If you know what brought that up, awesome. If you don't, awesome. Either way, I'm going to talk about it and as I wrote on twitter, the reason shit doesn't get solved is because so many people focus on the problem when they should see past it to figure out a solution.
Yes, shit happened. What can we do so it won't happen again?
The lovely people who think that way? We Need Diverse Books. Instead of going to hate on books that tackle culture inappropriately, they created a campaign that promotes something good. Instead of tearing something down for its mistakes, this campaign is more for making sure good things happen in the future. We can't change the things that already happened - especially if they come in the form of a published book, but we can try to influence the society so all of us are heard.
When I started reading YA, I didn't really notice or care that mainly, the protagonists were white. I cared more for the story. I'm not saying that culture isn't important - of course it is. I'm just saying that I don't mind white protagonists being in the majority. Would I love to see other cultures? Eff yeah! But most of the time in a book, the culture itself isn't present either - just the physical appearance [and I tend to skip over descriptions in every book I read. Personal preference.]
Which brings me to talking about books that do focus on culture. Asian culture [not to throw a blanket statement but I don't want to list all the countries] is hidden under a blanket where North American culture rules. I live in Canada, where diversity is a big thing. I grew up in a neighborhood where when I walk outside, it smells like one culture's food at one end of the street and another when you turn the corner. [Literally paradise, though.] Those were also houses that my family and I would go to for dinner often and those people would come to our house.
I went to MAC in the shopping mall near my house just recently and the customers/workers were a mix of every race I could think of. It was marvelous. I looked at it in awe and was so happy. If I had to explain what it's like living where I do, the situation with MAC is the best way.
So having grown up with that background, I feel a little phony calling myself Chinese at times. I do follow the customs but I also know bits and pieces of every religion/nationality and hell yes, I want to know more.
So isn't it weird when the next thing I say is that the, "girl goes to a new country and then learns their customs and gets a new perspective on life" trope bothers me.
Hey Nova, isn't that kind of what happened to you?
Yes, but you're missing the point. When I hear about a book where the setting is Africa or Indonesia, I'm expecting culture. I don't pick up the book for the main character - yes the story and other aspects are important but probably, the reason I pick it up is because I want to read something different from the typical North American setting. Quite frankly, the mannerisms of the people and the description of the places is more important than the main character to me. The entire world is bigger than her/him so when the author makes them the star of the show and lets that take precedence over the culture itself, I am annoyed. I don't think a culture's sole purpose should be a stepping stone for a bitchy girl to get over herself and realize that she needs to be kind. When I read about a new culture, I expect to feel like I'm there while I'm reading.
If the purpose of the book is to document character development in a new location, take him or her to Narnia. Take them to a new world where there isn't electricity so they'll remember to turn off the TV when they're walking away from it.
But then again, should any author be flamed for writing culture wrong? Should we say "ur trash" or "you tried"? Are either one acceptable? Is condoning racism in characters/books alright if the author is a kind person in real life? Or if the representation of culture is wrong, what should we do?
This is the year where I feel so much is going on in terms of content. There are so many more books about sexuality and mental health and, obviously, culture! I love it. It's essential to teach people about this, especially when I feel like the people I know in real life don't necessarily know/want to talk about it. I like the rise of fresh ideas in YA. I love reading about a sunken France, schizophrenia, Stockholm syndrome, a futuristic India etc. I didn't even know that I needed it so much until I read it.
But what happens when the representation is wrong? Or worse, racist? And here's another question. If I were to write something controversial, would I get a free pass because I'm Asian vs. another person who is Caucasian? Feel free to answer these in comments. I know I asked a lot of questions but that's only because I really am stuck.
Do I get offended? Yes. Do I get offended enough to call out the author? No. Do other people have that right? ...Uh. [See, I'm so stuck!]
It's such a conundrum for me. On the one hand, a mockery of any culture is wrong. If you don't say something, nothing will be solved ever. On the other, a mockery of any human being is wrong. What do you do? Where is the line drawn? And worst: if we're so awful to authors who mess up, think of how much "encouragement" we're giving to other authors who want to write about diverse topics?