We need more BIPOC diversity in literature

More people should be able to relate to the characters they’re reading about

A woman reading a book and drinking a hot beverage.
I’m tired of reading about cultural stereotypes. PHOTO: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

By Christina Liao, SFU Student

It’s important we continually recognize novels and stories with proper representation. Mainstream literary texts tend to be recognized and applauded when written by white people, which is harmful since less people are exposed to diverse bodies of work. I can go on and on about why we shouldn’t be glorifying harmful representation, but it is more worthwhile to understand why we should celebrate stories that include a well-written and diverse cast of characters.

As a Chinese woman living in Canada, I’ve experienced my fair share of alienation when looking at popular media. In Harry Potter, my all-time favourite series and franchise, the only East Asian character was literally named Cho Chang and heavily stereotyped.

She is a shallow character whose only purpose is to be a love interest for Harry. Not to mention, Chang was sorted into Ravenclaw at Hogwarts. Sorting the only East Asian character in the entire series into a house for smart people does nothing but reinforce stereotypes. 

I also don’t believe for a second that the author of this series had the time to carefully curate a plot-heavy seven book series but not the time to pick a better name for this character . . . I mean, seriously? Cho Chang? I cannot fathom how the author thought that putting a typically Korean surname and a Chinese last name together was a good idea for diversity. Many characters of colour in those books were poorly written, but we can’t expect much from an author who advocates transphobia

However, when I read These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, I feel appreciated as a Chinese girl who grew up in North America. For the first time, I am reading about a character who looks like me and is from the same city that I was born in. For the first time, it feels as though my experiences are being represented. The main character is everything I wish to be and more. She’s powerful, beautiful, and smart. Juliette can speak multiple languages and can be deadly when she wants to be. The importance of representation cannot be underestimated — it matters “because it can shape how minorities are viewed by society and how they view themselves.”

People of colour should be represented in western publications, because they make up a huge part of western culture. Reading about diverse characters also exposes people to different cultures. This combats internalized racism because seeing different cultures depicted in the right way shows how beautiful other cultures can be. This would also honour the complexities of different cultures, not boil them down to harmful stereotypes, increasing stigma. In the end, we just want our experiences to be portrayed in the media we consume.