Beyond Diversity—”Can I be Wonder Woman?”

diversityinya:

By Imani Josey

I don’t have a daughter yet, but if I did, I would have taken her to see Wonder Woman. And I’m sure she would have been enamored as much as I was. It’s also safe to assume she’d be a young black girl, and while enjoying the movie, she would instantly know Wonder Woman doesn’t look anything like her. She might even go so far as to ask, “Mommy, I like Wonder Woman, but can I be Wonder Woman?’

The movie was progressive and (for the first part) fun, but its lack of intersectionality made it like many other superhero and fantasy series, in that women of color can only enjoy it to an extent. Wonder Woman didn’t have the diversity I want for empowering my future children. It had the kind of diversity that plucks a few POC at random and throws them into an all-white world, that makes them sidekicks and tokens, that others them. Wonder Woman isn’t the only movie to do this, and plenty of YA fantasy book series do it, too. When I have children of color, I want to be able to give them a fantasy series where they don’t have to ponder why the heroes and heroines never look like them. I don’t want them to feel like they must blend into the mainstream, into whiteness, to be powerful and strong.

My debut novel, The Blazing Star, is about a sixteen-year-old black girl named Portia who travels back in time to ancient Egypt, kicks butt, and saves the world. She also takes her twin sister, Alexandria, and a classmate, Selene, on the journey with her. They, too, are women of color. And smack dab in the middle of The Blazing Star’s cover is Portia’s face looking off in the distance, ready to wield her #blackgirlmagic as she sees fit.

I’m not sure how many other black girls are on the cover of YA fantasy book series, and I’m not sure how many lead their own stories as protagonists. But judging by Lee & Low’s annual research, the number is incredibly low. I was hell-bent on my book series doing what traditional pub is dragging its feet to do—fixing the representation gap—a major component of why I went indie. I received the “can’t connect with the voice” rejections from agents over and over, but knew there was an audience for The Blazing Star. Sure enough, it sold out on release day.

What I love most about the series is that I know my future daughter will never have to ask if she can be Portia. She will just know she can by picking up The Blazing Star and seeing a black girl on the cover. And when the second book in the series, The Falling Star, releases in February 2018, there will be another beautiful black girl on the cover, and my future daughter will know she can be Alexandria, too.

My parents gave me a wonderful (no pun intended) gift thirty years ago. They surrounded me with black dolls and books with black protagonists, which permitted me to see myself not as the Other, but as normal. As a well-rounded, complex person with likes and dislikes and experiences that matter like anyone else’s, and who knew her black skin was beautiful just the way it was. It was my parents’ mission to ground my normalcy in my agency, not in my proximity to whiteness. Perhaps that education, that pedagogy of possibilities, is why I sold my car and put the money toward publishing the first in a YA fantasy series starring teens of color. It’s not a series about tokenism. It’s about agency. It’s a love letter to my fascinating sisters and to my future children. It’s beyond diversity—fantasy or not, at its heart, my trilogy is reality.

Imani Josey is a writer from Chicago, Illinois. In her previous life, she was a cheerleader for the Chicago Bulls and won the titles of Miss Chicago and Miss Cook County for the Miss America Organization, as well as Miss Black Illinois USA. Her one-act play, Grace, was produced by Pegasus Players Theatre Chicago after winning the 19th Annual Young Playwrights Festival. In recent years, she has turned her sights to long-form fiction. The Blazing Star is her debut novel.

The Blazing Star is available for purchase.