As a white female, I never thought much about the ethnicity of the characters in the books I read. (Although, interestingly, I do love a book with a strong female lead.) Obviously in the books where race really matters, like To Kill a Mockingbird or Invisible Man, it was a consideration. But if I'm just reading a book, I don't really care about the race of my main character. I'll just picture them as the author describes them, usually with a few modifications of my own (for example, no matter how hard I try, I can never remember to make Remus Lupin look run-down. He always looks too handsome in my head.), but I don't think about the bigger issue of race.
Then, a few months ago, I read about Justine Larbalestier's YA novel Liar. I would never assume that everyone reading this blog is familiar with the situation, so I'll sum up here. Basically, the protagonist in the novel is described as "black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short." The cover that the publisher came up with was this:
Uhm, right. Because that chick totally looks black.
Another interesting issue, apart from the fact that this was an inaccurate depiction of the protagonist, is that the character is a pathological liar, and you apparently spend the whole book wondering what is true and what isn't (for the record, I can't wait to read this). So, if the reader sees a white person on the front cover, but inside the book the character describes herself as black, but she's a liar...woah. Fortunately, thanks to some amazingly powerful blog entries by the author and others in the blogging world, the publisher changed the cover, and you can now buy this at stores everywhere:
Better. But the interesting thing about this whole issue is that this character's race isn't really an important plot point (not having read the book yet, I can't confirm this, but I'm almost positive). So this was the first time that I started thinking about race in books when race wasn't really an issue. Then I started thinking...
What if I was a minority, with so many of the books I read featuring white main characters? Would I think about it? Would it bother me?
That is why the new publishing company, Tu Publishing, is so great. They are a house geared specifically toward books that are fantasy or sci-fi YA novels with multicultural main characters. Amazing. Not only do I think this could encourage more people to incorporate multicultural characters into their novel, but it could also mean that books with minority characters have a better shot of getting published.
Unfortunately, Tu Publishing hasn't started quite yet. They need some help getting off the ground (namely, money). If you want to help their effort, visit their Web site, and make a donation.
And to learn more about writing outside of your cultural group, read these blog entries by Justine Larbalestier (who's white, so there's no excuse for you...or me).