Low Availability and Whitewashing of Books with Diverse Characters Negatively Impacted Black Readers Seeking Alternatives

One night while doing my usual browsing of the entertainment news site Buzzfeed, I found a post titled “My 2015 Reading List Includes Nothing Written by White Men.” Intrigued, I read it and saw that the author (who is a Black female) decided to take this challenge due to “the over-representation of white male authors,” which caused her to read only those types of books.

When I saw this challenge and its reason, I applauded her taking the challenge because I can relate to her reason for doing so. Until last year, I read very little fantasy fiction featuring people of color because I did not know how much existed. All the fantasy fiction novels I’ve read featuring POC, I’ve had to search for them myself using the Web.

The first fantasy book I read with a person of color, I found through the site Goodreads. Three years ago, I did a search for YA fantasy books with Asian mythology and found a list of books based on Non-Western mythology. I ended up reading the book “Eon” by Alison Goodman and enjoyed it so much that I read its sequel, “Eona.”

The main reason I wanted to suddenly read YA books with Asian mythology was because I was tired of reading fantasy books with white characters. While some of my favorite fantasy books did involve white characters, I started to see the same old plots and characters coming up, especially after the popularity of the “Twilight” series.

The other reason was because I am a Black and Asian woman who grew up being exposed to Asian culture and Japanese anime. Somewhere between watching a dragon dance on a Chinese New Year video and learning about the Rabbit in the Moon myth that inspired Sailor Moon, I had developed an interest in Asian mythology and folklore. However, the same could not be said of African mythology and folklore.

Until last year, I did not know African mythology and folklore existed, let alone Black fantasy authors. Just as with the book “Eon,” I discovered Black speculative fiction and African mythology through the Web. As I did so, I wondered why I didn’t see any Black speculative fiction mentioned in popular culture or mainstream media.

On top of the lack of exposure, diverse books featuring people of color face another problem in mainstream publishing known as whitewashing.

Read more from Latonya Pennington at Black Girl Nerds

6 Ways To Create A Better Environment For Your Kids To Thrive

Since discovering the Black Girl Nerds community, I have learned that many of us have the same story. Growing up, my interests differed from other girls in the Southern, all-Black neighborhood where I grew up. I liked science, rock music and ’80s movies. I read “Sweet Valley High” books and watched professional wrestling. I felt different. As I got older, I lived with a deep sense of not belonging. In my “advanced” and AP classes, sometimes I was “the only” Black girl, which carries its own weight. All in all, I didn’t know where I fit or if I fit anywhere. But I survived those difficult years.

I am a parent now, and I often think about my parenting style. I wonder if I am creating a space where my little one can thrive and grow into the girl she really is — nerd or not. As I pondered this, it became really clear that she will have a fundamentally different childhood than I had. Some of the reasons are a result of more resources; others are differences in my own views on parenting that differ from my family of origin.

There are many ways that my daughter’s experiences and mine are different, but here are six ways our childhoods are worlds apart:


Access to Technology

When I think back to my own childhood, I used my first computer in sixth grade. It was an Apple with a black screen and green typeset. I didn’t even own my first computer until graduate school. The fact that I can get online at any time is mind-boggling. Now, my little one will grow up surrounded by technology in our home, which will positively influence her learning experience.


Diverse TV Programming

I limit TV options to diverse characters whenever possible. Options for kids are more diverse than those from my childhood, although there is significant room for improvement. In our home, we like Doc McStuffins, Mickey Mouse and Dora the Explorer. These are good characters, but I believe my childhood favorites were more interesting, more engaging. I watched “The Smurfs,” “Thundercats,” “Hall of Justice,” “GI Joe” and “Jem and the Holograms.” Almost no diversity, but I remember being intrigued by the characters.