An Aside About Pretty in Pink
On Meeting Judy Blume

Diversity in YA: What About Class?

One of the things I like about writing YA is that there's always a passionate and vibrant discussion about it all over the internet. In this discussion, issues of diversity and privilege come up all the time.

And class is almost always ignored.

So I'd like to say a few things.

One: There is a relatively rigid class system in the United States. If you're born poor, middle-class, or rich, you're likely to stay that way. (Though of course you can fall out of the middle class and into poverty--this is currently the most common kind of class mobility in this country.)

Two:  Being middle class or rich in this country comes with a whole host of privileges that make your life easier.  

Three: The poor are the most despised group in this country. And yes, this is wrapped up in racism, because a lot of white people think that only black and brown people are poor, but you don't have to go any further than the crap a lot of people post on facebook to see how much people hate the poor.

 Four: Hating the poor is a great way to reassure yourself that their fate will never befall you. It's also a great way to excuse yourself from complicity in their fate.  If people are poor because they are too lazy and stupid not to be, then they deserve what they get, and I don't have to think about how I'm actively helping to keep people poor.

Five: If you're not poor, you're actively helping to keep people poor.  We live in a pretty binary system: you're either screwing or getting screwed.   To put it more directly: if you are female, or gay, or lesbian, or Black, or Hispanic, or Asian, or whatever and you are not poor, you may be oppressed, but you are also, in a lot of ways, the oppressor. 

Six: Perhaps instead of incessantly complaining that your middle- or upper-class privilege is incomplete (lookin' at you, Columbia grad Maureen Johnson!) , you might try to undo your cranio-rectal inversion and examine the plight of people who grow up with no money. And live with no money.  And who don't have the advantages you've enjoyed for your entire life. I do not mean that sexism and racism and all the other isms don't exist, but so does oppression of the poor.  And I grow awfully weary of people who complain about the oppression of upper class people without seeming to ever spare a thought for the poor. It's always easier to point out how you're being wronged than to examine how you're wronging others.  

Seven: Any discussion of privilege or diversity that doesn't take class into account is simply incomplete. I don't think it's an accident that the middle class or rich people who mention these issues on the internet a lot don't ever mention class.

Eight: The diversity we should be depicting in YA literature includes class diversity.  I've written before about how literature should be both a window and a mirror. Who's opening a window for middle-class and wealthy kids to learn about the people who are less fortunate than themselves? Who's holding up a mirror for poor kids to see their experience reflected in our art?  Is it you?  Why not?

Nine: John Hughes and Judy Blume are to YA literature as George Romero is to zombie movies: the rest of us are playing in a sandbox that they built.  John Hughes, for all his flaws (the racism and frequent cruelty of his comedy), addressed class in both Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club. Why don't we have the same courage?

Ten: Dystopian fiction is probably the only place where you see class issues addressed consistently in YA fiction. ( I don't think of Enter the Bluebird as a dystopia, necessarily, but I suppose I did the same thing in that book.) I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I'm happy to see the issues raised. On the other hand, I wonder if the dystopian settings let modern readers off the hook a little too easily: oh, the society in this book isn't like mine! In this book, kids kill each other on TV for our amusement! I welcome anybody's thoughts about this.