As many of you are aware the beloved Twinjas have been #TeamUpkins since day one. It was these amazing sisters who dubbed yours truly the King of All Geeks. Whether it’s promoting West of Sunset; allowing me to share my experiences as a queer author of color; giving me the opportunity to offer advice on writing to promoting #BlackSpeculativeFictionMonth, their doors have always been open and they’ve never missed a chance to make me feel welcome.
Which is why today I’m both honored and humbled to return the favor. Next month, the Twinjas have a huge diversity event planned on their site. You will definitely want to check it out. Today Guinevere Zoyana Thomas, one half of the dynamic duo, has graced us with a guest post to discuss some major issues when it comes to diversity in books and media in general.
Are you sure?
Three words. Ten letters. Tons of power.
You would be surprised what kind of effect those three little words can bring, especially when they’re coming from co-workers, friends, and even family members.
As a reader who has become emotionally exhausted and drained, over the disproportionate amount of books featuring LGBTQIA, people of color, variety in size, socio-economic background, disability or religiously diverse main characters in comparison to our White, Cis and Straight, Abled and Male counterparts, I get asked this all the time.
Im a Black Cis girl of Afro-Cuban descent. Im straight. Im not rich and I dont have any physical, emotional or nuero disabilities. Many of these things you are not able to tell just by looking at me, especially at my evening job. Outside of one other Black girl, and my Indian boss, Im surrounded by white men and women. Many of who, when they see me, can count on the fact that I’ll be reading a book in their presence.
I was reading “Necessary Roughness” a F/F book that featuring an Asian protagonist who falls for her Black and Queer “stepsister.” I never have any issue explaining my book taste when someone asks. In fact, I love to brag, and gleefully admit many of the books I choose are based on a narrative I do not have experience in.
It used to never fail when the room would get awkwardly quiet. It’s calmed down since I first started working there, but I generally knew this question or one like it, would come. It always did. That moment they’d ask me a probing question, much like…
“Are you gay or something?”
*Face-palm* “If you must know, I only read books that feature diversity. Not that it should matter(or be any of your business) but Im not.”
“Why do you want to read that then?”
I’ve devised detailed answers over the years, but as Im getting older, between not giving a baboon’s behind and not wasting my time to educate people over and over, a simple “Because I want to” is all I need to say.
I used to spend up to 15 minutes of my valuable time educating co-workers on why diversity in books was not only important, but necessary. But for cats who don’t have a problem seeing themselves in ANYTHING, it’s usually a misuse of time.
Most of the time they’re so busy trying to convince me we’re all “human”, or that they don’t see race, and that the quality of work should matter more than the diverse experiences being told (Or not being told). All while I take pride in the fact a person feels comfortable enough to ask for a book recommendation when they’re on the lookout for a decent read every now and then, it should just be first nature to get excited about a story that does showcase a “human” narrative (Because what they hell else would it be, vampires?) for a character who just happens to be of Hmong descent, just as much as it is to read the endless amounts of white, cis, straight “Luce’s” and “Will’s” (I kid you not, before I read diversely, I read 4 Luce’s and Will’s, hell, there’s even a bunch of “Kai’s” and “Jace’s” too).
There are so many times when our peers, unknowingly pass their doubt, or own insecurities about the “diversity” conversation. This doesn’t just ring true for just white people in comparison to people of color. They have the power to come out in conversations about people with disabilities in comparison to the abled. Conversations about people in the queer community in comparison to others who identity as straight/cis. Even amongst the affluent vs the not so affluent.
Even our loved ones have the power, if not the most, to influence whether we read diversely.
Take a parent-child trip to the bookstore. Children often tend to be blessed(unless taught otherwise)with that blissful ignorance of not seeing the world for the dangerous and ugly place that it can be. When a white kid picks up a book with a fellow kid, who happens to be black, they’re just picking it up because there’s a kid with…I don’t know, a colorful cape on.
They’ve found that magically entertaining book that they will have their parents read to them every night, until they get bored with it and trade it in for a new book with a kid riding a dragon on the cover.
But here is where things can get complicated. The parent sees it…They see the character on the book doesn’t look like them or their child. Here it comes…They ask “Are you sure?”
Are you sure you want this book?” Let’s get one thing straight. Kids aint sure about a damn thing. They base “need” off of “want.” Anything they want could change at the drop of the hat anyway. But when you impose this question on them, secretly, you are voicing your OWN disapproval. Children are whimsical people, but they pick up on those micro aggressions. Suddenly they lose interest, in fear of losing your approval.
Basically you doom them from the beginning.
This holds true for educators as well. They are also the gatekeepers to people of all ages. Educators don’t seek diverse material for their children, because they think they wont want it.
That is a truly dangerous mentality to have.
That’s where I get frustrated. I want to convince people why diversity in books is important, but a part of me cant see why it’s not painfully obvious.While I might have the ability to educate others on the experiences I go through, on another note, it’s not my job to educate them. There are many experiences I get to read from books, that don’t mirror my own experiences. Im always tempted to ask a question about something I don’t particularly know about a demographic or marginalization I don’t belong to.
But as much as I would like for someone to take out the time to educate me, it is no one’s job to set me in the right path. I have to take that upon myself to actively seek diverse narratives, on my own. And it isn’t always an easy task, when the people around you just don’t get it.
I grew up in not only Miami, FL but another small urban area known as Fair Haven, CT. I definitely have to be careful on how I speak on around others, otherwise I create the risk of being seen as “hood” or “ghetto”(terms Im not ashamed, nor bothered by). But when it comes to having to explain yourself to your “old school” grandmother, my homeboy from work, or one of your favorite classmates why you’re reading a certain book, because you’re not “Queer/Asian/Disabled/Or Insert Marginalization Here, sometimes you just gotta say “Shut the *&%^ Up.”
Love them from a distance. Maybe even part ways with them if you’re able. There are a lot of people, in this small world. The last thing you need is someone keeping you from a good book.
Guinevere Zoyana Thomas is one half of the ever so silent and deadly “Twinjas” @Twinja Book Reviews. When she isn’t perfecting back handsprings, or working on her red belt in Tang Soo Do, she’s going H.A.M. editing her diverse time-travel YA novel under the pseudonym “GL Tomas.” Check out her blog tour company “Diverse Book Tours”, a virtual tour company that brings diverse books.