You may have heard of the We Need Diverse Books organization that addresses the need for diversity in children’s literature, including the need for more books with characters of different races and ethnicities.
While I can’t say that, as a child, I personally felt that I couldn’t relate to characters in books unless they were one color or another (race wasn’t something I thought a whole lot about, back then), I have respect for the mission of We Need Diverse Books. Yes, I believe that all different races of children should have wide access to reading about all different races of people.
I also believe that the need for diverse books doesn’t stop at children’s literature. I suppose a number of genres could be addressed in light of this topic, but as the title of this blog post indicates, I’ve set out to address Christian Fiction.
I’ve been a big Christian Fiction fan since my adolescence, and I’d like to see more diverse books published by Christian publishers, particularly some of the larger ones. That’s not a complaint or an accusation against anyone, nor is it a claim that diversity in Christian Fiction doesn’t exist. This is simply an expressed desire to see more of it, to better reflect diversity in Christianity.
I’ve nothing against publishing houses, imprints, or genre and subgenre categories that are meant to target specific niche markets and readers’ tastes. Oh, it may not be very feminist of me to have little problem with the terms “Women’s Fiction” or “Chick Lit,” books written by women and/or specifically marketed to women. Hey, I’m a woman and a pretty awesome chick–market your fiction and lit to me as much as you wish, dear publishers. More love to women! We’re great. And if Men’s Fiction becomes a mainstream genre designation, then, hey. More love to men! They’re great.
However, I’d never wish to see a day when all, or even most, books with female main characters could only be found in Women’s Fiction, or all or most books with male main characters could only be found in Men’s Fiction. How would that even work? :-D At some point, these men and these women would have to come together in order for humanity to be humanity.
Similarly, as I don’t think that fiction should always or mostly be divided along gender lines, I don’t think that Christian Fiction should always or mostly be divided along racial lines, as if Christian Fiction should in large part be, well, segregated. Readers shouldn’t only run across Christian novels with diverse characters when they’re specifically seeking out Urban Christian Fiction, multicultural issues, novels about slavery or the Civil War, or what have you.
Civil War novels, Urban Christian Fiction, and multicultural topics and the like are wonderful, and I read my share of all of it. Yet, there are themes and experiences that are true to humanity and aren’t necessarily based on race. The birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the excitement of falling in love–the human story isn’t limited to any one color, and neither is the Christian experience (to use broad terms, as, of course, different “Christians” have different “experiences.”) A novel about an African-American Christian fireman or about a Hispanic Christian businesswoman doesn’t have to be a novel primarily concerned with their race, as if having prominent characters of color should be limited to stories focused on racial issues. At the same time, there’s so much beauty to be found in different races and ethnicities, so why wouldn’t readers of Christian Fiction want to see more of a mix of characters going through what humans go through because they’re human, written from Christian perspectives?
I realize that Christian publishers, like any publishers, are looking to make money, to put out products that will sell. I’m not sure how deep or far certain marketing facts or assumptions may run: “Caucasian readers likely won’t buy books with African-American protagonists pictured on the covers,” or “African-American readers likely won’t buy books with Japanese protagonists pictured on the covers,” or “In light of our popular authors and the demographics of their reading audiences, a need for more diverse books doesn’t seem too great at present.” I don’t know what all the cases may be, and I’m not a marketing expert.
Still, as the Bible that we uphold in Christendom says that God made of one blood all nations of people, I think it’d be incredible for Christian Fiction to reflect this on a greater scale, with publishers not having to say, “Here are our black authors, and there are our white authors,” or “Here are our novels for a white audience, and there are our novels for a black audience.” Again, while different targets, niches, and subgenres are fantastic, we’re all human beings, and a more diverse mix in Christian Fiction can give different races of readers wider access to stories about all of us, with all of our beautiful differences.
Now, reading about different people only to find that we’re not as different as we may tend to think we are would be a topic for another blog post. ;-)
As an author, I do aim to create main characters of different races. My post on Character Colors.