In all my time as a writer and reader, I’ve heard a lot of people ask why diversity in books (and tv shows, and movies) is important. Whether it’s for people of color, disabled people, mentally ill people, or lgbtqia+ people, people want diversity. And a lot of people don’t get why.
From about age 7, I had a role model in a book series that I liked. Like me, she had brown hair. She was white*. She liked books. She liked learning. And if you can guess where this is going, her name was Hermione Granger.
I saw myself in her. In bossy, smart, powerful Hermione Granger, who loved reading as much as I did. This was around the time I was diagnosed with autism, so having a character like me in a book series I loved was great.
So at a time when I needed a heroine like me, I had one… sort of.
I didn’t grow up with tons of heroes and heroines who were autistic, like me. I had one or two in books that I couldn’t read, because I was too young. Sure, I had other heroes and heroines and protagonists I could relate to, but not fully. Not one hundred percent. Not completely.
Other people grew up with those characters. Grew up with people they could completely relate to. And the majority of these people were white men and women.
Other people didn’t have that. There are Hispanic and black and Asian kids out there who aren’t getting the chance to read about someone having adventures and falling in love who looks like them. There are autistic kids out there who only read about allistic heroes because that’s all there is.
They don’t get a role model. Like me with Hermione Granger, they can’t fully relate. They can’t fully get it. There are experiences that you can’t relate to when you’re not neurotypical or white or allo or abled.
Let’s face it – at least in America, we live in an abled, amatonormative, neurotypical, white, allistic world, where barely anything caters to those who aren’t those things. Movie stars and singers are mostly white. Autistic people are frowned upon or treated like crap (Autism Speaks, anyone?) Nearly every movie and book has a romance subplot, almost always between a white guy and a white girl. We don’t make way for those who are disabled – heck, some people are utter jerks and steal parking spots.
So let’s talk about the lack of diversity in fiction.
- If I open a book or watch a tv show, I’m way more likely to find a white protagonist than a protagonist of color.
- I’m more likely to find an allistic hero than one who’s autistic.
- I’m more likely to find a neurotypical hero than one who’s neurodivergent.
- I’m more likely to find one who is heterosexual than one who isn’t.
- I’m more likely to find one who’s allosexual than one who’s asexual.
- I’m more likely to find an abled protagonist than one who is at all disabled.
- If there are people of color/autistic people/disabled people/etc., they are usually 1) ignored by the fandom, 2) side characters, 3) only coded as autistic/etc., 4) the bad guy, or 5) killed off pretty quickly.
Luckily, with books and tv shows, that is slowly changing! You have autistic characters like Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds, black heroines like Iris West in The Flash, aroace characters like Jughead Jones in the Archie comics, and the like.
And people deserve those characters. They deserve to see themselves in a hero. If they can relate to a white hero, even if not fully, then you sure as heck can relate to one who’s not white. Or abled. Or whatever you are. (Because yes, I hear a lot of “why are you complaining about diversity in books when you can just relate to this guy?” and also “I can’t relate to that character! they’re not white/abled/allo/allistic!”)
But it’s still a very slow road.
And it’s going to take a while to get much better.
(*Note: Hermione Granger is black, as portrayed in the Cursed Child play. Obviously, at the time, she “wasn’t.” She was portrayed in the movies by Emma Watson, and etc.)