The State of Race in YA Literature

Look for the minorities. Oh wait, there aren’t any!

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(creativindie.com)

This is a state of race. This is a worthwhile fight. Race is a ruthless case. Unless you change the status quo. (Reworded lyrics to Taylor Swift’s State of Grace)

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To put this entire post into questions, we have: why are all well-known main characters white? Why wouldn’t we read Harry Potter if he had been Chinese? And why do we care so much?

Let’s talk about the YA world lately. Fortunately, our popular authors have written more books with female protagonists. We’ve started having more books with LGBT characters. Arguably, the YA world is at its golden age. Except for the fact we have completely overlooked one section: race.

To be specific, Hispanics, Asians, and Latinos are avoided the most. Africans are as well, but they aren’t as avoided as the rest. We read the status quo. In other words, we read what we are used to. Because today’s celebrities are for the most part either Caucasian or African American, the US doesn’t get much public exposure to other ethnicities. If we look at the characters of American movies, notice that there aren’t many Asians or Hispanics. And when there are, they are mostly portrayed in a stereotypical, negative light. (Remember Sixteen Candles, anyone?)

Now, to talk about stereotypes, I’ll remind you of the stereotypes. Asians are stereotypically studious, hardworking machines without any sense of emotion. There’s not a lot of distinction between Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians, and other Asians. Apparently all Asians have tiger parents. That’s the reason for their success.

Hispanics, on the other hand, are fat and lazy. Mexicans in particular get hit the most. They’re all illegal immigrants who clean bathrooms. Uneducated, illiterate, Spanish-speaking extraterrestrials. If they don’t fit this description, they deal drugs. They’re part of a gang dealing with coke and meth. Basically, Hispanics are worthy of American acknowledgement.

What’s wrong with these generalizations? EVERYTHING.

Why aren’t most authors trying to combat these stereotypes? Why aren’t we as readers complaining? I think this lack of racial diversity shows that the United States has a long way to go before reaching true diversity. The fact that most readers don’t notice this problem is astonishing. This is the state of race. We’ve got a hard battle to fight.

What can you do as a reader? I think readers everywhere should be open-minded. Not all books with characters of minority races are well-written, as should be expected. However, don’t back away from books just because of a character’s race or culture. Don’t assume stereotypes. Often what we think about people is wrong.

Note: This does not mean that all authors have not been encouraging diversity in novels. I for one am a huge fan of Rick Riordan and Cassandra Clare. They both have characters of varying race, sexual orientation, and personalities. Definitely read their novels if you haven’t read it.

Valerie is fourteen years young. She’s located at a boarding school near Boston out of free will. Writing, speaking, and doing impossible math are her passions in life. Unfortunately, she’s a lot more interesting in person, so the internet will only be a mere glimpse into her mind. As for free time, she’s trying to get some. (Doing extra math isn’t helping.) Whoever said high school was easy was an incredible liar- wait, no one ever said that!
  • kcilfehttahw400

    Great article. The genre is truly lacking in diversity.

  • Valerie Zhang

    Thanks! I really appreciate it.