I noticed something alarming one day as I was reading a book with a protagonist who was a black woman. I realized it was much easier to think myself into the mind of a white male protagonist than to remember that my protagonist was a woman of color. I had to keep reminding myself that she wasn't white but I've never had to remind myself the white male wasn't a woman like myself. That says something about how often I've had to identify with (as) a white male in books vs a person of color, even a woman of color. (I grew up in the 60s with classic scifi. There were entire books without women characters.)
I'm reading more authors who have protagonists who aren't white because I can see that my subconscious needs to practice viewing the world from a different perspective and it needs to become second-nature to do this. Literature is a powerful agent for changing consciousness if we seek out different perspectives.
The essay by Kat Tanaka Okopnik talks about specifically the representation of East Asians in literature and film and how her children see themselves through that lens.
I wish all the blithe pronouncements of our colorblind, postracial society were real. I wish there were actually enough mention, by other people, of the issues facing Asian America so that I could write sense of wonder stories instead—but my child has said to me, “Mommy, my skin is ugly!” Further discussion reveals that he’s come to think of lighter and darker skin than his own as beautiful, but his light olive is unacceptable in his mind. I spend months working even harder to make sure that people who look like him are presented as attractive, too.
I’m known to have an interest in finding non-problematic media, and so I’m offered a pretty steady stream of recommendations. The majority of “diverse” stories and shows that are offered to my children come in two categories: East Asian kid as a member of the tokenized team of sidekicks to the white protagonist, or stories of East Asia or the recent diaspora. Often, the indicators of East Asian identity for the team player are an East Asian-language name and “golden skin and straight black hair and slanted eyes.” There’s a parent or grandmother who speaks in fortune cookie Wise Oriental proverbs. Unfamiliar words are dropped into the conversation, with an echoed translation into English immediately afterward.
Read more here.