you so much for this post CW. This post is everything and you’ve worded such important arguments so articulately. Misrepresentation is more harmful than representation and I would rather see no diversity than a stereotypical token character. I actually feel like it’s correct that many authors just want to include diversity for the sake of it, without really being committed to the implications. We need actual representation. And thank you for including such helpful ways that many people can support and foster an inclusive, diverse community. This is the best and thank you for linking me!

    • My pleasure Jeann! I’ve said this several times already, but thank YOU for your post. We need voices like yours. <3
      I feel that way too! I find myself trying to cling onto those characters (forthesakeofdiversity) and it disappoints me every single time if they aren't written well or have no substance.
      Again, it was my pleasure! I am happy to share, and I do believe that some authors genuinely do not know how to approach it. So, I hope it helps!

  8. This is such a brilliant post. I feel bad for the short comment I’m about to leave, but you’ve just said everything perfectly and I agree with it 100%. If an author isn’t willing to research properly (like actually speak to said minority groups or have sensitivity readers) then they shouldn’t be writing about it. It’s worse when they’re not even willing to listen to said minority’s group criticisms, that’s so ignorant.

    • Hi Lauren! Hehe, no problem at all! I love all comments – short and long. c:
      I agree that it’s really terrible (and actually kinda hurtful?) when an author dismisses the voices of minority groups of the people they are representing in their books. :/ You just feel powerless and bleh when it happens. BUT, we always have authors who DO get it right, and we can celebrate them and their books. <3

  9. Such a beautifully written post <3 Being preemptively scared of potential backlash is the WORST excuse for not writing diversely. It's like being preemptively scared you might not get the plot or a character right and deciding not to write the book altogether. Being a writer means being able to draw and write from different experiences to your own, so this argument is the most laughable from it comes from the SFF crowd who can dream up new languages and worlds, but god forbid a queer person of colour ever appears in it.

    I love that you included tips on how to improve as well. It's often to easy to criticise and vent – but too hard to lend a helping hand <3 We are lucky to have you in the community, Chooi!

    • Hi Aentee!!

      Hehehehe, I owe you 100% for that little but important part. Thank you again!
      BUT, yes, I absolutely agree, particularly the SFF part. Yikes. Saying as such really shows the depth of someone’s internalized racism and sexism. What a shame. I hope people will endeavour to do better.

      Hehe, thank you! I think all of us were ignorant once — I remember when I was, and I think all of us need a guiding hand sometimes.

      Oh you! We’re lucky to have you too. <3 Keep doing what you do, and thank you for the support, as always. <3

  10. Finally! Someone else who gets it! I swear this is what I’ve been saying for a while now. Writers see all these books with diverse characters being snatched up and promoted by agents so they think that’s what they have to do: write diverse characters. Yet, half the time the diverse character is only diverse in appearance and it doesn’t actually mean anything in regards to plot. The other half, the particular ethnicity/religion/etc is portrayed in a way that obviously shows the writer didn’t research or speak with people of that ethnicity/religion/etc. It’s really sad!

    Now, I’m not one to talk. (I am not representative of diversity in any sense of the word,) but I have friends who do. And I don’t see them as being different from me. They’re people, too. They have feelings, hopes, dreams, failures, worries, etc, etc. All I know is that they’re my friend and they believe in/come from a different background than me, which, for me, is fascinating! I love learning about where people come from and what they believe in. Not for literature, but just in general.

    What I’m tangenting away from is the fact that these people whom we call ‘diverse’ (which is wrong in general) are around us every day. There are plenty of opportunities for writers to interact with them, get their stories, learn from them. Yet, it takes the dedication, the time, the drive, and the ability to actually care about someone else, to make that happen. When writers start getting out of their own isolated bubbles to do this (because you can’t research everything on a computer), then stories will start to change. Until then, writers shouldn’t screw up something because they’re too lazy to actually learn about it.

    • Hi Melanie!

      I agree, it is sad. It’s sad that people are capitalizing on something that is very real, inherent, and meaningful to people to make money and sell books. I know being an author is a job, but it’s a job that bears a lot of responsibility and accountability too.

      True, and I also want us to celebrate those differences and appreciate without exploiting. (But, cultural appropriation is a whole other discussion.)

      That is true, and that’s why we need authors to take off their white world lens. Agreed, opportunities to learn are everywhere – but not everyone is an opportunity to learn, if that makes sense? I agree that authors should branch out, interact with a variety of people, but it should never be expectation for people to educate others, especially strangers, about their history. Going that way leads to a very dangerous path.

      But yes! Agreed. It does take time and dedication, but if you try and you succeed, you will be respected for it. Constance Wu, who was criticizing that terrible idea of a movie The Great Wall, says is much better than I ever could: https://twitter.com/ConstanceWu/status/759086955816554496/photo/1

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Melanie! Appreciate it as always!

      • Oh heavens no! I don’t think writers should walk up to random strangers and start asking them about their lives and the difficulties they face. First off, that’s rude. Second off, it’s awkward. And third off, the results are skewed. Not to mention, the writer isn’t learning anything simply by asking questions. They’re basically taking a poll/writing an interview, but that doesn’t mean you understand the person in front of you. You know?

        (I never saw The Great Wall), but I did think it was rather strange for a movie based in China to have white people in it. I mean… really? That’s just… dumb. It really baffled me when I saw the trailers and I fully support what Constance Wu is saying. When will the media ever figure things out.

  11. Thank you for writing this post! Misrepresentation is always something that bothers me, more so than no representation because it feels exploitative.
    You mentioned some excellent solutions there. And I agree that point #1 should be Write and be inclusive with sincerity. It’s always come back to the motive. If someone is sincere, they would not complain to do the research and listen. I agree with supporting #ownvoices, and I feel that I need to read more of #ownvoices works. However, I also support these best-seller authors to write about people different from them. Like it or not, they have bigger audience and so when they write something in this book that is respectful and sincere and representative, people actually listen and take note.

    • Hi Windie!

      I feel you there; misrepresentation is always hurtful and issss very exploitative.

      I completely agree with you. I think if people wrote with sincerity, and let that sincerity guide them, they would do a better job.
      I’ve been reading a lot of #ownvoices lately, and it’s been such a wonderful experience. It’s made me realize that what I have read isn’t very… diverse at all. I like to read ‘popular’ books so I can weigh in, but lost that intent of reading for the sake of discovering? I am returning to that now, and it’s been nothing but wonderful.

      Agreed! Big authors can use their voice (and/or privilege) to support these movements. But, I still believe that #ownvoices should be at the forefront of their own narratives.

      Thank you for the lovely comment Windie! <3

      • YES to all of these! I’ve been exploring the #ownvoices hashtag on twitter lately and I noted some recommendations (including yours – I purchased Not Your Sidekick and will hopefully be getting to that after Three Dark Crowns).
        It’s soo true what you said about our current reads. I think many people play it safe with big name authors, including me. Even when I tried authors from small-publisher, it was usually the ‘popular’ ones. I think as reader and blogger, I need to do more to support #ownvoices. <3

        • AH YAY I’m so excited for you to read Not Your Sidekick!! Let me know what you think when you read it, pleaseeeee?

          Yes! Go you! I think all of us can do more, especially me, so I am branching out. I’m reading Labyrinth Lost (which is #ownvoices!) at the moment, and it’s WONDERFUL. :D

          • I’m at 28% and I am loving it! It is such a pageturner and I could truly relate with Jess.
            But now I want my own MonRobot because Chả is so adorable. :)
            Ooooh the premise of Labyrinth Lost is interesting. I’ll check it out. ♥

  12. WOW. Just wow. Your writing is incredibly clear and purposeful, demonstrating how deeply you understand what you’re talking about. These posts are such an inspiration CW. Obviously an enormous amount of thought and effort has gone into this.

    As a white, cis, heterosexual, able-bodied person, I’m rarely misrepresented, which is totally unfair. However, I’m starting to have a more personal connection to diversity misrepresentation now that I’m struggling along a depression recovery journey. As I’ve said in other comments to you, many books that address this topic highlight extremely different experiences to what my depression experience has been, and I almost feel as if I need to be the one to write that very particular experience since no one else has.

    I really support and admire you for being such an amazing spokesperson, and also for raising up the voices of others in an attempt to raise authentic narratives above harmful misrepresenting narratives. An enormous well done <3 <3

    • Hi Paige!

      Oh goodness… thank you. Such high praise means so so much to me. Thank you so much!

      I completely empathize with you; even though I’m starting to see and read more stories with Asian protagonists, I’ve yet to find a book that tells my story. So I completely understand where you are coming from.

      Oh my, I really really support an endeavour to write your own story! As the saying goes, if you haven’t found the book that you want to read, you have to write it. I think you should go for it!! I think it’ll be a validating experience – and I believe your voice will touch and move others who may be going through similar things.

      Oh, thank you so much!! I think as proponents to these causes and movements, we have to raise others as well as ourselves. I strongly, strongly believe that, so I am always happy to do it. Thank you so much, again! <3

  13. Brilliant post! I think this is a really important addition to the sometimes hysterical discussion that happens on twitter where 140 characters leads to misunderstandings so easily. There is no easy solution and I think you articulated the challenges well. Your advice for writers is brilliant and I will definitely be sharing it.

    I wanted to mention this section of the post “Not only is misrepresentation often inherently exploitative, but misrepresentations perpetuate misconceptions which are harmful and hurtful, and have real life effects.” This is exactly what I was trying to articulate in my recent review of Colleen Hoover’s novel It Ends With Us. While the novel (not sure if you have read it) is a great exploration of the nuances of domestic violence, and because of that a really important book, there is one scene that is still bugging me. Basically there is an awful tokenistic gay character who behaves like a ludicrous caricature. As an ally it made me incredibly uncomfortable, and I can’t imagine what the experience of seeing your sexuality represented in such a demeaning way would feel like for someone from the community. What bothered me most was that it was completely unnecessary to the plot, and could easily have been omitted. Sure that would mean that every character with dialogue was hetro, but having such an awful tokenistic attempt was probably worse.

    • Hi Tamsien!

      Thank you very much! I agree, it’s a lot of pressure to convey something in 140 characters and it’s easy to take a singular tweet in a thread out of context.

      I haven’t read It Ends With Us, but I have heard of the controversy(?) surrounding it. I’m not sure what this scene is, but I’ve heard the criticisms! I’ll read it one day and then I’ll get back to you – maybe we can discuss it then?

      Re: the tokenism, that’s not good and I’m disappointed to hear that. That has been something that has done time and time again, and it’s been criticized time and time again. It’s so disheartening to see such blatant exploitation still happen today, and by such a big author no less. I hope Hoover does better next time by just… not… doing it again??

      Anyway, thank you for leaving such a thought comment Tamsien. I appreciate it! <3

  14. I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS POST, THIS IS THE BEST THING I HAVE SEEN ALL DAY!!
    I love how well you expressed yourself, how well the post was written – everything was just perfection.
    I believe that misrepresentation and no representation are equally bad as well, and you’re right, there are different ways to ensure this doesn’t happen. I think another thing that authors could perhaps do is ask for beta readers, ask for people who they’re representing to read their work, and offer their own view on it? I don’t know, maybe the writing process can’t accomodate for this very well, I don’t quite know the intricacies behind publishing or writing, but to have authentic voices – that’s what we should have in more books.

  15. Really powerful stuff here! Thank you for the clarity you bring to this conversation. As a white, etc. etc. reader, representation wasn’t ever a struggle for me. My first hint was in college, when we read a book about a wealthy New England family. It felt really odd and foreign to me, but my classmates started the discussion with statements like, “Wow, I felt like the author was spying on my family!” (To clarify, I am from Oregon and went to college in Vermont.) Decades later, I see the way my students light up when they find a book that reflects their lives, from the ADHD of Joey Pigza to the migrant farmworkers of The Circult to books that include jailed parents, transgender identities, bicultural code switching, etc.

    I wrote a somewhat awkward post last week trying to work out my thoughts on whether supporting #ownvoices means not being allowed to write outside your own perspective, if you’d like to look at that.

    • Hi there!
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased that your students have found something that they can relate to, or find pieces of themselves in a book. As someone who wasn’t represented (and still isn’t, in ways), I understand that ‘lighting up’ that they may be feeling.

      Oh, could you possibly link me? Your comment doesn’t link me to your blog/profile!

  16. This is brilliantly written as well as incredibly necessary. As a British Pakistani Muslim I grew up with next to no representation (the only books about teenage muslim girls available for me to read were ‘Does My Head Look Big In This & Ten Things I Hate About Me) and it was only when I reached a maturer age that I realised just how damaging this was. My perception of what it meant to be beautiful was everything I was not: thin, white, straight haired and blue eyed. The characters I created as a teenager were all white, which I now find so insane because why was an 11 year old pakistani muslim girl’s idea of ‘perfect’ the opposite of herself? It’s because that is the idea of beauty ‘rightness’ that is normalised. Everything else is the ‘other’ and the other is never seen as beautiful. I’m currently working no my first novel which is a YA contemporary based on the life of a character very much like me – British-Pakistani Muslim. I realised that if I want to read about people like me, and our experiences, I’ll have to write it myself! The focus of my book isn’t what it is to be Muslim or Pakistani in a post 9/11 era or immigration etc rather it’s a coming of age novel about a Muslim teenager trying to navigate her way through life like everyone else, but with the unique obstacles that come with being a POC, and a Muslim.

    Again, brilliant post. Your blog is one of my favourites.

  17. This is an infinitely beautiful discussion, CW, and one that is, I think, sorely needed in the readerly community. It was such a hard journey for me to come to terms with my own unique diversity (ain’t no one out there writing books about neurodivergent QWOC superheroes looking to save the world, let me tell you!), and I am truly happy that it’s becoming much more culturally accepted to speak out on this issue – and, even more, to represent diverse identities fully in books. One thing that helps, I think, is when writers aren’t afraid to reach out to those more experienced than they are. Like you mentioned, it is no one’s responsibility to educate the ignorant, but at the same time there are many people who are delighted to beta-read books that feature their specific identities (I know that personally, quite a few of my blog readers who also happen to be writers have asked me to take a look at their manuscripts featuring mentally ill characters, which I am always happy to do!). It is, I think, about working together to create art that represents minorities as sensitively & accurately as possible. <3

  18. I totally agree with what you’re saying! I definitely prefer no representation to misrepresentation. With none, I may be slightly annoyed, but I will be mad at books that don’t represent as a whole, not that particular book. With misrepresentation, I just wish it wasn’t used in the first place, because it is often worse to do it wrong than not at all! Like you say, it’s a fine line, and I do really enjoy diversity!
    -Amy

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