Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Notes on a Diversity Hashtag by Kell Andrews

Listening to #WeNeedDiverseBooks, I realized the conversation wasn't about me. And neither are the books I want to read.

When the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign began through the work of 22 writers and bloggers, I was enthusiastic. I was long familiar with the issue through Cindy Pon and Malindo Lo’s Diversity in YA campaign, and I had tried to populate my middle-grade novels with diverse characters. So I joined the conversation.

I tweeted. I favorited. I retweeted.

And as the campaign caught fire, the discussion took off in thousands of directions. #WeNeedDiverseBooks truly went viral. More than 80,000 tweets by readers and writers demanded more books about that reflected their lives and the lives they wanted to lead. The tweets and photos were touching, inspiring, provocative, and challenging.

And as the hashtag exploded, my voice seemed... unnecessary. I was participating as a straight, white, able-bodied person, and the conversation wasn't about me at all. It did not require me.

But I kept listening.

I realized that feeling excluded, marginal, and invisible is how young (and older) readers of color, gay readers, and those with disabilities, have felt about books all along. If a Twitter hashtag made me feel that way for a few hours, I could more easily imagine how decades of non-representation would feel.

The conversation was about me because I choose to see myself in others who are different.

And more than that, it did require me. #WeNeedDiverseBooks so that everyone can see someone on the page like themselves – and those unlike themselves. The point of the campaign isn’t that diverse books are only for certain readers – they’re for all of us. If we want them to be published, we need to read them, buy them, and support them.

I’m thrilled that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks created a groundswell that could not be ignored. The Book Con, to be held in concert with Book Expo America at the Javits Center in New York, will now hold a May 31 panels featuring diverse authors  – Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, I.W. Gregorio, Marieke Nijkamp, Mike Jung, Lamar Giles, Ellen Oh, and Aisha Saeed. And I will still be listening – I’ll be at BEA that day signing Deadwood for Spencer Hill Middle Grade at 1 p.m., so I can hear (and tweet!) the 10 a.m. panel.

Of course, this panel is not the end – it’s a continuation of the conversation and a rallying point for what's next: writing, publishing, buying, and reading books that represent humanity in all its breadth and depth.

The campaign’s official website is www.diversebooks.org.


  1. Lisa Yee wrote about the topic at Redroom:


    As a cisgendered white male writer who is well aware of his privilege, but still writes characters who are all different kinds of minorities, because that's the kind of people he knows IRL, I feel pretty strongly about this (full disclosure, Lisa's post links to a Facebook discussion I was pretty active in).

    Great first post, Kell! Welcome to PMGM!!!

  2. Thanks, Matthew, for the welcome and link.

  3. As my editor, Stacey Barney, says, we're all on the hook for making sure all sorts of voices are heard. So I'd (kindly) say this is a conversation you have every right to proudly be a part of.

    Welcome, Kell!

  4. What a great inaugural post. Happy to have you with us, Kell.

  5. Thanks for being brave enough to share your thoughts, Kell.

    What I think "Hyper-Aware White Folk" (forgive my use of this term, I only use it to make a point) tend to forget is that people of our generation have the chance to do what our ancestors couldn't.

    For us, kids, teens and adults who are DYING from prejudice and gender/racial stigma in all its forms, is WAY WORSE than "Social Death." Social death can be fixed. We're ALIVE to fix it.

    When you PHYSICALLY die, because you can no longer take the sting of hatred and societal neglect, no one can fix that. Some people say will always be here, I'm not one of those people.

    On that logic, we'd still have slavery (as it was in the 1800s) and I'd be an illiterate nut job who only had a life of manual labor and beatings to live for, and yes slavery it still exists in other ways, but if people just accepted that, than blacks will ALWAYS be slaves, women will ALWAYS be inferior to men, we couldn't have the world we live in now, with people across the generations TRYING to make it better.

    People who say gender or ethnic injustice is absolute, that it'll always be here aren't realists.

    They're COWARDS.

    Maybe they won't live to see it, but I and so many behind me can, it has to start sometime, I have to believe that. No matter how childish it sounds.

    I know we have a long way to go. But we HAVE to acknowledge that right now, we've at least gotten BEYOND ZERO! Sometimes we focus so much on what we haven't yet done, we don't stop and see what we have done already, it's not insignificant.

    I can't think we haven't gone BEYOND ZERO across the human experience, whether we're talking more ethnic diversity, or changing gender norms for the better, women can be courageous leaders and take charge, but men can be emotionally involved caregivers, we can bring home FAR MORE than just the bacon!

    Fellow Mayhemers, I ask you this, don't you've think that we're at least BEYOND ZERO?

    Any successful movement for change has to go BEYOND ZERO!
    If we as a society want fathers involved, we have to let them be, we can't the jerky exceptions shut us off to possibility of bringing fathers back in a positive way, for every molester, there is a protector, for every abuser, there's a crusader.

    For every "Deadbeat Dad" story the evening news can sling at us, there are ALWAYS stories of dads who are/were there, who cared, and made a POSITIVE difference to the end. We need more of their stories told to balance the current wave of dads who let their kids down.

    Kids have to know that what they lived doesn't have to be repeated. We don't have to inherent everything from our families, there are things that are ours, that we the right to claim for ourselves.

    While I had ears to the ground to much of this, and was certainly supportive and buying books that support diversity (flipping gender norms if not ethnicity)

    To be continued...

  6. While I had ears to the ground to much of this, and was certainly supportive and buying books that support diversity (flipping gender norms if not ethnicity)

    Part of the reason I write animal stories (Aside from LOVING them first and foremost) was also because I didn't have to face the racial stuff when dealing with "Normal" humans.

    Or I play up one race of creatures against another without the added piece when it's human to human. I didn't feel I could tell the stories I wanted to tell if I wrote about people.

    Sure, I can write them within the context of when an animal's the lead character, but when it's human to human (like say "Holes" or "Wonder") I freeze. I struggle to make real life interesting in the few times I've veered into the "realistic" realm.

    We all have a right to be part of this conversation. A right to be part of the solution.

    I didn't see #WeNeedDiverseBooks as solely about ethnic diversity, though that was what sparked it, but also about diversity in how we see kids and teens throughout the world.

    For instance, male characters of ANY ethnicity who don't apologize for being emotionally vulnerable and having non-traditional interests, who are proud to be smart,. without being the super erudite stuck-up control freak?

    If Jo March can be a serious tomboy writer in her own right, and Pippi Longstocking the "Strongest Girl in The World" why can there be boys who would rather cook, or paint, or be into fashion more than football?

    Why can't there be boys and men of any ethnicity in fiction who respect their heritage, but just don't model it 100% in their own life? We may not be "Army Strong" but it doesn't mean we're weak all facets of life, either!
    Have we told the "Boys don't cry/Man Up" myths for so long in books. film, television, across the culture of the world that there's not enough of us can stand against it?

    Most of the books I can think of that star or organically feature african-american characters are girls, and if they do star or feature boys, they tend to be either "Idiotic pests" or these "Type A, academic posturing snobs." Why can't black boys and men just be what they want without it being a big deal all the time!?

  7. Taurean, I love your term "Hyper-Aware White Person" -- yes, that is me. Better aware than oblivious! We have moved beyond zero, and you're right that we have a chance and a responsibility to move much farther. I'd also like to see more diverse portrayals of boys too, as you say. When talking about "boy books," we should include books about and for all kinds of boys -- diversity of interests, personality and behavior, as well as ethnicity, disability, gender, and orientation.

    Great dialogue -- thank you.

    1. Glad it came off how I hoped, Kell.

      Seriously, I typically don't use phrases like I started the first part of my comment with, I just felt it was apt for my response, as I can relate to having "Should I comment on this?" or "Do I have a right to join in?" moments.

      I was worried I sounded too hard-nosed and mean in my comments (some would say "Editorials") at times, I've had that problem before, particularly because I had a mini post-Mother's Day episode on Monday I was particularly vulnerable, but I knew I had to speak to this before this got buried in the archives.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!