A while back I was reading a fascinating article over on The Masquerade Crew by JeanNicole Rivers called ‘Are You A Racist Reader?’ JeanNicole made some excellent points and I began to look at how I picture characters when I read. I have now come to the conclusion that I am a racist reader. Then I immediately started feeling guilty.
The community I grew up in was not known for its diversity or even its political correctness. It was predominantly white and racism was pretty much the default attitude for most people, especially the older generations. There is a family anecdote about how when I was two years old my mother took me shopping in the city and I pointed at an African American man and said: “Mum, why is that man brown?” Yes, that’s how white my community was. I never actually had spoken to a ‘brown’ person until I was six or seven, when my father began importing Filipino workers, who we treated as part of the family.
Despite growing up immersed in the Filipino culture, I have always found that the default picture in my head when I am reading is a white person. Why? Well, most characters in fiction are white and I grew up in a predominantly white community. Yet I find that I’m not the only racist reader out there. Many people were shocked that Rue was African American in the Hunger Games movie, myself included. We shouldn’t have been. Rue is described as having dark skin, but since it seems that her different ethnicity is never made an issue, the default picture in everyone’s minds was white.
In fiction when minorities are portrayed, it seems like the fact they are minorities is a major part of their characterization. However, when an issue isn’t made of it, I find myself assuming they are white. There really is no excuse for this, but the fact that minorities aren’t very common in mainstream fiction doesn’t help the problem either. Things are getting much better as compared to, say, ten years ago, but there still isn’t really accurate representation of minorities in mainstream YA.
Should we add minorities for the sake of adding minorities? No. But should authors try to accurately represent the current population of the world (if they’re writing contemporary fiction)? Absolutely! Let’s face it, the ethnic make up of pretty much every country, especially the United States, is changing. I can understand a mostly white population in historical fiction set in certain countries, but that doesn’t mean that there were never people of any other colour in those times either.
What I really hate is how fantasy is mostly Euro-centric. Yes, there are some great Asian-based fantasy worlds out there, but they are severely underrepresented in the mainstream. The last Asian-based fantasy world I read about was Eon and I read that in June. Considering I read 1-2 books a week, with about half of them being fantasy, that’s pretty pathetic. Yes, I recognize that a lot of fantasy is based of Tolkein’s works, but isn’t it about time to move past that? There’s nothing wrong with incorporating African, Asian or Latin American traditions and beliefs in fantasy. So why does it seem to be so difficult for authors to try for a little diversity?
Yes, I admit I am a racist reader. But JeanNicole’s well-written article got me thinking and now I try to keep an open mind about race. It really shouldn’t matter all that much, but it does, which is why I promise to do better in the future.
What do you think? Are you a racist reader?