Diversity in Literature

Being a bisexual, female, person-of-color in the 21st century, the one thing I crave when reading books is diversity. In fact, there’s a pattern in all my favorite books: they include characters from various backgrounds that aren’t there just for namesake. You could say they add their own distinct flavor to the broth of the book. The Warcross Series by Marie Lu is a perfect example. There is a huge amount of diversity alongside a rich plot. By including everything from East Asian representation to multiple LGBTQ+ characters, Lu demonstrates how to create a diverse character while also developing an intricate personality. 

An easy way to figure out if your story is diverse enough is to put them through a couple of tests.

  1. The Bechdel Test

Named after Alison Bechdel, this test focuses on female representation in fiction. This test has simple rules; however, many popular novels and movies fail to pass this test. There are three rules:

  1. The work of fiction must include at least two named women.
  2. These two women must talk to one another.
  3. The conversation between the two of them must be about something other than a man.

It seems pretty simple and easy to pass, right? Well, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (the novel) and Toy Story do not pass the test. It’s crazy to think that movies that are iconic in pop culture can’t meet such a simple test. However, Pride and Prejudice and Frozen 2 do pass. It’s quite startling to see how this simple and trivial test demonstrates the lack of female representation. 

2) The Vito Russo Test

This test focuses more on representation in the LGBTQ+ community, with three rules:

  1. The work of fiction must include a character that is openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  2. This character must not be defined solely by their sexuality; they must have unique character traits that are commonly used to differentiate straight characters.
  3. Lastly, if this character was removed, the plot of the story would be greatly affected by their absence.

Throughout history, the LGBTQ+ community has always been shunned and stifled, including in literature. Many classics fail to pass this test at the first rule, such as To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, but as we progress through time, we begin to see the introduction of LGBTQ+ characters. Though there is more representation, many novels and movies only include these characters as pawns, only created to appease the need for representation, and nothing more than that. However, there are many novels that do pass, such as The Upside of the Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, where the main character’s mothers serve a purpose of guiding their child and parenting their child rather than just being there as just representation. 

3) The DuVernay Test

This test was coined as “the Bechdel test for race.” There are three rules the fiction must follow to pass:

  1. The work of fiction must include at least two named people of color.
  2. These two characters must talk to one another.
  3. The conversation between the two of them must be about something other than race.

Again, simple rules to pass, but few novels do. However, one series that passes is The Lunar Chronicles. The series is filled with characters of all races, people of East Asian descent, Middle-Eastern, African, and these characters work together to save Earth, despite the differences in ethnicities.

These are just a few of many tests, there are countless of them that you can find. Also, diversity is not limited to just gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity! There are so many more factors that contribute to that term, such as physical disabilities, or mental disabilities. Too much of one can make it bland, so we must work together to create a flavorful bite.

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