Years ago, I was chatting with my mother’s best friend. Tired of being a working class black woman in the middle class white male profession of solicitor (read: lawyer), she uttered, “What could be worse?”
On further consideration, adding disabled, transgender, lesbian, Muslim, mentally ill, promiscuous/prostitute, drug user and criminal record into the mix and you’ve got an easy target for discrimination. In fact, I’d want to buy that woman a kevlar vest, convert her home into a bomb shelter and hire her a bodyguard. That’s the state of prejudice today. Those characteristics are vulnerabilities opportunists would jump on in a heartbeat.
Now although the number of individuals represented decreases each time you add one of those factors, it doesn’t make them any less valid as people.
‘Behind the praise for overcoming the limitations of the problem novel genre seems to be an assumption that social problems create roadblocks to good storytelling, and the more of these problems a book engages with, the more likely it is that the book will fail.’
‘I don’t have any definitive proof that there’s an invisible ceiling on the number of issues a YA novel can contain, but reviews such as those above do police the boundaries of what is acceptable in a realistic YA novel. I have talked to many authors who feel that this invisible ceiling does exist; it is basically common knowledge among minority authors that including more than one minority identity in a book is a huge risk for your career.’
‘This demand for simplified narratives with threads that can be “smoothly” tied up in a “genuine and heartfelt” manner is an insult both to people who have intersectional minority identities, and to young adult fiction as a genre.’
My mother is a British-born black woman with mental illness and physical disability. I’m her mixed race daughter and carer living with chronic migraine and insomnia.
I never see my mother or myself represented in fiction.
Sold tells the story of a 13-year-old, poor, rural Nepalese girl sold into sexual slavery and trafficked into India and placed in a city brothel where she periodically battles sexually transmitted infections. The Shawl is about a 59-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor who emigrated to the States. We follow her life of suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder; vacillating between worlds of anger, living in the past, and in an alternative reality she’s built for herself where she can take comfort in an adult version of her dead baby daughter, who wasn’t fathered by a Nazi soldier.
Both of these remarkable stories cover several issues. Cultural and language differences, ethnicity, age, grief, injustice, subjugation and rape. Not once did addressing all of these subjects detract from my reading experience; it enhanced it.
Publishing seems to be facing similar prejudicial issues as feminism in failing to represent the lives of minorities. It’s a shame these types of intersectional stories – tackling multiple issues – are so rare in literature, and that (trade) reviewers fail to appreciate them.
image by All Booked Up