Weak Diversity: A Guest Post from YA Author Miri Castor

October 12, 2015 Features & Spotlights, Guest Post 1

miri castor


Today we have Miri Castor, author of the upcoming Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn! I hope you all enjoy this post and I hope you’re all going to look forward to The Path to Dawn now!

About the Book

Opal Cover mainOpal Charm: The Path to Dawn by Miri Castor

Opal is a young girl living in Dewdrop, a bustling suburb southeast of New York. She struggles with her life at home and doesn’t have much of a life at school without any friends-until she befriends the new girl, Hope Adaire. Since meeting her, Opal’s life changes for better and for worse; Hope’s lies and truths become blurred together as Opal delves deeper into Hope’s enigmatic life.

She stumbles across a world separate from Earth, a world that she never would have thought existed. Opal discovers that she has a gift, a certain power that can make her stronger than she ever imagined, and must use it to save this new world, its inhabitants, and her own. This power is the key to seeking the truth and rejecting the lies. When someone threatens the peace in Dewdrop, this temperamental teen with too much emotional baggage must learn how to control her gift and protect her home.

About the Author

Miri Castor is the upcoming author of Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn. She served as her high school’s co-editor and chief editor for their literary magazine and newspaper. In 2012, she received a Women in Science award and graduated with honors. Now attending a university on the East Coast, she studies biochemistry and will receive her B.S. in 2016. A New York native, Miri is working on her second novel while in her last year as an undergraduate. She enjoys playing video games, attending music concerts, and strolling through the city. She may be seen eating at her favorite restaurant in Manhattan, Max Brenner.

Weak Diversity is Not Diversity: A Guest Post

What does the term, “diversity” really mean to writers? I have to wonder because it seems to be a token word in the world of literature now. I call it a “token word” because diversity is a broad term that some writers use to protect themselves from being called bigots. It’s great to start trending hashtags about having more diversity in sci-fi and fantasy—two genres notably lacking in much diversity besides aliens that serve as substitutes for PoC (people of color)—but that doesn’t mean much to me. I think we need to start specifying the token word. Many of us, readers and authors alike, are believing in the superficiality of diversity: empty shells of static colored/queer characters. When I say I want diversity in books, I want underrepresented characters to have plots that revolve around saving the world, struggling to defeat the antagonist, and undergoing meaningful character development. What I don’t want are one-dimensional, marginalized characters that authors will refer to when asked to incorporate diversity into their stories. Yet, this is the reality I see in my favorite genres.

The unequal depth that writers go into when describing their white MC (main character) and their token minority says it all. There is so much detail that goes into describing white characters, like the fluidity of their hair, and the “pools of blue eyes” everyone seems to drown in. Then the minority is introduced, and you get this: “His black skin shone in the sunlight,” and “Her hair was in a big afro twice the size of her head.” I’ve noticed for describing Asians—Eastern and Southeastern—it’s also pretty straightforward, “She looked Asian. I guessed from her slanted eyes and pale skin.” It’s so terribly racist that I cringed writing that. These characters are either minor side characters, or the bad guys, and nothing in between.

Queer people have it bad, too. In almost all the YA novels I’ve read that feature homosexual characters, they are the gay best friend who serve as comic relief. Male, gay best friends are most common in these stories—from what I’ve seen—and are flamboyant, dressed fashionably, and sexually vulgar in conversation. Always friends to the straight white girl, they are sassy, preoccupied with checking out boys, and unconditionally supporting the MC. Lesbians in these fiction novels are almost nonexistent, but they’re always described as butch or overly-flirtatious, conventionally attractive white women. If these characters aren’t serving as comic relief, they’re wallowing in depression of not being able to come out and be themselves; while this is true for many queer people, this has become an overused, jaded trope in literature.

I wouldn’t be harping about this if there weren’t serious implications that perpetuated inequality. The lack of adequate description gives you one image of said minority, and it is usually a stereotypical one. Writing, “the new Black kid came up to Joseph,” while the writer spends an entire page on the green eyes of a white love interest takes away the complexities that minority has as a person. You might be thinking, “Person? Dude, it’s a character in a story. It’s not real,” and you’re right—but these unreal characters can influence how we socialize with real people. Coupled with poor diversity in the media, readers may think that all gay men are sassy, have high pitched voices, and have good fashion sense, and that all black women are loud and snarky with “milk chocolate” skin; the fetishization of black women in literature is a topic for another guest post. When said people meet butch lesbians and black women who do not fit these tropes—because real people are multifaceted human beings and not caricatures—they wonder, “These people do not match my image of X. I should criticize them for not matching my ideal X person.” If you think this doesn’t happen and that there aren’t any consequences to this, it does and there are! I’ve lived my entire life being condemned by other people for being a quiet, nerdy black bookworm who liked science. I hated my skin; I used to wish I had lighter skin as a black person, so I could emulate the heroes and heroines I read about in books and saw on TV. If you’re still in doubt, listen to the album, Camp by Childish Gambino. This black man spent every other verse in his album rapping about being called “white” and “not black enough.”

Lazy diversity isn’t diversity. It’s harmful tropes, caricatures, laziness, and the inability to do research and go beyond what writers don’t understand. When I first wrote Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn, I didn’t see the importance of representation in my novel, even as a black girl. I know now it’s important to see underrepresented characters as multifaceted people, especially in sci-fi and fantasy works. I try to create these characters and center their conflicts on plot points, while letting them retain and be aware of their self-identities. While hastily describing the loud Hispanics in the back of the MC’s classroom adds color to the predominately white, fiction world, it is not enough. We, as authors who hope to change the world with our stories, need to step up our game, do some homework, and avoid falling back on stereotypical tropes for underrepresented people.

What did you think of this guest post? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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