Having just said it’s about craft, let’s be clear that it’s also much more than that. This topic is usually couched in language like “offensive” or “PC.” It’s a topic for debate, a cute little back-and-forth. This is all a condescending and dehumanizing frame for the conversation. We’re talking about the continued silencing and erasure of voices that mainstream white male culture has always silenced and erased. We’re talking about life and death of entire peoples; we’re talking about self-worth and humanity. And even as adults, we’re barely figuring how to deal with negative imagery. Kids haven’t been given any of the tools we have and they see it more than anyone else. High suicide rates and internalized racial/gender oppression are real.
We can’t keep raising generations of kids of color on the notion that there’s only room for them to be bad guys or doomed sidekicks or another generation of white kids thinking they’re closer to God because of how they look. We can’t keep promoting hetero/cis-normative sexist and racist ideas in our literature. That is the default setting. If you aren’t consciously working against it, you are working for it. Neutrality is not an option, and the luxury of thinking it is has to go. To quote Junot once again: “I think that unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations. Without fail. The only way not to do them is to admit to yourself [that] you’re fucked up, admit to yourself that you’re not good at this shit, and to be conscious in the way that you create these characters.”