TL;DR: Wanting Diversity Won’t Hurt You

There’s a very strange argument going around on book twitter right now. Meaningful, important, but strange. And I don’t want to be silent about it.

TL;DR – Only a white supremacist or a bigot would see people wanting more diversity in popular fiction as a personal attack on them.

For a while now people have gotten better and better about being louder and informative about the issue of the lack of diversity in mainstream books. While a lot of us can remember reading diverse books in high school (for me, The Pearl and The Good Earth stand out as assigned by teachers. And stolen from my mom’s shelves, I remember Sacred Ground, the Valdemar books, and Elfquest), if you look at books on the shelves that are more for pleasure reading, popular books that have a lot of publishing house money behind them, giving them more media coverage, there is a startlingly lack of POCs, LGBTQs, disabled, religious, etc diversity.

Now. No one is forcing anyone to write any one thing. No one is saying anyone HAS TO write characters with different skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, various religious beliefs, or sexual and/or gender differences. All people are saying is it is important that we allow people who are writing these things a fair space on those shelves and maybe try to do a better job of portraying the real world we live in.

People are asking publishers to acknowledge that these books are just as good (if not better) than some of the books we see again and again.

I mean. I love witches. And I love vampires. They’ve been written again and again and often look and feel similar. But if there are authors out there with different viewpoints, different backgrounds who can bring a fresh perspective to these two types of stories, I want to see them!

Books should be innovative and different and that means we, as readers, should be open to reading about characters who might not look like us. Because they look like other people, people we know, people in our world who want to see characters who look like them. We all deserve that chance to find that book that resonates with us, no matter the genre.

Obviously everyone is entitled to write their own story. And, if your story happens to look like the cast of Pleastantville, then fine, but if your cast of characters looks like Sense 8, maybe publishers could give it a fair shot too.

I don’t understand why that thought process is controversial. And for most people, it’s not. So here’s where the strange part of the argument comes in. Some people are super pissed off that other people are asking for fair representation. Yep. They’re hearing “we’d like our voices heard too” or “please at least try to write a realistic representation of our city/state/country/world” as “you must write this way!” or “you must write this kind of story/these kind of characters!” or, even worse, “you’re being unfair to white people!”

Which is not true.

You don’t have to write anything in particular. No one does. But what’s wrong with wanting to show the world as it really is? I mean, listen, I have not been the best at balancing my casts of characters. I try to. I have tried from book one to include POCs and LGBTQ people, but I won’t lie to you and tell you my books are balanced. Yeah, I’m more than a little scared I’ll screw up the representation, but still I try and I’m trying with each new story to represent more, to do better. Because that is the world I live in.

I went to a high school where the majority populations were Latino and Pilipino. As a matter of fact there were such a small percentage of white kids at my school that we were lumped in with the other smaller percentages of races at my school as the “other” ten percent. So, while your mileage may vary, for some of us, seeing POCs as the majority is already normal.

I know it’s a little scary for some people. They see it as erasure, but for some reason can’t see the irony there. Trying to keep people from publishing books with characters that don’t look, think, and act like them is actual erasure. All people want is a seat at the table. And I promise, there is room. You acting like they’re trying to take something away from you is bullshit, plain and simple. White people have taken a lot of things from a lot of people and white people have an abundance of representation. You will be fine.

I know I’m lucky that I grew up reading diverse books. Hell, I didn’t even think about it at the time. I read books by Jewish authors and Native authors and black authors and they wrote characters that looked like them. I didn’t even give it a thought, if the story was good, that’s all that mattered. And it helped evolve me, helped me see other people I might not have experience with as no different than me. And I think that’s the ultimate goal; to raise a generation that doesn’t treat people differently for who they are, where they come from, what they believe, but at the same time celebrates how everyone adds to the tapestry of our world.

Now, I can remember which books I read when I was younger that featured LGBTQ characters because there were so few and honestly I think they were just LGB, no Ts or Qs. And, sadly, I can’t recall reading any books that featured a disabled MC. I wish I had. I want kids and teens to get to read like that—where it’s just normal to see all of these types of characters because it builds empathy in real life. People are people and just want to be accepted for who they are. Books help us with this process.

So calm down. If you don’t want to read books with characters that don’t look, act, or think like you, I promise, there is no lack of books for you. They’ve been published a lot and will continue to be published. But stop freaking out at people who want the people who control the money to know we will buy these books, we will read them, we will go see their film adaptation. They will get a return on their investment. And you will be fine, it won’t hurt you one little bit.

Now, if you’re on Twitter go check out these hashtags to start building your TBR lists. #ownvoices #istandwithdiversity

If you want to leave some book recs in the comments, please do! I can give a shout out to a few I’ve read recently: An Ember in the Ashes, This is Where it Ends, and the Don’t Get Mad Series. And speaking of witches, I’m excited to pick up Labyrinth Lost.

Let’s hear your recommendations!

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4 thoughts on “TL;DR: Wanting Diversity Won’t Hurt You

  1. livrancourt

    This is a great post about a complicated issue. Since I know the romance genre better than others, that’s going to skew my point of view, but I absolutely agree a POC author who writes characters that reflect their own experience shouldn’t automatically be shunted to the publisher’s POC line. (As if white readers need to be protected from characters who don’t look like what they see in the mirror.)
    I think the bigger issue is that POC writers don’t receive the same kinds of contracts from big publishers. It’s circular logic – the publisher puts the POC stories in a separate line, where they don’t have the same mainstream exposure, then rationalize the way they offer contracts by saying POC stories don’t sell as well. Of course they don’t, because they’re not given the same level of support as stories with white characters.
    This problem isn’t solved by white authors writing POC characters. I mean, of course we should, because our writing should reflect the world around us. It’s not right, though, for white authors writing POC characters to get the better contracts with more exposure, especially if the perpetuate negative stereotypes in their work. (Here’s a link for an awesome post on how NOT to do that – I love Brandon Taylor’s message about empathy: http://lithub.com/there-is-no-secret-to-writing-about-people-who-do-not-look-like-you/ )
    The #ownvoices movement is critically important, because it calls attention to the inherent bias in the system and asks for change on a higher level than just ‘who’s writing what’. Stories should be judged on their merit, not what the characters look like, who they love, or what their physical capabilities are.
    For diversity recs, I’d go with romances by Synithia Williams, Kwana (KM) Jackson, or Piper Huguley. For books by writers who fall somewhere in the LGBTQ spectrum, try Kris Ripper, Alexis Hall, Rick Reed, or EE Ottoman. (Ripper’s new series – Queers of LaVista – is pretty fantastic so far.)
    Um, yeah. I guess I had some words to say about this. Thanks for getting my brain moving first thing in the morning!

    1. livrancourt

      The other piece of this that I for sure want to point out is that, since I’m a cis-het white woman, I’m nowhere near an expert on these issues. Sometimes the most important thing someone like me can do is to shut up and listen.

    2. Shauna Granger

      This is a great point too! I think that’s what I was trying to get at with my comments about returns on their investments. But yes, the idea that they don’t sell is ridiculous. I mean, look at Ember in the Ashes and The Wrath and the Dawn as just two, recent examples.

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