Growing up, it was easy for my parents to make sure I had plenty of stories about people like me. I was never lacking for books about women, and though sexism certainly made occasional appearances on the page, it was rarely the entire point of the story.
Not so with stories about people of color. I was assigned many books to read about race in my school years, always focused on the pain and violence experienced by racial and ethnic minorities, and always set in the past. All the books outside the curriculum that I knew of which centralized characters of color were similarly depressing, and I found myself steering clear of them when choosing books to read in my free time.
Even as I made these choices, I was frustrated with the lack of diversity in my literature. I wanted nonwhite characters who were given the same range of experiences and story as their white counterparts. Issues of race can certainly be part of these stories. Ultimately, though, I didn’t want to spend my free time focusing on the pain of racism any more than I wanted to spend my free time focusing on the pain of sexism. Books were my escape, and worlds of hate and violence are unappealing to escape into.
As the publishing industry makes strides to increase diverse representation, diverse stories that do not focus only on pain and bigotry are something I hope and believe will become more prevalent. If I, a white woman, was exhausted and pained by the stories of racial violence, I can only imagine how my Black friends felt sitting through those same literature classes. They deserve—we all deserve—more stories about joy and love, about the richness of diversity. The fluffy, comedic books I loved as a teenager had no reason for all of the main characters to be white. The stories would have been just as interesting and meaningful with more diverse casts of characters, likely more so by reflecting a greater variety of experiences.
In the years since, I’ve done a better job of seeking out entertainment by and about people of color that is joyful, that features race rather than focusing entirely on it. My life is richer for it. But the issue is that I must consciously seek it out. Books I merely happen across are overwhelmingly about white people, with an occasional token character of color tossed in (often problematically).
Projects like the Joy Revolution, the new Random House imprint looking to publish YA romance about and by people of color, are exactly the sort of diverse stories we should be looking for as we broaden the experiences we deem worthy of publication. The Bookseller Children’s Conference made clear that this is an important objective for children’s publishing moving forward, and they’re right. Normalizing racial diversity in the sort of fiction that already sells well, like YA romance, should be a clear path to an industry that will be better reflective of our society. I look forward to seeing what the imprint puts out, and for the opportunity to read more stories which allow people to see themselves and their loved ones represented in circumstances that are as varied and exciting as life itself.