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Why representation never mattered to me.

Hold on tight to your phones. And hear me out.

I need to add a disclaimer that this is my personal experience and I am not advocating against representation of race or nationality in books.

I read Danny the champion of the world late last year which is my favorite book from childhood. I related to the relationship between Danny and his father. Not that we went out on poaching trips or that our life situation was in any way near that of Danny’s. What made me relate to Danny so much was the relationship with his father. How his father cared for Danny and how Danny always looked up to his father. It was this relationship dynamic that made me realize as a kid how much my father meant to me. It wasn’t the color of Danny’s (or my) skin that connected us, it was the emotion.

More recently I read Matilda and I reviewed it on my Bookstagram. A number of people commented how much they loved Matilda and how it became the reason for them to become readers as early as 8 years of age. This got me thinking again how readers of different nationalities were inspired by and even related to Matilda and her reading habits. (Except ofcourse the magical bits and reading Hemingway as a 4 year old)

So what was it about Matilda that connected with so many readers? It was the relatability. It wasn’t the color of her skin.

So why did this unfiltered nature of us young readers change in recent years? Why have we become so inclined and almost desperate to get representation through race and color and culture?

As a kid I never read any book where the characters would pray 5 times (or even one time) I don’t recall a single book where the protagonist or even their friend was Muslim.

Sure, this might have taken away some additional experience from my life of being relatable to something as concrete as a character inked on paper. But did it really take away from my experience of life?

I really don’t think so. I never thought of my reading experiences in a counterproductive manner. Never cared that the Hardy boys and Nancy drew were white. I was more interested in the clues and the mystery!

With Asterix, Obelix and Tintin, it was always about the adventure and the hilarious situations! Never about their ethnicity.

I almost forgot the numerous volumes of Archie’s digest I read! I always related to the characters or even if I didn’t relate to them it was the emotion I related to. The way jughead would say something or the other that would make me laugh!

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It was the experience that connected me, not the race, not the freckles on Archie’s cheeks!

So forgive me if I roll my eyes when someone is excited about representation of brown people because Kunal Naiyyar plays Raj because I relate more to Leonard. Forgive me if I chuckle when you say Gal Gadot playing Wonder Woman is finally validation for young girls and she will enable them to do great things in life. And forgive me if I don’t think Black Panther is going to have a drastic effect on young black boys’ lives.

Lastly, I want to say, I do not need to be patronized to be able to do well with my life. I do not need the validation of characters in books and moving images representing a brown guy to aim high in life.

My existence is not related to it.

I am my own existence.

And nothing can take that away from me.

You do not need a hero that looks like you to be one.

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Happy Reading!

Faroukh

45 thoughts on “Why representation never mattered to me.”

  1. A great post about representations. I never thought in that way and my perspective is akin to yours. It actually doesn’t matter whether the characters are black or white or Christian or Muslim, what matters the most are stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I see there is a lot of heat when it comes to representation. Sometimes it feels like a very silly excuse, sometimes it seems genuine. But these are my thoughts on the subject and I really want to know if it resonates with others as well…

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  2. I totally agree with you. I never really got reason people complain about books not having enough racial representation and they couldn’t relate to it because of that.
    Diversity is incredibly important to books, but I don’t think the reason should be “relating” to characters. That only strengthens the lines between color. You can’t relate to a character because of their skin color? Isn’t their personality more important?
    For example, in Six of Crows, I didn’t relate the most to Inej, despite us having the same skin color. I related most to Wylan because of his outlook on life, despite him being white.
    But I also think that this applies mostly to racial representation. I can understand the factor of relateableness (totally just made up a word) for sexual representation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So happy this resonated with you. It’s a complicated subject and it’s been subconsciously bugging me since a long time. What really peaked my interest was when Black Panther suddenly became a champion of diversity. While I’m thinking it’s literally just Business. The producers weren’t thinking of representation, they were thinking what would sell under the current political climate. They were smart!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Great topic and I completely agree with you. While it is nice to see more books/movies/TV shows with a more diverse range of characters, sometimes introducing readers and viewers to cultures and traditions they weren’t previously aware of, I feel like this need for diversity in everything has also become more of a trend with the aim to just gain more fans or make more money. In some cases it just feels like a bit of an overkill.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You make a very interesting point and although I do see where you’re coming from I’m not sure if I agree with you completely… of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions.
    For me representation isn’t “relating” to the characters exactly. It’s about seeing someone just like me be as important as all the other characters out there. It gives the children and even adults that are being represented a sense of importance and can even boost their self confidence. By only having a certain type of character being portrayed through literature and the media people start to identify it as the norm. Because of representation being so unimportant, beauty for example is a white by default. Another example would be that even though Wonder Woman and Black Panther are not exactly going to lead girls or black boys to do something great with their lives it gives them a sense of belonging and shows that they are important as well.
    When I started of reading your blog post I was curious as to what your reason may be. But towards the ending I realized that representation means relatability to you and importance to me. And it can mean a hundred other things to a hundred other people. ☺️

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Of all the books I’ve read, I’ve always related to the characters’ personalities rather than physical attributes. So I can understand your point of view on this. But there are books with characters wrongly represented, and that’s really annoying, you know? It’s all fine when the characters are Caucasian, but when it comes to people of other nationalities or race, the representations are pretty much stereotypes. That’s just super disrespectful and unrealistic. I mean if you’re using them, do you research, yeah?

    Also, I believe this is a major point, it never bothered me when I read books set in Western worlds because in India, surrounded by people similar to me, I had my own share of representation (non-religion wise, of course.) But in a country where you’re a minority, and then you read books with zero characters like you or like people you know, you must wonder, and I can understand the thrill you feel to relate to someone who looks like you or has your origin.

    In my opinion, representation is all subjective. It depends on too many factors, where you live and who you’re surrounded with plays a major role in it. In a society where you’re always the antagonist or a stereotypical side character, representation matters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is so true! It does seem to depend on the situation of each person based on where they live. But even then, I would say, how much affect does non representation have? Does it hurt my feelings not being represented? Am I somehow handicapped because of it? Am I actually this weak that non representation is going to stop me from doing things and progressing in life?

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  6. I don’t even try to find out the characters ethnicities unless it’s spelled out in the course of the book. It’s always the emotions that get to me. That said, I find characters similar to my background /country /color hilarious and somewhat lost. They are like exaggerated caricatures of the real deal.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Same! I never think about the ethnicity of the character, and usually they’re not even spelled out, you can imagine whatever race you like.

      I think the only problem would be misrepresentation of a people rather than lack of representation. Including other races but in a stereotype or as a totem or as some superficial and maybe problematic role is the issue for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with you. I am brown and I have never felt that a character has to have my skin colour or my ethnic origin for me to relate to him/her. Just a couple of hours back, I was a part of a discussion in a forum where some of the members were criticising JK Rowling for inadequate representation. I am hoping to write a detailed piece soon on my views on the subject. While I feel that representation is definitely a great thing, I do not find it appropriate to criticise a writer for the lack of it, especially when the book/series was written at a time when representation hadn’t become a popular practice yet. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your post really made me think about this subject in a different light. I’ve never questioned that a more diverse representation in literature is important for underrepresented readers. After reading your post though, I wonder if perhaps there’s an argument to the idea that it is at least equally important for the over-represented, in this case white readers, to see a redression of this in-balance? If white readers are never, or are rarely, exposed to characters that don’t reinforce their day-to-day living, does this not risk inadvertently contributing to a narrow world view, which could then promote a sense of ‘othering’ people when confronted with these differences in the real world? To use your example, just as you never read a book in childhood in which the character prayed 5 times a day, or features a Muslim protagonist, neither did the majority of white readers. In most instances I imagine that they did not see this in their community either. In contrast, it’s likely that in your day-to-day life you were surrounded by positive Muslim role models to identify with, but you also read many wonderful stories, which broadened your world view to include white non-Muslim characters, who through the power of literature you could identify with for other reasons. If white readers don’t see stories other than their own being told, can we really be surprised when they struggle to comprehend a different world view or experience? If the inbalance of representation of race / creed / gender / sexuality is redressed, then hopefully every reader can see themselves in the story they read, but also, and perhaps more importantly in this current world climate, everyone gets themselves seen. Gosh, I didn’t mean to ramble. I hope that makes sense. Thanks for giving me pause for though.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I absolutely understand and agree. These books might be helpful for people of other races and culture to understand other races. But I’d also like to say, not only white people. Most Asians have no idea about Africans either. Having said that, I think it’s great to have representation but it doesn’t seem as necessary to me as many might put it…

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    2. Yes, I think it’s important for me for example to read more about cultures unlike mine. And there is Literature already available for that. I don’t think there’s any country which isn’t represented. We can argue that everyone (not just white readers) need to read more about different cultures. But what if they don’t? What does people not knowing about culture take away from me? There are so many who follow me on Instagram that have messaged me to ask why I’m unable to read as much in Ramadan. And that’s ok. If I wanted to I can take it as ‘how come you don’t know about Ramadan?’ It’s the way we look at things that really matters. If I’m going to take it as ‘this is outrageous, Ramadan is the most important month for a muslim. How can these people be so ill informed?’ It would be my problem, not theirs.

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  9. Interesting post! I am part of a diverse books club that has been great! I think because it has more to do with giving me the opportunity to read diverse books (moving away from my usual genre), diverse authors, diverse cultures, and diverse special needs situation. I think this creates more awareness for us.
    I see what you are saying about representation in books, but diversity can come in many forms.
    Your posts are thought provoking and interesting to read! Please keep sharing with us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I am totally FOR diversity and representation. Somehow unfortunately some POC’s thought (although my first paragraph is a disclaimer that I’m not advocating against diversity) that I’m against it. As POC’s I don’t know how some think that diversity of thought within POC is a real thing as well. We don’t all think the same thing.

      I’m working on a weekly guest post where bloggers are going to recommend books based in their countries, hopefully we’ll have a nice reading list for 2019 diverse reads 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Totally agree with all the points! We are all humans at the end of the day and our core emotions are the same no mather what our skin colour or ethnicity is.. I think the reason suddenly representation and diversity became more important is because it became a very easy and accessible way to learn about other cultures.. about their perceptions on the outside.. I feel it is less about representation of our race and more about the others.. sometimes diverse literature does an amazing thing.. help us understand how similar we are.. race no bar. As you said about identifying more with Leonard than Raj.. if there is no representation of a Raj somewhere, how will a white/black guy know he can identify with a brown skinned guy with a totally different upbringing and set of values as well.. English books have a very biased proportion of white representation (obviously.. since they are more written by them). In this regard I feel translations come a long way too!! So.. put together I think representation and diverse books will actually help us unite and feel for each other, even when we don’t really have any real contact. These characters can make us feel whole as humans.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I love how you write important topics that should be discussed, totally agree with you! and tbh I never really thought about it until now.. you made me realize that I haven’t read books that represents me as an asian muslim as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, most of us haven’t and although I think representation is important it’s doesn’t hold any power over us. There are a multitude of races, we can’t expect to know every one of them. On a related note, and a few of the comments on IG attested to this, there are far bigger problems in the world right now for representation to be as massive a ‘problem’ as people make it to be.There are much more serious problems in the world than representation. Ask a kid in Syria if he’d like representation or clean water to drink.

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  12. I read this post a few days ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, knowing that I would comment, but not knowing what exactly to say. As a kid of Indian origin, I lived in Lagos until I was 11. I went to the American School with kids from all over the world. I don’t remember reading anything by Nigerian or even Indian authors until I was well into my 20s, possibly even my 30s. Surely these authors existed, but I didn’t know any of them. All the bookstores in Lagos (OK, the one bookstore in Lagos) and Bombay were full of English authors, English classics – I just assumed that was it. I devoured Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew, often going through a book a day, but never once did I wonder why there were no POCs in any of them. I don’t think I was even aware of the colour of my own skin, let alone the colours of the characters. It was all about the adventures and relationships between the characters…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I agree that at the end of the day it’s a characters personality that we relate to but… that’s not the issue. At all. It still remains that white is the norm and yes, we’re finally making baby steps towards that change. If a brown girl is represented, I will not immediately think I relate to her… but I still want to learn about her experiences as a brown girl and just SEE and read about a brown girl. The issue is not relatability, it’s about norms that skew in favour of a particular skin colour.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure when there are more books written by POC, you’ll be bound to find one that you can relate to. Even without POC, it took me 260 books to find two people I genuinely fully related to.

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  14. Putting aside everything serious I have to say about this post, you remind me so much of my own brother! My siblings and I grew up reading Archie, Asterix, Tinkle, Nat. Geo, Enid Blyton, I could go on for ages! Just wanted to say seeing two siblings share the same gives me a very warm feeling.
    (Plot twist, we both read totally different kinds of books now)

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