megwrites: A moon rising above a darkened landscape in front of a starry night sky. (moonrise)
[personal profile] megwrites
90% of books for kids in the U.S. written by white authors about white protagonists.

I articulated some of my thoughts on twitter, but I wanted to do so in more than 140 characters, so here goes.

Back when the #GayinYA discussions came about, particularly from this post and suggestions were being given as to how to make YA more "diverse", I came across quotes like this:

If You’re A Reader: Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs by buying, reading, reviewing, and asking libraries to buy existing YA fantasy/sf with LGBTQ protagonists or major characters. If those books succeed financially, more like them will be written, represented, and sold.


And, frankly, it made me very uncomfortable as well as dubious about how successful such a strategy could ever be at achieving real and meaningful inclusivity for young adult readers.




My first doubts about the suggested strategy is that it relies on the "vote with your pocketbook" tactic. This tactic is inherently exclusionary to those who's pocketbooks are busy voting for which food stuffs and necessities they'll get, much less what books they can buy.

And when speaking of using this to improve the YA genre in the U.S., it means leaving out a very large chunk of the kids who are the ostensible audience you're trying to reach with these books. Especially the kids who are living on the margins and thus deserve more than anyone to have great literature that reflects and respects them as they are available and accessible.

There are plenty of statistics showing that LGBTQ youth are more likely to end up homeless, abused, and direly lacking in resources and support than their straight-cis counterparts. As are youth of color. Once you start looking at intersections, well, you get the idea.

As for asking librarians, that too is filled with problems for these same kids. For one, marginalized kids have learned early in life that the system is dangerous for them, that even merely asking for something is read as being angry and a problem which results in bad consequences. And if a queer kid (of any color/gender) is trying to keep their identity secret for fear of what the adults around them will do, I think expecting them to march right up to the librarian and ask for more books by and about queer folks or trans folks is unreasonable. In fact, such an act could be deeply unsafe for them.

So these two methods increase the likelihood that the voices being heard most will be those of privileged adults - especially affluent, white ones who have the privilege of being able to trust the system and vote with their pocketbooks.

And that's where we get into problem number two. Even the best meaning privileged person cannot truly understand what it's like to be on the other side of the fence. What affluent white adults who involve themselves in this genre think is a good book may actually be the last thing a kid needs foisted on them or passed off as something that's meant to be for them. A well meaning white

This not to say that adults reading and writing YA is somehow inherently bad. There's nothing at all wrong with adults enjoying YA books, or young folks enjoying adult books. The problems arise when adults don't just read, but exercise the dominant voices not just in production, but the marketplace so that the ability of kids to have a say in what they want and what they feel best suits them.

The third problem, and perhaps the biggest, is that any of these solutions relies on appealing to the very system that caused the problem in the first place. Appealing to the system of publishing and distribution as it stands in the U.S. now is empowering it in one way or another. As the saying goes, the system isn't broken, it's doing exactly as it was designed to do - which is streamline the process of giving those who can pay the most what they most want, regardless of whether they're the majority or the product being put out is actually any good.

Which is why I'd like to see discussions of YA that center around the voices of young readers (because they do have voices, and they deserve to be heard and centered, especially in their own genre) and around ways to give those readers the literature they deserve, the literature that respects and represents them as they are, not as privileged adults imagine them to be.

Date: 2012-03-05 04:59 am (UTC)
nonny: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nonny
When I saw that advice given initially, I expected it was directed at adults -- either parents buying books for their kids, or adult readers of YA. I didn't really even think it was directed at actual YA, YA readers themselves.

I definitely see how the statement is problematic, but the problem is that publishers do pay attention to what sells. This isn't just limited to books about oppressed minorities -- I think we've all had the experience of a beloved series being cut off unfinished because it didn't "sell well enough."

I wish I could believe that publishers would listen to what readers want, regardless if they can actually buy copies, and do what's right socially, but it doesn't work that way, unfortunately. So I unfortunately think it is necessary for people who can do so to buy the books, and I don't think that's a bad message to send.

But it sucks that that's where most suggestions end, is voting with your pocketbook. I also rarely see the suggestion of buying copies for friends, family, local youth groups, donating to libraries, etc. It's something that allies can do, and adult members of those minority groups. Just because I'm an adult now doesn't mean I don't have an interest in what happens with queer kids of today.

Aside from buying, just getting buzz going about books, so that other people are inspired to buy them, is really important. I mean, I can't afford to buy every single book I want to read, so I get a lot from the library, and while I then often buy the ones I loved enough that I want to re-read, I also try to pass on the word to friends. And that's something everyone can do.

But the thing you mention about focus is also important, because the YA community as I've found online mostly revolves around adult readers who are reading/writing YA. I very rarely see actual YA bloggers; sometimes I see reviews on places like Goodreads. I don't know if it's just that there are different spaces that kids participate in online, but it's stuck out to me that it's very often adults talking about what's appropriate and important for young adults to read, without actually considering what said young adults want.

This is especially egregious, imo, when it comes from a parental frame of reference. I'm an adult, but young enough to remember what was important to me when I was a teen, but a lot of people who are doing the talking seem to be coming at it from the parental role. The side effect that this has is often that what ends up being talked about are things that aren't actually impacting young adults, and instead focusing on things that adults (frequently parents) think are important.


(Random: I'm not sure if you set this up yourself or if this is a default to the theme, but the light blue font in this theme on the commenting window is giving me an awful headache typing this out.)

Date: 2012-03-05 05:44 am (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
What affluent white adults who involve themselves in this genre think is a good book may actually be the last thing a kid needs foisted on them or passed off as something that's meant to be for them. A well meaning white

I'm wondering if there's some missing text here?

"Vote with your pocketbook" is something I have really mixed feelings about. It can be effective in a way many other things can't, if enough people do it, and I don't think it's important to be thoughtful about how we spend our money and what we're supporting, within the bounds of our own priorities and practical realities.

But, as you say, that's not an option available to a lot of people, including people who really need to be heard, and it's certainly not a full solution. I think it can be part of a solution, though.

Date: 2012-03-05 03:16 pm (UTC)
green_knight: (Bog)
From: [personal profile] green_knight
What I dislike most about 'vote with your pocketbook' is that it's a form of victim blaming. "Well, you didnt' buy enough copies soon enough, so we're not publishing it.'

Selling only to people who already buy from you is a lousy business strategy, and it's not workign - the established publishing industry is shrinking, while people buy more books than ever, just through different channels.

Of course people need to buy it... but it needs to be there in the first place, and there needs to be a choice of QUILTBAG characters, not just the one token gay couple, and authors need to do their bit to be more aware of issues (including, as a friend pointed out to me yesterday, disability issues.)

Date: 2012-03-05 04:24 pm (UTC)
owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlectomy
Full disclosure: as a writer and librarian I do have some investment in the way things are now. And my viewpoint is heavily colored by my own experiences with the publishing industry. I do believe there CAN be a commercial publishing industry that's much more open to marginalized voices than it is now.

I don't interpret the paragraph you quoted as a call for people who are marginalized and disempowered to get up and effect change in ways that are impossible for them. I interpret it as a call for everyone to consider what they can do. Maybe a poor kid in Kentucky with homophobic parents can't buy books with gay characters or ask the librarian to do so, but I can. There are tons of people out there -- both teens and YA-reading adults -- who consider themselves to be allies, or at least consider themselves not to be prejudiced, but they don't necessarily seek out books with LGBTQ characters.

If they did -- maybe we wouldn't get past the problem of the blinders of privileged people. I don't know. Maybe we would get a lot of books that are desperately condescending and well-meaning. But I think most people who are writing books about teens of color and LGBTQ teens are doing so because they remember what it was like to be a teen of color or an LGBTQ teen, and it's hard for me to think they can't write books that speak to marginalized teens today.

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