Discussion: 4 Pathetic Arguments Against Diversity In Fiction

DiversityInFiction

Despite the leaps and bounds the industry have made towards the publication of diverse books – I still occasionally hear or read things that raises my heckle a little. Here’s why I think these arguments are rubbish.

1. Diverse Characters Do Not Fit Into This Setting

This is one I most commonly encounter in works of fantasy or science fiction. Apparently, there’s no room for people of different colour, gender, culture, because fantasy are usually set in European-derived society. I call BS on this. In epic fantasy there are often numerous kingdoms clamouring for their role in the schemes of grand old Destiny, I would definitely side eye you if NONE of those societies featured unique cultures. It makes the world narrow and short sighted, I much prefer fully realised worlds who have room and foresight for different groups of people.

While I love most of the more popular fantasy, I also wished that more of them took place in unique settings. When they are set outside of the traditional European derived setting, more often than not the world building is not fully realised. The setting acts as a dresspiece where characters can wear exotic clothes and occasionally mutter a ‘cool’ sounding foreign phrase, rather than a real effort to be fully immersed in another culture. I have been disappointed time and again *coughSoundlesscoughTiger’sCurse* – I don’t just want diversity for the sake of it, I want it to be GOOD.

2. There’s Already Plenty of Books On Diversity

Every time someone complains about the lack of diversity in publishing, people are very quick to point out their misconception and proceed to name like, the same five books we keep seeing on everyone’s rec list. Yes, I agree they’re great, but the fact is there’s a lot fewer diverse books compared to others on the market. I still have to make a conscious effort to seek out a diverse book, rather than just picking something from the shelf and be wonderfully surprised. All the diverse books I read last year was a conscious choice. It is a fanciful dream, but I hope that one day, there will be as many diverse books are book about straight, white people. That I could pick up anything and be presented with a spectrum of experiences, different to my own.

I also recently read a well known author commented on Reddit about how there are plenty of of diverse books, it’s just that people don’t purchase them or they fall into obscurity – she then proceeded to list a whole bunch of books that I have admittedly never head of. Somehow, there’s the hidden implication that people cry for diverse books, but they do not buy them once they are released – or they just do not perform as well as mainstream titles. This breaks my heart a little, because it means we need awareness. It also breaks my heart a little that a well known author would try and insinuate that there’s not enough appreciation for diverse books. The overwhelming love the community has for the ones that DO get visibility is proof we have room in our heart for these stories.

3. You Don’t Need A Character To Be Diverse To Relate To Their Experiences

Then there’s the school of thought that believes if the writing is good, the character’s identity does not matter – that you should feel comfortable with the character regardless of their background. To some degree, this is true of great writing, but it’s also a stance that does not change the status quo. It says, we’re OK with whole bunch of people being marginalised and their voices not heard. On the flip side, how would you feel if every single protagonist became, say, a queer and biracial transgender? If this thought is too uncomfortable for you, it proves that we still have a long way to go in the representation of diversity. We should not have to assume we can relate to solely the experiences of the overly represented population – we should not have to be uncomfortable with the idea of reading from a different perspective.

4. Readers Are Too Critical Of The Depiction Of Diverse Characters

I also see a couple of authors respond quite negatively when they receive any criticism or negativity about the portrayal of diverse characters. They take a stance that it’s ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ Well, guess what, most reasonable would not have a problem if research was done and there was no appropriation of experiences. This is not to say that all authors misappropriate experiences – I give kudos to any authors who do write diversely. I’m just saying that for everyone to be represented, we need thicker skin. Creators need to get on board with being receptive to criticism, or at least the ones that are well-founded. Readers need to be more demanding: we want diversity, but we also want the books we receive to be truthful, accurate and entertaining – don’t let people call you haters, you’re allowed to have standards.


 

What do you think of the state of diversity in publishing? Are you happy with the ways things are? What do you wish would change?

 

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Aentee

Aentee

I'm Aentee, a 20-something lover of books and shiny things. By day, I attempt to prescribe books to all the patients in my optometry clinic. By night, I read books, watch TV, and spend way too much time on twitter.

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  1. says

    I feel like one reason we don’t see a lot of diverse books is because we don’t see a lot of diverse authors. People will write about what they’re comfortable with and if they’re a white American make then that’s what they’ll probably write about. Maybe we just need more books by authors from different cultures. Who knows! I’m personally not bothered by it. An author could describe someone as having black hair and I’d still picture them however I want them to look haha. But that’s just me ;) Nice post!

  2. says

    I’ve seen the ‘but we already have so many diverse books’ excuse thrown around so many times and it pisses me the hell off especially when I see the same six or so books used again and again as examples of diverse fiction – if we had enough diverse fiction then surely peoples lists would be different. I also think that people are afraid of criticism or not representing something that they don’t necessarily understand very well, but a little research goes a long way!

  3. says

    We definitely need more diverse books! There has been an increase in diversity in literature the past year but still the majority of books contain Caucasian, middle-class families and I hope that more books containing diversity will be written. I really want more books to contain mental illness as I get panic attacks and I still feel like that’s a subject that not many books talk about!
    Kyra @ Blog of a Bookaholic recently posted…Review – Clockwork Prince – Cassandra ClareMy Profile

  4. says

    I’m not happy with it. But happier? Maybe???? Because I think it has come a long way in the last few years! BUT STILL MUCH FURTHER TO GO. The fact that my reviews have to go “yayyy this was diverse!!” disappoints me because I want every book to be diverse, so much so that we stop pointing it out, because it’s just NORMAL. Like I don’t say “and the character was a straight/white person” in my review, right? Because it’s the given. I’d like the diversity to be the given. *dreams*

    Ohhhh, but I do understand the terror of #4 a bit, like if you write a diverse character but don’t do it RIGHT then you’re going to basically flayed? It’s a bit sad. And I know there’s research and talking to people and all that and those are excellent tools — but I’m never going to be as authentic as a person who’s lived it, right? STILL. I think it’s worth trying and working really hard over. *nods*

    LOVED THIS POST SO MUCH. <3
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  5. says

    It’s kind of depressing that we dream of equal numbers of diverse titles as straight white cis able bodied titles given the proportions in the real world of those two groups of people. The whole ‘good writing is relatable’ argument is ridiculous since it proves that books should have diversity since they don’t need to be straight white cis etc to be relatable! A big problem is obviously which titles publishers choose to promote most even if diverse books are being published. Fortunately we as bloggers can help with that :D. Speaking of, you must check out The Book of Phoenix! Nigerian MC and super cool fantasy scifi mashup.

    Also I hate the setting argument because, gasp, there were non-white people in the Middle Ages in Europe, we just don’t depict them in popular media!

  6. says

    YESSSSS PREACH!!! I completely hate the last argument. As a POC, if I see something wrong, I will tell the author exactly what I disliked. Its not that I didn’t appreciate the effort, but that (usually) more research – and not just the Wikipedia kind, but real life, getting an expert kind – could have been done.
    Great post though!
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  7. says

    This is excellent! The issue surrounding the cry for diversity in novels is such a hard one, it’s a double edged sword. I think the aim is to really keep diversity going in books until it’s completely normalised. We will never be completely happy with them unless it becomes normal in our minds.
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  8. says

    Yeah, I’ve seen some people bash diversity in books and say how they ‘don’t want it shoved down their throat’. Um, okay. I see it as being more realistic to the population. I just think, so when they see a disabled person, a gay person, a person of a different color as them in real life, is reality being shoved down their throat? Weirdos.
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  9. says

    Such a great post Aentee!
    As I begun to read a lot more this year than at any other time in my life, I ended up reading A LOT of diverse books… I mean A LOT! I gobbled up most of the new diverse releases, and was even happily surprised when 2 of the fantasy series I read had the inclusion of diverse characters.
    I actually think that the YA genre in being more and more inclusive, though it is still clearly a struggle. I would say that where I feel more this lack of diversity is on NA romances.

  10. says

    I always welcome diversity in the books and it makes my reading experiences richer. But I dont read books specifically because of presence of diverse factor. Writing and storytelling is still my number one thing that I require in my books. There are many new/debut authors who are willing to write diverse books but their stories and writing are not very good in my opinion. So my wish is that more popular/capable authors would write diverse novels.
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  11. says

    I love stories for the very main reason that they transcend boundaries and cross borders, but that very purpose is defeated if stories don’t embrace diversity in characters, in setting, in mindset… Great points here, Aentee! I feel that the future is bright, though! :)

  12. says

    This is such a great post and discussion because often the focus is on why we /should/ have diversity rather than why it is silly to /not/.

    Point 4 is so frustrating, because writers write about things they haven’t experienced all the time. If you have the time to research what life was like in the 18th century for a middle class white man with accuracy, then you can just as easily research what life is like for a 21st century Middle Eastern girl without being offensively inaccurate.

    As for point 3, sure, I am able to relate to characters from exclusively European/American backgrounds, but the same can be said in reverse. Who says a person can’t relate to a character’s experience just because they are of a different background or have different experiences? I can relate to Simon from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda without being a gay male because there is so much more to the character than what makes him diverse, so there’s clearly a flaw in the logic of people presenting this argument.

    A while ago I read an argument against The Avengers franchise having a black Peter Parker (Spiderman) because they’d have to completely change his personality and interests, which is rediculous. The only thing having a diverse protagonist in a non-diversity focused film means is that there is an extra layer to explore, and I think it is largley the lack of diversity we have in fiction and media that makes people percieve diverse people being worlds apart from us, when we’re all human and can relate to human experiences.

  13. says

    Not happy with the way things are. I’d like to read more diverse books, but they really are hard to find. I try to write diversity (especially in my fantasy because it doesn’t require research if I’m making it up from scratch) but the research for more contemporary stuff is difficult, sometimes. I think it’s worth it, though.
    Madilyn Quinn recently posted…Flash Fiction FridayMy Profile

  14. Alexa @ Words Off the Page says

    OMG your comment on Soundless was the same I had! I haven’t read the book, but I saw the blurb say “Ancient China” and I rolled my eyes so hard it kind of hurt. I’m sorry “Ancient China”? Which Ancient China are we talking about? You do realize that “Ancient China” means thousands of years of different dynasties, practices, religions, and beliefs right? It honestly bothers me to no end when people put it in that kind of box because it shows how little the author went into research. I don’t want to sound mean, but goodness, authors and writers talk about the amount of research they do, but they can’t squeeze in some history regarding a certain dynasty or era? I mean COME ON.

    This is really why I honestly despise and side eye books on Asian characters and Asian settings written by white people. To me it just looks like, “oh here’s this story that’s been done a hundred times but wait… they’re ASIAN”. Like um… hello? I’m not a cool skin you can put on your books so that it appeals to people. The fact that these books written by white people are the only ones that get huge press is really problematic too. Like where are all of the asian writers writing some awesome ass books? I KNOW THEY’RE OUT THERE. WHERE ARE THEY?

    -sigh- I’m gonna take a deep breath now, but aaaaa. This is something I can honestly talk for days about.

  15. says

    I’m really glad diversity is more prominent in YA (or at least I am more aware of it!). I guess what I am afraid of is that people will write books with diverse characters just to market it as diversity. And that these characters won’t be as developed, or they will be super stereotypical, or not accurately portrayed, etc.

    But yeah, I say bring on the opposite of all of that! Especially diversity in my fantasy books. I would LOVE that.
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  16. says

    Yeah some of these are really awful excuses. No, they all are. Though some are worse than others. Like the first one is SO. STUPID. Yet I see it used all the time! Like, I don’t care WHERE the story takes place, there is room for diversity. The argument that it’s European-based is just as ridiculous. Like, “sorry, there’s only straight, able bodied, cisgender white people in Europe”? WHAT!? I have been to Europe. That’s just not true. At all. Or even close. (Sorry, that one makes me the angriest.)

    The second one annoys me too. You can say that about ANY book, hell, even books in general. “Well there are already tons of books with pages and letters, so we’re going to pass on this one.”

    Obviously, the need for diversity is there. It’s hugely necessary. I wish I had answers :( But I think speaking out like you are goes a long way, especially in such a thoughtful post!
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  17. says

    Like you, I think diversity has a long way to go until it becomes a normal standard. I’ve read many reviews of diverse books that made the reader uncomfortable, or felt that the bland inclusion of a gay or cultural character was diverse enough. I think diversity and the quality of what’s published needs to be driven by the reader. There is a cry out of more diverse books but look at Ink and bone for instance, which was a diverse YA fantasy that I LOVED but it wasn’t even on the top goodreads list for fantasy. That’s telling, really.
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  18. says

    These sounds like pretty weak arguments. I also hear a lot of people whining that now, non-diverse books are in danger of getting pushed out to the fringes, and that makes me pretty upset. The norm is never going to be in danger. Ever. White, straight vanilla books will always be published and purchased. I can’t believe people try to use these excuses, especially the “we have plenty of diverse books STFU.”
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  19. says

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