June 19, 2013

Representation in YA: the teenager edition

Hey guys! I'm not fully back-back to blogging but I thought I'd take some time out to write something very important to me: representation within YA as a person who is latin@. 

We all know the basics of YA, we've read nearly all the type of books the YA genre seems to specialize in; from the chosen one narrative to regular gal (or guy) becoming empowered. However, what seems to escape Young Adult lit at times, is representation either racial or sexual-wise. For every dozen books of a normal girl meeting a mysterious dude that get published yearly, there'll be maybe 3 of normal girl meeting a mysterious girl or a guy meeting a guy. Young Adult is my home, because I identify with it the most. But sometimes, I don't really identify it because I'll be reading experiences of a white narrator. This isn't to say we should take out all white narrators and replace them with people of color (which I'll abbreviate as PoC), but that the publishing market should expand more to encourage more PoC authors to write PoC characters. 

What's often brought up in response to the lack of PoC narrators within literature despite there being many PoC authors in the industry is that, PoC narrators don't sell. To which I fondly reply with "That's a giant pile of bullcrap." There's most definitely a market for PoC, it's just the professionals don't understand it because they're not trying to reach that section of the market. In my personal opinion, I believe that the way the marketing for PoC titles will be made to look less appealing. I know this because I am prey to the pretty cover, and have skipped out on few good titles because I thought the covers looked meh. The market is about getting someone's attention and then capturing it long enough for them to hand over money and get the book. Which is why less time is spent on the marketing and art departments while it is diverted to a book that to professionals "is safer" (i.e books about straight, white characters) thought it might not sell well because it's the tired formula. 

Now just recently conversation in YA happened on tumblr three days ago: link here.that were between a relatively big name in YA (Sarah Rees Brennan) and a fan in which racebending was the topic of the blogpost.* Essentially what's happening is that often the interviews about big issues (such as racial discussion, sexual identification and the like) are being given to people who are, really, not in a good position to speak about it (i.e they are white authors, who are cissexual (identifying as the gender they were give, so a male and female as opposed to trans*people who have surgeries to add/remove sexual organs.) 

What was also brought up is the backlash these allies were facing. If there's one thing I have a big problem with is when allies are being asked for their opinion on a topic they are not equipped to deal with; however, their words carry more weight that the actual people whose opinions do matter: the queer, trans, bisexual, asian, latin@ (and others too) people. We live in a world where there are many people of different sexual orientations and ethnicities but whose opinion are ignored because we live a society where white people are still being looked upon as the "official" voices (of anything, to be quite honest). It's not okay especially when people write in PoC or other minorities into their works and lauded as breaking boundaries/the norm when they're being decent human beings and representing the world how it is; multicultural. 

As the fan post puts it best with these two statements:

"when i look at the “young adult” tag on racebending, the interviewed authors are literally just you, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Justine Larbalestier**. and i think that’s hugely indicative of a larger problem of focusing on certain already dominant perspectives. so yes! please keep talking about it. it is absolutely part of one’s work as an ally to amplify and open discourse in which one is privileged. but please try to talk about it in such a way that focuses more on highlighting already marginalized voices and experiences, and that encourages and includes genuine social as well as textual diversity. and that continues to be critical of your own work, and to invite criticism so that you can, as you said, do better! i think—i hope—there are ways to discuss literature (even one’s own) within the context of an oppressive society that do not continue to value the ally above the marginalized."

I feel that as a person of color, there should be more works featuring a person of color, or a person who is anything but straight and white should be featured more in the market because of the world we live in. It'd be even more awesome if there were more PoC authors and authors that identify in other ways that weren't heterosexual, were in the market too that wrote about these identites and experiences. However, the market believes that they don't sell or that it'll alienate a large portion of the audience*** and that's a damn shame. Because if the market represented the world and not just a select portion, more discussions could be centered on PoC that were talking about them could be held as opposed to ones in which we have to rally our voices to even get a sliver of representation.

*the article in question was written in Feb of this year, so it's like 3-4 months of old.

** I love these authors very much, I do but I feel the frustration too when it's the same people interview on issues that aren't dealing with the issues themself.

*** the whitewashing of Khan in the new Star Trek movie (I don't care how great Benedict Cumberbatch looks/is, it'd be cool if JJ Abrams and Co. didn't look at just 2 PoC actors and then decide "we can't find a PoC, let's call in BC to bring us some $$$);  the ridiculous Revealing Eden book (cannot believe that is even a thing), the even more ridiculous and rage-inducing discussion on abortion that was mainly discussed upon and decided by old, white men. Seriously. These things happened. What is life. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post! I'll work hard to make sure that tag isn't just white authors. I'm working on interviews with Mihtali Perkins, Cindy Pon and a few and a few other ya authors. To be honest its been down to the difficulty in contacting authors and in finding people willing to speak candidly about race and publishing. This whole process is humbling and I hope no article of mine will be a source of pain or detriment to the cause of media literacy and diversity.


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