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?