My Six Cents On Diversity

Posted by on Mar 18, 2015 in General Insanity | 0 comments

I’m sure you’re wondering how I have the audacity to offer six cents worth of my opinion rather than two. Well, inflation is a bitch.  I’m probably going to say a lot, and hopefully some of it will even make sense. I’m taking a class starting tonight with Mary Robinette Kowal and K. Tempest Bradford on Diversity and Narrative that I’m excited about, but it got me thinking today about the topic of diversity in general. This is a topic pretty near to my heart, and I’ve even ranted about it on this very blog a time or two. Today I’m going to tackle two of the best arguments against diversity. Why? Because these two points are valid, and they make sense, and they still shouldn’t stop us from trying to be more representative in our stories.

Argument Number One: I’m not <insert whatever qualifier here> and I don’t feel like I can do justice to that story. This is a valid, and in fact a vital, concern. I hope I’m always worried about treating my characters and their backgrounds fairly. However, I came to the conclusion a while ago that I wouldn’t let that fear stop me from writing more diverse, interesting characters. Want to know why? When I started writing stories I wrote, almost exclusively, about white guys and never once worried that I wasn’t going to do it right. And just for the record, I am not, nor have I ever been, a white guy. (I’ve learned since that this is very common among writers. There’s a wonderful TedTalk from Chimamanda Adichie on this very topic which I heartily recommend.) Now, in all seriousness, there are certainly reasons to worry about reaching into cultures that are not my own for stories. Stereotypes, appropriation, exploitation, are all concerns that I’m terrified about wandering into accidentally, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. I think if we are cautious and empathetic about telling stories of other cultures, it’s difficult to go really wrong.

Argument Number Two: When I start writing more representative stories I feel like my cast seems too much like I’ve chosen them only for diversity. This is a variation of the checking boxes argument, albeit more thoughtfully worded. This argument makes me shake my head, every time. Honestly, what does it matter if I’m checking boxes? Who cares about the damn boxes anyway? It’s not like I’m going into this with a diversity bingo card and trying to get the maximum score. Better representation does not automatically mean you have to have one of everything like some kind of half-assed Noah’s Ark. It means look at your characters and examine why some of them can’t belong to other groups. When I look around at work or in the coffee shop I see hugely diverse groups of people talking and interacting. There’s no rule that says your character can only have friends like her.  Also, diversity isn’t just about characters! Examine your setting and ponder if a change of time or place would help make your story more interesting.

I guess that’s where I diverge from the people who think more diverse stories are somehow inferior because we’ve added requirements: I think diversity makes things interesting. I wonder why the people who complain that Thor is now a woman or that Captain America is now black think either of those qualifiers means the story can’t still be good? Why is it always “well diversity is all well and good as long as the story doesn’t suffer”? Why do we as a culture automatically go to that place? It baffles me. For me, characters exists in a place beyond all of the single things that make them up. Forgive one last superhero reference, just for the sake of example. I read somewhere that at one point it had been considered to reboot Spider-Man as a gay man. (Forgive me for not linking, I don’t remember where it was and I think googling gay spider-man might send me very far down an internet rabbit hole.) I thought this was an unbelievably fantastic idea and I’m a bit irritated that it didn’t happen. Why? Because Spider-Man is all about his relationships and how they interact with him being a hero. What a magnificent way to make a change that would significantly impact his character and allow the same story to be retold in new ways! Spidey would still be him. All of the things that make his character interesting would still be there, he’d just be angsting over Martin Joe instead of Mary Jane.

I think that’s got to be worth at least a dime by now, so I’ll save the rest of this rant for future posts.

Hearts and Puppies!

-C

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