Friday, 16 September 2011

Prejudice and the Personality Problem

A square with rainbow stripesEvery now-and-then, the blogosphere erupts as a specific someone faces prejudice/discrimination of some form. Or a specific person is being prejudiced/discriminatory. Either way, people have a person in mind.

It doesn't take long for the personality problem to rear up. The issue is that no person is perfect (or completely flawed), so making it about a person leaves holes. Discussing those holes draws the discussion away from the actual problems. In some cases, it turns out it wasn't actual discrimination in that specific case... but obviously, this doesn't stop there being an overall problem. It doesn't make the institutionalised discrimination go away.

The most recent of these is about LGBT representation in young adult fiction. It fired off with a post from two authors, who said they'd be asked to de-gay a novel. The agency apparently in question also has their side of the story out (short version: they say they didn't say that). The result is there's a lot of discussion about the specific event and who is right or wrong. There's a whole lot less about the actual issue of institutionalised homophobia.

Easy to lose in the crowd is Malinda Lo's post, with statistics for LGBT representation in YA. As well as looking at overall representation, she split it down into categories. It's not surprising that gay boys outnumber the LBTs, as this frequently happens in awards, communities and other groups aiming to support LBGT rights. And there are the letters that often don't get listed, but also suffer from lack of representation*.

Sometimes, personalities can get people talking. But often, they're used as an excuse to stop talking about the issue and start focusing on the individuals involved. The thing is, institutionalised discrimination really isn't about individuals. It's about the larger systems in place, which are often taken for granted and not challenged. It isn't all one person's fault - they're only a small part of the problem. There isn't only one victim - it's a system that impacts everyone in it.

So does it really matter who is right and who is wrong? It doesn't stop the issue of LGBT representation in YA from existing. We've still got a problem and we're not going to solve it by focusing in on a handful of personalities**.


* QUILTBAG adds in letters and expands some, to include queer, genderqueer, asexual and intersex (among others).

** A good readerly solution is to support books by under-represented authors or about under-represented groups. A few handy links for your perusal:

Diversity in YA - Includes blogs and recent book recommendations.
Christine A. Jenkins Young Adult Gay/Lesbian Bibliography
Carl Brandon Wiki: List of People of Color in SF
Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge - A community discussing (and reading) books by PoC authors.

[It shouldn't need to be said, but based on the comment threads of some other posts I've read today, I'll make it plain... homophobic comments won't get through comment moderation. If you want to say how terrible it is that gay people are in books because you might catch the gay from the pages, take it to your own blog.]


Fleep Tuque said...

Great post and a good reminder that's applicable to discussions about many kinds of issues. I was sort of shocked by some of the stats in that linked post - always good to see real data and I'll be thinking about that the next time I'm buying YA for kids in my family.

fairyhedgehog said...

It's a good point.

And I love your footnote!

Polenth said...

Fleep, the stats didn't surprise me much, but it's good to have them out there for discussion.

fairyhedgehog, Yay!