I spent the entire day thinking how I would begin this post. What anecdote I would share that will ease people into paragraphs that discuss a movement so dear to my heart. I thought I would share my experience reading The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan. I have read other novels depicting the helter skelter lifestyles of 20-something women in search of fulfillment and romance but rarely have they evoked the same response in me as The Zoya Factor did and it did so simply because I could see glimpses of myself in her.
Finding slivers of yourself in fiction is hugely reaffirming of your existence. I never realized that because I very rarely come across books that truly reflect me. Seeing yourself through fictional windows is far more important than I ever considered it to be. When you come across someone like yourself in fiction, you feel acknowledged and your narrative becomes something to be read, shared, and experienced. You become important; your stories become important. I have little common with the titular Zoya apart from Indian heritage and language, but reading her story felt empowering. That’s why the fact that this kind of reaffirmation, this fictive empowerment, is reserved, usually, only for the hegemonic group is deeply problematic.
So what is this Meg Rosoff thing about? Let me share with you the Facebook conversation that set it all off.
Before I address her remarks, let me just say that the title is a bit of a misnomer as I don’t think I need to “defend” diversity because I don’t think diversity in media is privilege. I think diversity is a right and I think that pretty soon people are going to stop demanding equal representation of gender, race, and sexual orientations and start creating equal representations themselves.
That said, a lot of people have talked quite eloquently about how problematic Rosoff’s comments in this excerpt are. And every time I read her comments, I have this desire to scream because I cannot understand how a writer whose job description is to observe and relay the human condition can be so unaware of it.
I will provide links below that desconstruct and discuss Rosoff’s comments quite wonderfully so I won’t do that. I’m just going to talk about my thoughts regarding this issue in a hopefully calmer state of mind than I currently feel.
As a POC, I’m always looking for diverse books by diverse authors to read. I read a lot and rarely come across books that act as mirrors so I’m not sure where the books that Rosoff talks about are. Perhaps in publisher reject piles? Rejected because they challenge the norm? There are some books that are released and that loudly celebrate their diversity but that fail to be truly diverse on a closer look. Books that misappropriate and commodify cultures that do not belong to them so that even our representation is on hegemonic terms. Our narratives are controlled and shaped by people who have no idea what it is to be a POC, a minority whether in sexual orientation or skin colour, or both. Normative diversity occurs when a privileged white male writes about the experiences of a coloured queer female.
Rosoff says that children should read newspapers to find mirrors. What do the recent newspapers give us? Do we want our children to find themselves in victims of police cruelty, shot while walking down the street? Or maybe we want them to find themselves in displaced refugee children who wash up on beaches because humanity failed them? Find mirrors in movies? Is she talking about Hollywood movies and if so, is she serious? Hollywood’s tendency to white wash is so well documented that all you need is a Google search to bring up thousands of examples. Stereotypes are deliberately perpetuated in Hollywood as a recent Buzz Feed video analysis of the casting calls from well known production houses proved. So excuse me if I scoff at the suggestion.
It seems to me that Rosoff feels threatened by the idea that diversity activists/advocates are truly making a difference and changing peoples’ expectations and ideas about representation. The world we live in is changing rapidly and I have made this point at various points and in various posts on The Book Wars but POC/different abilities, sexualities, and genders are no longer content to sit aside and wait for equal representation. We are not going to be satisfied with dregs that pretend representation. We have agency and we will use it. We have voices and we will be heard. Whether you want to cling to your outdated notions of white hegemony or move forward with us and celebrate art and literature in all its diverse glory is up to you.
Links for your edification.