About characters

I was in my second year of college, in an Intro to Creative Writing class and my professor told us that we should know what the characters look like within a few pages.

I tended to write characters with brown hair, like mine, although their eye colors varied.  But then one day, it struck me.  I imagined all of my characters as white.

The issues with this is that I’m half-Asian.  I don’t meant to say that all the characters I write should be half-Asian, but it was boggling that I had gotten to age 19 never having written one, especially since I was so tied to my Asian culture.

Why were all my characters white?  How did this come to be the norm for my writing?

I have one theory that I think at least, in part, played a role in this.

I suspect because it was because white characters were the norm in my reading.

This year I’ve been doing a lot of exploring on racial diversity.  I’ve had a lot of support in my personal circle, as far as talking one on one, but I feel like most of the time, it’s something people just don’t want to talk about.   Maybe they think it doesn’t pertain to them.  Maybe it makes them uncomfortable.  To be honest, the more people ignore my desire to have this discussion, the more I believe it is needed.

Look at the books you are reading.  What was the last book you read that featured a main character who was not white?  How long ago was that?  Compare it to the number of books you’ve read that do feature white protagonists.

I’m guilty of this myself. I’ve read 18 books this year.  I’ve only read two books where the main characters weren’t white: The Bluest Eye and Crazy Rich Asians.  The former I read for class, the latter I chose based on the title alone.  Someone in a Facebook group recommended it and I didn’t even read the Amazon description before clicking “buy.”  It’s rare to see a fiction book featuring Asians recommended.

I saw two articles this morning that indicated that I’m not the only one thinking about diversity in reading.  Author Walter Dean Myers sparked the conversation this weekend with his personal thoughts in “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books.”  Blogger Grace Hwang Lynch provides statistics, reasoning, and suggestions that highlight the importance of this discussion with her post “#ColorMyShelf: Why Kids Needs Books That Reflect Diversity.”

What were the books of my childhood?  Marvin Redpost, Junie B. Jones, The Magic Treehouse, Ramona, Naylor’s Alice books, Sweet Valley twins, Blume’s books, and The Babysitter’s Club.

The Babysitter’s Club had Claudia, an Asian-American teenager, as well as the minor character, Jessi, an African-American eleven year old.  That’s the extent of the diversity I remember from elementary school.  Yes, many of the books I read had great lessons that encouraged open-mindedness, but there was still an absence of main characters who were minorities.   Perhaps, I had learned along the way, that book characters were meant to be white.  After all,that was how most of them were written, it seemed.

So where is my responsibility in this?  Should I actively seek out books featuring protagonists of different races as well as books written by minorities?

For me, the answer is yes.  To not do so is to choose ignorance, to choose to stay comfortable in my own small world.  We should normalize main characters of different races in books as well as be interested in the stories of people who are both like us and unlike us.

But what are my responsibilities as a writer, in creating my own characters?  I’m still trying to figure this out.  What do you think?

About blogging

I noticed something last month.

It started as a disconnect, feeling like I couldn’t relate to a blog post, which seemed written in privilege.  That’s when I started thinking about the various Mommy blogs I’ve come across over the last three years, how very similar they all were.  I loved reading blogs that featured extravagant themed birthday parties (carefully decorated cupcakes and all) and doing crafts with kids as a stay-at-home mom.

But motherhood is more than that.  Why wasn’t I reading the other stories?    Where were the working mom blogs?  The single moms?  The lesbian moms?  The moms of color?  I knew they were around, I might have read a post or two here and there, but for the most part, they seemed invisible, and thus, unheard.

Where were their voices?

I did some digging around and came across a post  by Mocha Manual.  She tackles the white privilege of the blogging world, even sharing her personal experience with the lack of diversity of blog conventions as well the uncaring responses (and non-responses) to her suggestions.  Her post also links to Mashable and an infographic about Mommy Bloggers.  

Do you see what I see?  Higher than average income, educated.  Notice the photos of the top 10 bloggers?  Not very diverse, is it?

I asked an online friend (an academic) if she had heard of any research or good articles about the lack of diversity in the mommy blogging world.  On top of some book titles, she gave me this link: Mommy & Me.

“All kinds of mothers keep blogs, and the term ‘mommy blogs’ refers to a huge range of content, from labors of love produced by one impassioned writer to online communities made up of moms writing collectively,” writes Veronica I. Arreola.  “And yet the image of the mommy blogger is about as progressive as June Cleaver—it overlooks the legions of mom bloggers who aren’t white, heterosexual, married women.”

She points out that yes, there is a documented “digital divide” among races and points out that “blogging takes time and energy as well as money for access…But how much of the absence of moms of color in the large mommy community is due to the digital divide and how much to racism, overt or otherwise?”

Her post is full of many valid points.  She questions the way one mommy blog site recruits new writers, pinpointing that her method encourages sameness.  She writes, “The lack of moms of color matters for the simple reason that our different backgrounds—e.g., ethnicity, class, religion—are reflected in the way we parent; this difference should be seen on blogs that claim to represent moms in general.”


Her entire article is a worthwhile read and not just for mommy bloggers.  Arreola also covers relatability, the lack of marketing opportunities for bloggers of color as well as encouraging readers to purposefully strive to read a diversity of blogs.    

Has anyone else noticed the lack of diversity in mommy blogging?

Ebooks and kids

So a good number of A’s books are packed up, either put in boxes for J to move with or put in the big Tupperware for me to pack and send to Florida.  As a result, we’ve been reading a lot of ebooks lately on my Kindle Fire.

Because I have Amazon Prime on my account, Kindle Freetime (Unlimited) costs only $2.99 a month for my one kiddo.  And there are hundreds of ebooks for kids on them.  She and I read anywhere between five to 20 of those books daily.

But I’m starting to get nervous.  Are ebooks really okay for kids?  Am I hurting her eyes?  Does her brain process it all the same way?

I started looking around and I couldn’t find much information.  Some articles say that “enhanced” ebooks, meaning the ones that are more interactive, such as with sound effects and moving characters, “are bad for children.”  According to one writer, research shows that ” when we read with a child on an e-reader, we may actually impede our child’s ability to learn” because parental interaction is based more on how to properly manage the device.  A third article cites a lack of research, but discusses a fourth article where tech-savvy parents explain that their deliberate choice and preference of print books.

So we will continue with our ebooks for now.  It isn’t that we don’t read print books at all.  We do take trips to the library and I still have some physical books laying around.  But there is just a huge variety of books we have access to on my Kindle and it would seem like a shame not to take advantage of them.

What is your household’s take on ebooks for the littles?