When I was about twelve, I was shopping in my quaint little corner shop, on the edge of a crooked country town road located in my modest, antiquated village. There’s more to this story … I swear.
I was at the checkout when I suddenly felt an odd patting, come stroking movement on the top of my left hand laid out on the rusty wooden counter. My initial knee jerk reaction was a stiffening of my limbs as I looked down at a little dark girl, no older than eight probably, staring up at me with large round black spheres for eyes. I was slightly perturbed and was about to pull away politely when my mum laid her firm hand on my shoulder, saying that it was okay and that all she wanted to do was assimilate.
I didn’t quite get it, but as an Asian kid, you soon realise, after coming out from the womb you’ve been renting for nine or so months, that what mum says goes. When I returned to the safety of my abode, I asked mum why that little dark girl was caressing my hand.
Turns out that that little dark girl was a Sri Lankan orphan, who had recently been adopted by her Caucasian Australian parents from a remote rural village, tucked away in some nondescript nook and cranny of the small island … and that she was lonely. Suddenly the words she uttered as she looked up at her parents in barely concealed glee coupled with excitement of “look mum, she looks like me” made a whole lot of sense.
While I was twittering today, I happened to (thankfully) stumble upon the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, and man am I glad I did! The very first thing that popped into my mind is the incident that I just recounted to you.
Am I really as naïve as to think that diversity in our literature would solve that little girl’s (and those who have no doubt come after her) problem? Though I am pretty naïve … absolutely not. Do I think that reading about others that look like you in a non-stereotypical way, armed with nothing more than normal human emotions going about their mundane daily lives may help a little? I would suggest, yes.
When Literary Agents suggest that I write about more “normal” characters in my book, and scratch their heads/pull their hair out in frustration when I rewrite the bits they weren’t alluding to, I say I can read between the lines, I just choose not to.
A couple of hairless Literary Agents later, I remember that Little Dark Girl and think, in my techie speak, Diversity in Literature can’t just be a “nice to have” any longer, it’s definitely a “must have”.