representation in ya

When was the last time you saw a character that resembled you in a YA book? I’m not just talking about a character with a similar personality or interests. I’m talking about a character with similar physical traits. Chances are, if you’re white, it will be pretty easy to remember. That’s absolutely nothing against white people, just acknowledging a common fact: white people, as opposed to POC, are primarily represented in common media, whether that be books, movies, or TV shows.

Recently, diversity has been a huge word in the book community. Readers, whether they be POC or not, are calling for an increase in diverse characters. Not just diverse skin colors, but diverse sexualities, diverse abilities, diverse faiths, etc. Most authors have responded accordingly, and for the most part, it’s been really nice to see that some of the biggest books this year have featured a diverse main character (The Hate U Give, Warcross, When Dimple Met Rishi, Crooked Kingdom). Some authors have suffered from something called “token diversity”. It’s when they like to include a couple of diverse characters here and there just to fulfill a requirement. They see diverse characters as something to check off a list, and spend hardly any time developing them, hence the token–cough, Sarah J. Maas.

As a Muslim Arab-American, I am a POC. I already know that POC are underrepresented in YA, as I’ve said earlier. The efforts are good, but writers still need to do better. I want to get to a point where a diverse main character isn’t even seen as a huge deal anymore, because guess what? That’s just real life. Most of all, I would like to see more of myself in YA. Because, to answer my own question that I presented in the beginning of this post, there is only time that I’ve ever seen myself represented in YA. Fifth grade–Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. I don’t wear the hijab (headscarf) like Amal did, but I’m an Arab Muslim too, so I could relate.

Six years later, and I still have yet to see myself in YA once more. Why not? Is the only time we can feature Muslims on TV when we’re blasting them for actions committed by a small minority that are not even considered Muslims themselves? Is it really so hard to write a Muslim character? Hell, I don’t even care if she’s not Muslim–just make her Arab, if that’s easier. Is it too hard, because authors are afraid of being offensive? There’s an easy solution to that–don’t be offensive! There’s something called Google, you’re guaranteed to find something there. And you can never go wrong with talking to an actual Muslim–there are over 1 billion of us, I’m sure you can find one somewhere.

I don’t usually do posts like this, but I’d like to start doing them more often. Why? Because they’re important. It’s important to feel represented. In the case of TV, the closest I’ve ever felt to being represented is when I watched the Mindy Project for the first time. And she’s not even Arab or Muslim! She’s Indian. And that was a rarity within itself. For white people, representation isn’t an issue, because they are literally featured everywhere. I’m not saying stop featuring white people, because that would be unrealistic. All I’m saying is, we need to make it more equally distributed.

What do you guys think? Do you think diversity in YA is important? When was the last time you saw yourself represented in YA? Let me know in the comments!




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