Saturday, 27 April 2013

X is for Xenophobia

I've already seen this once before in my dashboard, so it's obviously a popular topic to tackle with X in the A-Z.

Out of all the books you've read, how many had white girls in pretty dresses, or a white family looking distraught, or a white guy brooding on the front cover? Quite a few. Someone did a graph of all the nationalities of people on the cover of YA books a while back. I can't remember the exact figure, but the landslide was in favour of white people.

When the Hunger Games trailer was released, and people saw that Rue was being played by a girl of colour (even though this fact is stated in the book) there was an uproar on twitter, started by one girl who had stated something along the lines that she didn't feel any sympathy for Rue's character because "she wasn't white".

The problem comes from many angles, with both readers and writers tending to suffer (even subconsciously!) from a touch of xenophobia.

But what's the solution? Is it to put characters of different nationalities into your book, stating the colour of their skin in big bold type so that the readers know for sure that you're not being xenophobic?

Short answer: I don't know. Long answer: I still don't know.

Is there even a solution to be had? Some writers write about what they know, about places like the one that they live in. I live in a rural area of Ireland. Even at my University in the capital of Belfast, I would say that fewer than 5% of the students are NOT caucasian. The most ethnically diverse place for me is my television screen. Does this mean that I have a duty to make sure I deliberately put people of different ethnicities into my stories?

I still don't know. It's a sensitive issue, and I would love to hear your opinions.

Sarah x


  1. People are going to judge no matter what so I say write what you love so you love what you write. If you are going to include different ethnicities just don't do it blindly; do your research. I surround myself with people from all different walks of life mostly because they bring more depth to my own, but that is just me. If people want to surround themselves with people of the same ethnicity then all the power to them as long as hate plays no part in it :)

    Cheers from Brandy at

  2. I think that as long as you're not leaving people of colour out just because you don't like them, or putting them in just because it's the done thing, then you're ok. I for one haven't ever had a problem with characters who aren't white. Just so long as I know that they aren't white, so I visualize them properly in my head from the get go.

  3. Yeesh... that's a can of worms.

    I agree with your previous commenters. :)


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