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!
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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