Will I Ever Get To Be In A Book?! (A Rant About Diversity)



One time, when I was about ten, I was hanging out on one of those kiddie sites (Stardoll, if you're curious). I spent too much time on the damn thing, and consequently, I had lots of friends. From all over the world. So one day, I get this message from a girl. I can't recall precisely what the message said,  but I do remember she was pretty fascinated that I was Egyptian. And no, she wasn't fascinated because my great-great-great grandfather was a pharaoh  or because we have some pretty old pyramids. She was fascinated because I, the Egyptian, had internet. That's right. She was surprised that someone who lived in the desert, inside tents, had a computer and internet access.

After laughing my ass off with my mother, I had to explain to her that I do not  have a pet camel, have only visited the pyramids once, and my desert survival skills were just as shitty as hers. I could have further shocked her by mentioning that the nearest Starbucks is a 10 minute walk from where I live, and that the genius invention of auto vehicles had reached our distant Arabian land. Quite frankly, at first, I took it as a laughing matter. Ha ha. Those foreigners think we're nomads. How funny! But then, I realized, holy shit those foreigners think we're nomads! I became self conscious of whenever I'd introduce my self as an Egyptian. I realized I wanted follow it up by saying "I also happen to live in a metropolitan city. Please don't look down on me."

Now, hear me out, I don't blame the girl for her misconception. If I'd watched Mission Impossible, and saw how Tom Cruise magically managed to run from Burj Khalifa 
to a deserted village in a few seconds, or saw how Arabs were comically stereotyped in Transformers 2, I'd be fascinated with how an Egyptian got hold of a computer too.

The reason I started writing this article, is because even though the lack of diversity in YA always irked me, yesterday, it reached it's maximum point. I was trying to recall how many books I read had an Arab-or a character from a different ethnic group for that matter- and the result? Only one. Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian. And while this was a thoughtful look on Arabs, and you could tell the author did her research, it was still not enough. I tried Googling YA books with Arab characters, and yup... nothing.

And here's the thing, writing about a culture you don't know about is tricky. Unless you do portray them spot on, there will be people who are offended. Which brings me to another question: Would I rather read about an Arab character portrayed incorrectly, or none at all? I think.. I'd rather go with the first one. As much as it sucks to not be represented in a book, it sucks even more to be stereotyped. It's due to those stereotypes that my brother almost got deported in London because  his middle name sounds similar to those the "bad guys" have. And you know what, I don't mind reading about an Arab villain. Bad guys are present in all cultures and countries. But if you're going to dumb down your characterization to a bearded, women-crazed, angry man, then sorry buddy, but a few thousand others beat you to it.   That's not how characterization is done, or writing for that matter. Don't dehumanize a villain just because you have a stereotype of them in mind. Give them a back story, a motive. If their nationality and ethnicity is their only reason for being assholes, then.. not only is this racist, but a one dimensional, poorly constructed story.

You know, I'm being quite hypocritical here. As we speak, I'm working on a book. A book with a white, English speaking MC. I know what some might be thinking: Instead of bitching about the lack of diversity, why don't you do something about it?  Here's the thing: there are a LOT of books featuring MCs from all ethnic groups, and backgrounds  Those books are currently gathering dust on the shelf of unpublished. And this isn't because publishing houses are controlled by evil super villains who don't want no diversity (atleast I hope not!), but it's because the authors happen to live in a far, far away land like the one I live in. Should I ever decide to write a book with an Arab character, it would still sit on that dreaded shelf. Why? Well, because even self publishing is not an option for me, as both Kindle and Nook publishing is only allowed in certain countries. There are always exceptions, I know, but all in all, international authors have the odds against them. American authors have trouble finding a house to publish their books, let alone one who lives two continents away!

 I'm sorry if I focused solely on Arab representation. It's just that for once, I'd like to be in a book. I'd like to have my culture represented fairly. I'd like to read about an Arab who ISN'T a terrorist. I know it sounds trivial, but even the simplest things- like Laini Taylor mentioning shisha  in her book- makes me happy. I'd like to Google "diversity in YA" and be bombarded with a list of books with characters that are different.  Asian, hispanic, african, fat, skinny. Characters dealing with disabilities, chronic illness, mental illness, or anorexia. Red heads, brunettes, bald, or a spider with a human head.

.. okay maybe not that last one. Yikes.


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