Bookish Radness, Changing the World

Diversity in Christian Fiction – A Series | Part 1

Can we take a moment (or two) and talk about diversity?

Du du du…..I said Diversity. I know.

But before y’all run out of here faster than how I eat my Del Taco, I want to be real. I want to have a place where we can talk about things that need to be talked about. Where it might get uncomfortable, but we’re willing to stick it through because it will be worth it.

While I know that diversity, rather lack thereof, is an issue across the board of not only books and publishing, but other industries as well, this series will be focusing specifically on traditionally published Christian fiction. I’m know I’m not the only one who has thoughts about the lack of diversity in Christian fiction and I think you’d be hardpressed to find someone who would say that there’s plenty of diversity in Christian fiction. Because there isn’t. We all know this is an issue, but where to even start right?

While we know the questions, the answers aren’t always so easy.

Before I continue with some of the key questions I want to discuss (I’m excited to share from others as well) and why I’m blogging about it, I think it’s important to include some key disclaimers – especially if you have come across my blog for the first time and don’t know me.

  • I love Christian fiction (I read it, I work in it and I blog about it)
  • I will continue reading it.
  • I don’t believe there is one person at fault. It isn’t only the publisher’s fault or the editor’s fault or the author’s fault or the reader’s fault. But we need to be in this together.

So why am I bringing this up? Well first up, I like reading books about different people (my people, my friends’ people, all the people). I’m mixed and I love all the cultures I come from (French, Black, Mexican and Spanish, if you were curious), so it’s discouraging and frustrating that there aren’t many books that feature people of color. Why is that? Of course I haven’t read every book published, but I’ve been reading and blogging about Christian fiction for years now and I can count the number of books on one hand. And honestly, I can’t think of a published person of color in this market (again, traditionally published authors. Please share if you know of any!)

The truth is, there aren’t many. It’s okay to say that out loud (especially since this isn’t only an issue in CBA). It’s important to recognize that most of the novels released in Christian fiction feature Caucasian characters. (And just in case you missed it – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these stories. I love them, I read them, and I celebrate their message).

But can we get a brotha up in here? Y’all know what I’m saying? I’m a fan of Asians too. And Mexicans. And anyone else for that matter. And if I read more stories of interracial couples, y’all, I WILL PASS OUT (of excitement!).

How did we get here though? How do we move forward? Are there more stories out there? Do white authors not feel comfortable writing these types of stories? Are there not people of color writing Christian fiction? Does the audience not want these stories? Do they not sale? If not, then why? Because if that’s the case, what does say about readers? Does reading about other people groups make us too uncomfortable? Do people not care?

In different surveys I’ve researched about CBA readership, I haven’t found a survey that asked about race. So while there is plenty of research on the ages, gender, preferred genres, physical or ebooks preferences and what state CBA readers live, we have no information about the racial background of the readers. Why wouldn’t this demographic be helpful? What does this mean, I wonder, if anything? (As before, please share if you have something different!)

I think what finally pushed me to bring my questions and thoughts to the internet was a book cover discussion. You know how I mentioned the novels I could think of that featured people of color? Even though the stories had these characters, the covers didn’t represent that (except one had a Black model on the cover, so yay!). One you could only see the dress, another featured a male lead (who was white) and in a series following ancient Middle Eastern women (an Egyptian, Israelite and Canaanite), each model was 100% White. I was speechless. Please hear this, I have no doubt the stories are wonderful Biblical fiction and yes, the models were great, but I had zero clue it was Biblical fiction until I read the back cover. It could have been a story of Irish and English women based on the models. And the many reactions around the web praised the covers and I didn’t understand why no one else seemed to notice. My first reaction was sadness because I thought man, that was the chance to celebrate a beautiful culture! But instead I thought, well maybe they based it off what would sale. Am I wrong? Is my reaction way off? Maybe. But I can’t discount it.

I posted about this series and so many of y’all provided fabulous feedback. I want to share some initial thoughts and questions that came up:

There was a lot of discussion about staying away from stereotypes. Is “olive” the only way to describe a black person? (Editor note: All you gotta say is the brotha looked like Denzel and people.will.know! ;)) Does the token black kid always have to be from juvie and be “rescued”? Why is there such a lack of main characters who aren’t white?

These things may not have even crossed your mind, but how important is it to recognize how this might hurt our fellow believers and sisters (and brothers) in Christ?

I believe story can truly change people. In a climate that desperately needs to have understanding, empathy, engagement and more love, I believe the Church needs to be leading the way. And not reluctantly, but bravely and boldly leading the march towards reconciliation. The heart of the Gospel is reconciliation. The world needs to see that Jesus does that. That is who He is. A reconciler and a redeemer. Call me a dreamer (I’m not the only one), but I believe with all my heart, fiction can help carve that path. Is Aslan still not spoken of in awe and reverence? Has Redeeming Love not touched the hearts of millions and drawn people to God’s unrelenting love?

So yes, I’m sticking to that truth and I’m believing we can bring together the Church and thus change the world….one diverse novel at a time.

I don’t have all the answers – or really any at the moment – but I do know I want to talk about it. So let’s. I hope to have other voices join in and will share those as they come. Please, share your thoughts and don’t be scared. Let’s make a difference together! You can comment below or join in on Facebook!

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