Diverse

Published January 30, 2018 by swankivy

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Just to clarify, y’all, being afraid of doing it wrong and being a marginalized person afraid mainstream authors will do it wrong/take your spot is pretty legit. In the broadening awareness that diversity is important and representation helps people, some people whose hearts are in the right place are still going about it wrong, and it’s common to worry you’ll mess it up. And for those of us from a marginalized population, you know that twinge you get when you hear someone’s writing a book about your group but the author’s not in it? Yeah. The best you’re hoping for is for them to not put a terrible stereotype or misleading narrative in the story.

Fortunately, properly representing people from different populations from you isn’t as hard as you might think. It’s like any other aspect of a story that isn’t taken entirely from your own life: you have to think it through, research it sometimes, and when you’ve written it, ask others what they think. DiversifYA is a site that can help; people from various backgrounds volunteer certain aspects of their experience as resources for writers, and when you gather a critique circle, actively look for people who can make your work more authentic.

It is sometimes tough to get the balance right between “writing a marginalized person as if they’re someone from your background with one small change” and “writing a marginalized person as if their marginalized identity is their entire being.” Their identities should be incorporated into who they are to the extent that that makes sense, but no one is asking you to start spitting out books that have a Diversity Message. We just want authorsĀ and readersĀ to stop thinking of certain traits as the standard, with other traits as deviations from that standard, and we want populations in books to reflect the reality of living in a diverse world. It’s true that not every book will have certain kinds of diversity, and no one is asking you to cram it in there no matter what. But think about why your characters are the sexes, genders, races, religions, etc. that they are. After all, if “white straight able-bodied man” is code for “everyman,” couldn’t they be anyone?

4 comments on “Diverse

  • How about we encourage people to write what they know? Instead of, you know, expecting others to reach out to “marginalized” people because they need hugs and love and all that, but they need it in just the right way or it’s still wrong. How about we let them write their own narrative in their own words? I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find more authentic than that.

    (Is it unfair to attribute their failure to tell their own story to the failure of progressive academia to uplift the downtrodden, teaching words and how to write them?)

    In this “I’m telling you what to do, and lots more what not to do, but I’m doing this for other people, for the oppressed, look how wonderful I am!” story, you basically told the world that you’re part of a political movement. And hey, whatever floats your boat. I, as a member of a certain demographic, now know what to expect: I’m not welcome at your party. So why should I listen to you? I think this is a rather fundamental flaw in the “inclusivity” narrative, but then again I don’t do that doublethink. If you can give me a cogent answer why I should bother to bow and scrape to a movement that’s prone to call me racist by default no matter what I do or say or think, do tell.

    I’m expecting “I can’t even!”, so anything beyond that might be a win.

    • You’ve made it clear you think things are fine the way they are, so I’m not out to twist your arm to force you to do something you are not willing to do. Also, contrary to the popular belief of some folks, marginalized people do not currently have the power to limit your opportunities or end your life by screaming “racist!!” if you just keep on truckin’ however you already are. Though it’s pretty common for folks to suggest that the choice to avoid diversification isn’t political because it’s standard. My existence in a population basically can’t be mentioned without someone claiming my presence there is automatically political, so this isn’t really a conversation I can have.

  • All it takes is effort. I explained to a co-worker I was writing a story with an African- American character and I was wondering if I could ask her some questions.

    I always hated hearing people described as food – caramel skin, chocolate skin, coffee or latte colored skin. That always seemed disrespectful to me. I wanted help finding a new way. No one would describe me as having a vanilla or mashed potato skin tone.

    We had a great conversation and she told me about lifestyle differences that I would not have even known to consider. I ended up with a much better story with a ring of truth in it as well as a new friend.

    The internet can only take you so far. You might not know the questions to ask.

    Also, consider this – a character is default white unless you are told otherwise in many books – doesn’t seem fair. Is there a reason your character cannot be more than European descent Christian Caucasian? Might make for a more interesting story.

    Thanks for braving this topic.

    Claire Count

    • Pretty much. I mean, I have a character in an in-progress story who’s trying to get into art school, and I’ve never done that, so I threw some of my questions at one of my friends who’d gone to art school. There’s no reason you can’t–that you shouldn’t WANT to–accurately represent people who have experiences you haven’t had or can’t have, and sticking to only writing what we already know seems extremely limiting–especially if as speculative fiction writers we’re willing to tackle new worlds and alien creatures. I’m fond of saying that if a white dude is considered an everyman, there’s no reason he can’t be anyman.

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