How Literary Diversity Can Overcome Stereotypes

In recent news, Korean-American author Leonard Chang has opened up about the times some editors have rejected his works. Their reasoning? His characters didn’t seem Asian enough or exotic enough.

Keep in mind that Chang himself is of the same ethnicity as his characters. One would assume that Chang would know how Korean-Americans would behave or live their lives. So why was Chang, who is Korean-American, told how Korean-Americans should or should not behave?

Stereotypes are abundant everywhere. “Asians can’t drive.” “Indians are cheap.” Black people are thugs.” “Latinos are criminals.” Negative stereotypes, especially negative stereotypes directed at minorities and/or oppressed groups, can be very harmful. These stereotypes play upon a history of oppression of non-white people in the West and allow these oppressions to continue even today.

What does it do if someone is told they aren’t Asian enough or vice versa? What happens is that it erases said person’s humanity, it objectifies that person, and it suggests that people can’t be multifaceted or different, but that people have to be one set thing.

It also establishes a barrier between different groups of people. Yes, all cultures have their own unique characteristics, but at the end of the day, we’re all human beings that experience the same type of emotions. To enforce stereotypes is forgetting that we’re all human beings and it’s forgetting our shared experiences, despite our cultural differences. And more times than not, stereotypes aren’t even accurately reflective of real-life cultures, but rather politicized or fetishized portrayals of those cultures.

One major way to overcome these stereotypes is by giving members of marginalized groups a voice. That is the opposite of what happened in Chang’s case; allowing people of color to publish their own literary works is a big way to challenge negative perceptions and stereotypes. In this way, readers are not only getting an accurate portrayal but are also coming to the realization that people who look different or are ethnically different are actually more like them than they think. Not to mention more representation also makes people of color feel more included and provides more role models.

And if you have ever been told that something you do isn’t what you’re supposed to do because of your ethnicity, don’t fret. There is no set way to be any ethnicity, and you certainly don’t have to cater to harmful stereotypes that don’t accurately show who you are.

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