What To Do When Diverse Books Are Problematic
This post is inspired by Everything, Everything, and the new movie release. Maybe some people don’t know, but the book is deeply problematic, and many decide to gloss over the problematic aspects because the book is diverse.
I think this has to be the big elephant in the room, right? What do you do when a diverse book is problematic? This is even worse when the book in question is #ownvoices*! What do you do then, and how do you approach this?
Background Information *
First of all when I say diverse book, I mean a book written by a diverse author and/or has diverse characters OR books that focus entirely on POC or Indigenous characters or characters of the LGBTQIAP+ community.
#OwnVoices are particularly important because it means that the author is writing a character that shares a type of marginalization with them. For example: a biracial bisexual author writes a book about with a biracial bisexual main character.
Here’s what you need to know
Just because a book is diverse doesn’t mean it’s exempt from being problematic. (I’ve talked about this here, too). This is especially so for a book written by an #ownvoices author.
The truth is, we all have different prejudices that we might not be aware of. Just like we all have different levels of privilege and we especially have different experiences.
So, for example, this can be the case in which a book has excellent LGBTQIAP+ representation, but contains anti-black statements. It is an important book for those in the LGBTQIAP+ community, but is it good for those in that same community who are black? No.
So What Do You Do In This Case?
- If you’re not entirely sure if something’s problematic, ask around. Especially ask people who are directly affected by said “problematic” parts.
Like for example, you reach a certain part in your book where a character said something about lesbians (hypothetically), but you don’t have much experience in that. What do you do? Ask someone in that particular area of expertise.
1a. Check out multiple resources online.
For disabled rep, you can see if Disability in Kidlit has said anything about the book you’re reading, just like there’s Latinxs in Kidlit, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Read Diverse Books, Rich in Color, and so many more websites that can help you determine if a book has good rep.
- Question the book in its entirety
What was it aiming to do? Are there parts of the book that could help other readers feel represented? Do you think the pros outweigh the cons?
- Call It Out
Be it in your review, be it on Twitter. Wherever and whenever you talk about this book, you should warn about the problematic content. Saying “hey I think this book has great bisexual representation but was problematic regarding race” literally takes seconds of your time and can really save people from being hurt.
3a. Be Careful When Recommending
This one is pretty much the same as above, but mainly, if you know that someone has high chances of being hurt by said book, warn them beforehand. It’s better to be safe than sorry <3
- Acknowledge that diversity is not a monolith
With this I mean, that you have to understand that yes, some diverse books will get it wrong. Some ownvoices authors will probably get something wrong. However this doesn’t have to mean a boycott on all diversity. Like I said before, we all have different prejudices and experiences and we all just have to learn. You don’t stop reading books by allo cishetero white authors when one of them writes a book you don’t like, so why do that to diverse books?
Here are some examples of diverse books that are problematic:
Every Day by David Levithan:
https://twitter.com/yuriodavai/status/833837694354649088 <- Very harmful fatphobic comments
Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
https://twitter.com/Bookishwithtea/status/833854791646220289 < – OwnVoices Muslim rep, but ended up being very biphobic
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
https://twitter.com/masondeaver/status/817935700171653121 <- Sofia Khan is an important book for many Muslim readers, but ace spectrum readers can be deeply hurt by some statements in it.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
… and last but not least, why Everything, Everything is problematic.
So, there it is. I don’t expect you to take this as gospel; there are endless resources that you can use to find out whether a book is harmful or not (I listed these above, but a simple Google search can also point out many more).
I hope you keep these things in mind when talking about Everything, Everything. Yes, it’s a diverse book. Yes, it’s written by an author of color and currently on the NYT bestseller list. That’s all true. It’s a great achievement for the author, especially an author of color. However, we can’t ignore the ableism. We can’t ignore the very real and very valid hurt that many disabled readers felt when reading this book. When talking about Everything, Everything, don’t just say it’s a great “black author” achievement. Don’t gloss over the fact that it is indeed problematic.
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