Adara Combs:The Miscommunication of Race in Literature

(Note from Allison.  When I approached Adara about writing a post for this blog, she said great!  And then we started discussing it and she said “so, for my first post…”

“Adara,” I said.  “Adara.  Are you suggesting you’d like to do a series?  Shouldn’t I get a say in that?” 

To which she reasonably replied, “Okay, yeah!  I’ll send you a post and we shall see.”

Should have known that such cagey language would be a tease.)


Without further ado…12219355_915067016528_3795879201247883884_n


Race and culture are things that have been a part of society for as far back as time can tell. Despite this very evident fact, there is always a constant push to wipe away our physical differences and make everyone conform to being something that they actually have no chance of becoming. Although in recent years, progress has been made, the struggle maintains to cope with the idea that the world is comprised of different types of people, who come from different places, and look different.  

Even in literature, where authors have the ability to create their own worlds, break rules, fix things that they see wrong with our reality, and basically do their heart’s desire, I constantly read books that do a sub par job on introducing characters without blatant offense, cliché, or mystery.

I find it disheartening that when describing characters that are meant to embrace the fact that the world is not now, nor has it ever been, completely white, authors shy away from full description, or give no description at all leaving the reader to guess as to what the character looks like.

Even in books where the world has basically ended and society is being rebirthed, the safety net of the world as we know it oftentimes keeps writers from using their talent for word selection to introduce characters in a way that will never leave us guessing as to who is black, white, brown, or tan.

The miscommunication of race and culture is displayed when novels are brought to cinema, and there is a huge uproar because someone who is not white portrays a character that originated in a book.  When Amanda Stenberg portrayed Rue in the first Hunger Games, it didn’t really matter what color she was, only that she was from District 11, and a great ally and friend to Katniss. However, based on the reaction of some moviegoers who were outright offended, one would think that a) it mattered and that b) there was no hint to her color in the book.

I think the problem is that writers tend to shy away from race as a taboo topic, not realizing that it is now and always will be a fact of life. Race and culture do not have to be the heart of the book for it to be addressed. The fact that by default everyone is thought to be white is extremely troubling for the large population of readers who are not. When authors do a good job of describing the characters, and make it known that there are racial and cultural representations that are non-white, it makes those of use who for so long have been written out and casted feel included and proud.

With so many types of people on the face of this earth, who are beautiful in their own right, we should celebrate them every chance we get. Especially in literature, when beautiful words can paint a picture of a character and take the reader to where they are and look them eye to eye in their imagination.

Ah! And that’s where she leaves it, the sly dog.  It’s seven days in a week you say?  We have to wait?!  Whose blog is this! They should intervene.


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