If you walk up to your bookshelves (or the library’s, or Barnes and Noble’s) and pick up a random book there is a 99.9 percent chance that it will feature a white, heterosexual, able-bodied main character.
I know some of you are probably thinking “who cares?” and that is most likely because you are a white, heterosexual able-bodied person (that, or maybe you just hate reading). Don’t get me wrong, I used to think that way too. I love reading and have always been able to relate to one or more of the characters. I had no problem finding literary characters similar to myself, and that is most likely because I am a white, heterosexual able-bodied person myself. However, I didn’t think about it that way. I didn’t appreciate how well represented I was in books because I didn’t know any different. I just got frustrated when people bashed my favorite books calling them out for not being diverse. I would just brush it off saying, “oh, people will complain about anything,” but that is just another part of the problem.
The first step of raising awareness of the need for more diversity in literature is realizing there is a lack of it. Now, I’ve read so many diverse books in so many genres that the lack of diversity seems pretty much inexcusable. People need to be able to relate to book characters, and it also makes the story feel more real — for everyone, not just one group of people.
Not only do we need diversity in all literature genres, but in particular diverse books are needed for younger children. Kids should be exposed to books featuring diverse characters at a young age. It should be normal to read books about people of color or people who have different sexualities and so on. It is important that they don’t get discouraged by only seeing one race and sexual orientation featured in literature, in case they themselves don’t fit into that category. If people learn from a young age that all people are different and that people’s differences should be celebrated and accepted, we could create a more tolerant society.
Diversity in the Young Adult genre is just as important. Most teens are dealing with their self-image during their teenage years and need to know that whatever their sexuality, whatever their race or physical condition, they will be accepted in today’s society. Not only that, but they will be able to find characters who are like them in books. Books often provide an escape, and it feels so comforting to know the characters in the stories you love are just like you.
The real world is full of people of all different races, sexualities and body types. Not just able-bodied people versus non-able-bodied people but also in looks, height, weight and so many other factors. Every person is different, and therefore all the characters in books should be different. Not every character needs to be insanely attractive be in perfect physical shape, and be white and heterosexual. Having diverse characters makes the book feel more real, and makes the story more interesting to read. People of any race are capable of being a strong protagonist. The girl doesn’t always have to fall in love or be rescued by the male protagonist. Diversity is essential in literature and needs to be promoted, celebrated and included in all novels of every genre. For the current generation, and for generations to come.