I read about NPR's white YA list and it made me sad. I've been 'watching' your blog since 2009/early 2010 and it's been really interesting and exciting to see the stages of publishing (the few times you've mentioned it at least). I'd love to read your book and was wondering, especially since you're not white, if the protagonist of your story is white or how you feel about the 'whiteness' of YA. Does it seem taboo for white authors to write 'ethnic' protagonists? Or is it only about selling?
Hey! Hi, hello :)
I’m so, I guess the word is ‘immersed’ in YA, that I sometimes forget that most of the well known books have white protagonists. I also read a lot of YA novels that haven’t been published yet and may never be published. So I know that there are plenty of non-white protagonists and that authors are writing POC stories and across genres.
But then I’ll look at what’s actually selling and what people are talking about, and yeah, it’s definitely not as diverse as it could be. I write a variety of ethnicities and I think early on I felt a lot of pressure to only write POC protagonists, but I’ve gotten over that and the manuscript I’m writing right now is full of very white Irish Catholics. My two others are both POC and most of the ones I have planned are a variety of brown.
That said, I’d love to see more white writers tackle POC characters, but I totally understand why there is a lot of hang wringing. There are a lot of people who don’t consider a POC character genuine unless written by a POC. But I’d compare them to people who won’t read male characters by female writers. Not that it’s impossible to “get wrong” but it’s a lot harder to “get wrong” than people seem to think. The key to writing any character from a marginalized demographic is to write them, first and foremost, as human (or cyborg, or werespider, or whatever they happen to be). I also think that any white writer (or film maker, or illustrator) tackling POC can’t be afraid of being called racist—because it’s going to happen. It may or may not be valid, but it’ll be said. And dealing with that means both being sensitive to those concerns/complaints but not letting them dictate your work. And that is difficult. Creating art and giving it up for public consumption is scary enough, but when it gets political, I think it can be terrifying. It can take the joy out of it for a lot of people.
So it’s tricky, I think. There is the idea that white people won’t read on-white characters, but that’s been proven false so many times, it’s hardly relevant anymore. It’s an antiquated idea, a excuse people hold on to so they can continue being lazy and non-inclusive. But I don’t think it’s really about selling. I think there are just 25 white YA writers to every non-white YA writer and I think the white writers are often staying in their comfort zones (which is pretty morally neutral for me) and writing white as their default. Notice the writers are also largely female and the books tend to have female protagonists. So I don’t think many people are refusing to write non-white and buy non-white and sell non-white as much as they are totally ignoring the fact that non-white (and queer and trans and non-neurotypical etc) is an equally valid option.