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 authors and readers 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?

11 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.

      • No, I didn’t say I like the status quo. No, I didn’t claim your existence is automatically political, I was talking about your actions, and that they’re wilfully political. Neatly done sophistry, but I’m counting both as “I can’t even!” and no win. Pity.

        Oh, you might look up “Theo van Gogh”. That is an example of someone getting killed by a member of a group of officially “marginalized” people, as in structural receivers of subsidies to fix up their supposed state of being marginalised, and well-known for shouting “racist!” at the drop of a hat, to the point of having become caricature. Theo was well-known, perhaps notorious, for just keeping on truckin’ right up until bullets stopped him.

        He certainly isn’t the only example. I could mention Charlie Hebdo.

        I don’t mind “diverse” casts in stories, or anywhere, up to a point. I do mind the patronising, the judgemental attitude, and the politics. I also despise all lies.

        • You do you. Your reaction to this comic, like it or not, is going to make people believe certain things about you. Same with your interpretations of my response–of course they’re exactly what you decided they would be before I said a thing. “No win”? Of course not. I don’t think of myself as playing a game or fighting a battle. That’s just . . . it’s weird. When people see the word “diversity” and immediately feel attacked, as if something is being taken from them when they’re asked legitimately to examine why they think it’s fair for people like them to access the lion’s share of representation (and other resources), I know what that means. I’m really, really, really not interested in responding to people who stand there with their hands on their hips pretending they are interested in hearing another perspective or having their minds changed. I see comments all the time that sound like your ~Go on, give me a good reason, I’ll listen, but you probably can’t/won’t say anything I’ll accept~–which immediately sets a tone that predisposes other people to find them insincere and disrespectful. Nobody wants to engage you about this because you make it really obvious that you think other people’s opportunities are really about limiting yours. It’s not a good look.

  • 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.

  • You illustrated this issue very well! I’m glad I found my way back to these comics of yours after a while. These are the kind of things that always help me with writer’s block. 🙂

    This also makes me think of how some people, out of ignorance, react to any diversity in writing. Like once, after reading a draft of my novel, a friend said to me: “So… at least it’s clear you wanted to draw a lot of attention to different sexualities.” And she said it with a really negative sounding but also amused tone, like she wasn’t sure what to make of it.

    To me, this was funny in a way because the story had a pretty wide cast of characters, and only one of them had been shown to like another girl, and one other had said things that might be interpreted as the character being asexual, so far. Neither of these were major parts of the story. But then again, it wasn’t funny at all, because her reaction seemed to represent that of so many others. I told her, that no, my intention was not to draw attention to LGBT+ issues in this story, it’s simply not realistic that all of these characters would be straight. She didn’t really seem to understand my answer, like having a gay supporting character automatically made the book about gayness for her.

    It didn’t even occur to her, that maybe she was only paying so much attention to these things because she wasn’t used to them, not because I had made a point of them. And I guess, ignorance like this is another big obstacle in diversifying literature. Because there are so many people who feel that representation is unnecessary, or find it out of place if it’s not the entire point of the book.

    It’s as if, people who regard themselves as “the norm” should have the choice of not being exposed to characters who are more different from them than they are used to seeing. Which is a twisted idea. It’s frustrating how threatened some people get at the slightest notion that the world they perceive might not be all there is to reality.

    • Absolutely! Well said. I know exactly the dynamic you mean, too. I’ve had someone react to something I wrote with “It’s good, but I wish it wasn’t so focused on basically being a list of EVERY sexual proclivity.” Which made me do a double take because, like, a) it wasn’t; and b) the protagonist was a bisexual man and it wasn’t weird for him to have a bisexual ex-boyfriend and be marrying a heteroromantic asexual woman. It’s not like PUTTING queer people into our stories automatically means that’s all it’s about, and it’s so revolting to me when people treat it like it’s FORCED just because it’s there! (Not to mention, uh, queer people usually know a lot of other queer people so . . . we hang out with each other and when you see one queer person in a story there are usually going to be more if it’s realistic??)

      • Yes, exactly! And how is it possible that we seem to have reached a point where many people are still so weirded out by it when queer people simply appear in stories, while just as many people seem to suggest that queer people are so ordinary now that they don’t even have to be mentioned? Pretty much like the guy in your comic wants to get back to “important” people. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two types were the same people before and after they got exposed to enough queer characters/people and couldn’t deny our existence anymore.

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