Why Young Adult Black Readers Need More Diverse Literature

A few months ago, I read a CNN article about the lack of diversity in young adult literature. As I read it, I found myself agreeing about the need for more diversity and reminiscing. As a teen, I could never find a book by a black young adult author that I could relate to. In fact, my favorite young adult book was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

The reason I related to The Outsiders and not any book by a black YA author was because my experiences as a black person were different from those portrayed in the books I found. I was a nerdy book lover who also happened to be half-black and half-Vietnamese. The few bi-racial characters I found were black and white, and the only nerds in YA literature I found were white or Asian.

As the CNN article states, young black readers need to know that they can become witches and wizards, vampire slayers and demon hunters, and dystopian heroes. Characters like Harry Potter or Katniss have the potential to appeal to any race, because they have qualities that are found in everyone. For every white female Katniss fighting for her family, there is a black female protecting her sibling or providing for her parents.

While the article is right to ask "Where's the African American Harry Potter?", another question that should be asked is "Why aren't there more diverse, well developed black characters?" Too many characters are either too flat or in typical inner-city situations.

Not all black teens experience life the same way. Some teen black females may get pregnant, but others may suffer from an eating disorder. Some black teen males may be athletic, but others may be inclined in the culinary arts.

For a new generation of young black readers, it is important that there is young adult literature that reflects a wide range of black experiences. They must know that they do not have to fit a certain criteria in order to read about themselves. A black disabled female teen should not have to read books with non-disabled black people and think, "What about me?"

In addition, young black readers should know that are more than their current situation. For instance, young black women who are in alternative school or jail should know that the labels they are branded with don't have to make up their entire identity. They should be able to read a book and be inspired to reach their potential.

In fact, the greatest potential of young adult literature for black readers is to spark an interest in reading. There is a saying that goes, "If you want to hide something from a black person, put in a book."  Young black readers shouldn't have a reason to be discouraged from reading, especially if there are books with realistic and relatable characters.

Ultimately, the inclusion of better black characters in the diversity of young adult literature will show that young black people are people. They can be depressed and queer, disabled and happy, multi-racial and insecure, or straight and magical. They just happen to be black too.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Tonya Pennington is a student at Clayton State University. In her spare time, she discusses books, music, and movies on her Wordpress blog artsandyouthlove using the pen name Serena Zola.

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