There is a lack of Indigenous Representation in the type of literature that kids like to read. This is something I initially posted about on my personal Facebook profile rather than on this blog because I was concerned about being torn apart like so many people trying to tackle this incredibly sensitive issue before me. I’m white, I’m female, I’m educated and these days I’m middle class, so what do I know about these issues? True. I am utterly unqualified. I am not an Indigenous Australian, I have not lived an Indigenous existence and I do not live in an Indigenous community. I cannot deny that, nor am I trying too. But I have decided that this issue is too important for me not to say something. So even if I get called ignorant or superficial at least people will be thinking about it. And hopefully those thoughts will help come up with a solution. So here is my Facebook post cut and pasted directly here.
Alright people. I’m doing it. I’m going political… or cultural. I’m going something controversial, not sure of the label but it definitely would have one.
Let’s talk about the lack of representation of Indigenous Australian characters and stories in Australian Literature and “white man’s” (self included) fear of portraying them.
I think we can all agree that there is a lack of Indigenous representation across all genres. Sure there is some literary and memoir style Australian fiction out there looking at settlement/invasion/colonisation, but let’s be honest, how many children sit about thinking, “Gee, I’d love to read some literary historical piece that can be very heavy handed and judgemental.” Not many. They’re thinking things like, “Harry Potter is awesome, Twilight is tots romantic, Hunger Games is the bomb yo.” So if we want our youth (black, white, green, purple, sparkling) engaging with Indigenous issues/characters/themes, then surely we need to but it into novels that they’ll actually want to read.
Now the three novels that I’ve mentioned above that have taken youth by storm are all Speculative Fiction, which to me means Australian writers need to put Indigenous content into this genre. But how can we when we’re too scared too. Yep, there I said it, I admit it, I’m too scared too and I’m not the only ones. Now I’m sure Indigenous authors aren’t too scared to. That they feel totally comfortable writing about their own heritage but there’s a slight problem with that. The problem isn’t only that we have an education gap making literacy levels low amongst indigenous populations low, hence writing a whole novel and going through the long journey to get published quite challenging. But also that even in an ideal world where this gap is bridged, the Indigenous population only accounts for around 3% of the Australian population. And let’s face it, not everybody is born to be a writer, so we’re looking at a very small drawing pool. On top of that not everybody has exactly the same taste is books. Even amongst Speculative Fiction fans you have those that both love and hate Tolkien. So to expect this small drawing pool to produce works of mass appeal is just ridiculous. Sure it only take one, like JK Rowling to come along and inspire a generation, but we cannot expect every writer in the Indigenous community to be the next Rowling anymore than we can expect it of any other community. Not only that, not every writer wants to write for children or young adult. The pool gets smaller yet.
So, how do we fix it? Forced breeding to increase the population? Let the petrified white writer have access to the stories as well? Do nothing but whinge? Do what we do now (self included), have Indigenous minor characters but avoid drawing on the Dreaming or any settings or major characters? I honestly don’t know how this issue can be fixed. I could rather glibly say that stories should be available to everyone. That Celtic and European folktales, myths, legends, history and religion seem to be open slather for anyone to appropriate, so why can’t writers of any culture just draw on anything and anywhere to serve their story. But I can tell you this, I love the stories from Hinduism but I’m sure not going to write about that either. Because not only am I scared that this Celt would unintentionally offend someone but also because I know I would get crucified for it. White writers who tackle other cultures, even previously popular writers, have a history of being torn apart. I, an unpublished, very pale skinned, blue eyed, woman of Scottish and Welsh heritage, am surely not the one to fly in the face of this history and solve all problems. So for my part, I’ll continue to have Indigenous minor characters and refer to Indigenous plants but who will do more? Who can bridge this gap and solve this lack of representation? Thoughts?
I would normally blog about something this lengthy (and yes I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of this incredibly complex and sensitive issue) but quite frankly I have no desire to be called a stupid racist by complete strangers… I’ll leave that to my friends 😉
This rant was inspired by something #KateForsyth said at the Monsters Under the Bed discussion hosted at the New South Wales Writer’s Centre #nswwc about the need to increase the representation of Indigenous stories and the complexities involved in this.