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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