The Importance of Representation in Literature

When I read books in elementary school, a majority of them featured white characters. I constantly read about new characters but could never fully connect to them because of their whiteness. I stopped reading and never picked up another book for pleasure until I heard about a young adult book with an Asian main character. This character made me feel seen for the first time, where I could see myself placed in the story. When an individual finally sees themselves represented in the stories they read, “the effect…has lasted a lifetime.” 

Because of “the lack of diversity among authors,” the publishing industry proves overwhelmingly white. According to The New York Times, people of color only wrote 11% of books published in 2018. People of color take up a small percentage, allowing fewer people of color to see themselves in the books they consume. Reading about the same white characters has a major impact on an individual, especially young people. They may think being white is the norm, want to be white, and see their background as something negative. When one reads about people who look like them, they feel understood and included. They recognize the foods, understand the language, and can fully connect with the story. They would say, “…well, that was pretty great.” 

Reading diverse stories also builds empathy for others who do not have the same experiences. It can change one’s negative perceptions about a specific group by seeing them simply be people. The story does not have to focus on their struggles as a minority; it can merely be about a character living. Through learning about other people’s experiences by reading diverse works, society will become more accepting and improve as a whole. 

It is important to note that representation does not solely mean race. It also includes sexuality, gender, religion, disability, and other minorities. In this piece, I mainly focused on race.

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