I know. I know. Who spells out “hashtag?” Well, I did, and I have a purpose for it. On September 4, Twitter blew up with #DiversityinSFF (and, yes, that link should send you to that Twitter discussion as it continues.) While I tweeted once about it, I spent quite a lot of time reading through other readers’ and writers’ tweets. Knowing it’s an important topic to continue, I thought I’d take a shot at it, encouraging others to keep the conversation going on their own blogs and websites.
First: two articles I’ll be referencing:
1. One of my favorite articles was by The Book Smugglers: “SFF in Conversation R.J. Anderson on Diversity in Speculative Fiction.” If you aren’t familiar with her, she wrote Ultraviolet, and her protagonist is asexual, hence the diversity in speculative fiction. The reason I enjoyed this article so much is pretty simple: I found a lot of readers and writers only talking about race (which is important, of course) but diversity includes an entire list of groups of people living within society that don’t appear in novels as much, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race, etc.
2. Mary Robinette Kowal has created a great survey and discussion, and you can read about it here. (I’ve taken it, and it’s very concise and short.) But I will be referencing a comment later on.
Second: Diversity is really important, so why do writers seem to turn away from it?
I have to clarify that I don’t think people turn away from it as much as they used to, but still: there is not as much diversity as you’d think there’d be with as many writers as there is out there today. This list is simply to discuss the common reasons writers seem to avoid diversity that I could find:
1. Confusion but respect for other cultures: Some writers truly stick with “write what you know.” That being said, adding characters outside of their sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and/or religion can be overwhelming for some. Yes, you can research, but I think a lot of writers worry about the depth and honesty of that research. I think some avoid it merely on the fact that they don’t wish to misrepresent cultures they are not a part of. However, I think this barrier can easily be defeated because of the internet. There are plenty of places we can read and talk to people of other cultures to make sure we are going around stereotypes and defining a character with more honesty. (Such as R.J. Anderson wrote about Tumblr in her article.)
2. Nervous for repercussions/reactions: As Walt Fisher writes on Mary Robinette Kowal: “I have no quarrel with anyone writing, participating and expressing their viewpoint. I think it should be encouraged for all writers. That being said, I fear an overreaction.” I think this is really important, because I think this can be a huge hurtle for some writers. No matter what kind of diversity they are working with, the writer can be nervous of offending a group of people, and no one wants to offend anyone. But I think we need to remember, as writers, that we aren’t going to make everyone happy–no matter what group of diversity your character is. Some will love them, others won’t quite connect with them, and some might even hate them. You have to remind yourself to be true to your character, and, as long as you do that, the reactions won’t matter in the sense that you know you did it out of the goodness of your heart (and your characters) and not out of trying to make a certain group look bad or better.
Lastly: Something I learned about perspective from anime.
Confession time: I love anime and manga. (I have to be in a certain kind of mood for it–like everything else–but I’m a fan.) And I came across an article that is now one of my favorites: The Society Pages: Why Do Japanese Draw Themselves as White? I really encourage everyone to read this before I discuss it, but I’ll try talking about it so you can understand it as if the link is broken and you can’t find it.
If you’ve ever come across manga (written) or anime (t.v) then you know these cartoons are filled with diversity, including sexual orientation and overall looks, but a lot of people have wondered why the Japanese draw them as Americans. “As it turns out, that is an American opinion, not a Japanese one. The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white.” The article continues with a vast description of why this isn’t true, allowing readers to readjust their perspective on characters.
This is what I learned from anime: Perspective of diversity matters as much as the creator adding diversity.
Basically, it’s not entirely up to the writer; the reader has to notice the diversity for it to be present. When I talk about this, The Hunger Games comes into mind (and there’s a lot of articles about this.) For instance, many readers were surprised to find out Rue’s race, despite the descriptions in the novel. This is when it comes down to the reader. We have to stop reading as if every character is cut out of the same cloth. We have to read and accept the diversity as much as the writer who wrote it down. It takes two.
Now what do you writers and readers think? Have you written a character outside of your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.?
I have, although I can’t share all of my examples because they aren’t published yet, but I can admit that it’s easier for me to write as a male than a female (which I am planning on talking about in the future!)
Thanks for keeping the discussion going!