Don’t Add Diversity for the Sake of It

Dont Add Diversity for the Sake of It

Sydney Liao

        In the past few years, the literature world has taken massive steps towards promoting the idea of increasing diversity in books. Since the launch of the We Need Diverse Books organization in 2014, the movement has grown into a full-on battle for diversity in literature. In 2016, avid readers took the campaign onto various social media platforms. “Bookstagrammers”, who share their love for literature on Instagram, talk about the importance of diversity using lengthy captions. Meanwhile on YouTube, “booktubers” showcase their top ten diverse book picks, and book bloggers are sure to mention a book’s abundance or lack of diversity.

        Raising awareness for diversity has been an eye-opener for the bookish community, but it has also led to diversity simply for the sake of diversity. As an active reader and social media user, I have noticed that many authors receive backlash when they neglect to include a diverse cast of characters in their work. Whether it is via Instagram, Twitter or YouTube, readers attack authors for the deficiency of diversity in their books, sometimes going as far as “tagging” the author. Such appraisal can be detrimental to an author’s career. To mark the diversity checkbox, they shove in a diverse aspect or character, ultimately failing to be authentic.

        A notable example is Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACoWAR), the third installment of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series (ACoTAR). Where most books are condemned for lack of diversity, ACoWAR is debated for its poor representation of people of color and LGBTQ+ members. In the first two books of the popular YA fantasy series, readers were introduced to the land of the fae (or fairies), a world that appeared to consist entirely of straight white characters. Then, in ACoWAR, without providing any hints in the previous books, Maas throws in a few POC and two LBGTQ+ individuals into the cast. Without any build up over the course of two books over 300 pages long, Maas devotes a single line to reveal that a character is lesbian, and another as bisexual.

        Another writer who faced controversy for building superficial diversity is JK Rowling, the renowned author of the Harry Potter series that so many have come to love. Years after the series ended, Rowling asserted the interpretations of Dumbledore being gay and Hermione Granger being of color through interviews. While some celebrated the diversification of Hogwarts, others noticed that nowhere in the books were these significant details directly addressed.

        Such representation is half-hearted and weak in impact, and it instead portrays a lack of consideration on the author’s part. The purpose of diversity in literature is to unearth different perspectives and accurately represent the world, not further alienate groups. Diversity, be it sexuality, race, skin color, culture or mental illness, should be an inherent part of the book.

        I am not criticizing diversity. In fact, when diversity is done right, it is incredibly powerful and adds authenticity to literature. However, it is equally essential for authors to be genuine and thoughtful in their efforts to realistically capture the differences that exist among people.