Recently, there has been a lot of talk around the notion of ‘diversity’. There have been some good arguments, some bad arguments, and then some really ugly arguments, especially after that video.
I’ve managed to steer clear of any arguments because I wanted to see what everyone had to say on both sides. Now I feel it’s time I weighed in with my own opinion.
If you’re looking for some other great posts on diversity, then check out these:
Anyway, here’s why I think diversity is a good thing.
I am a middle class, heterosexual white girl. I am everywhere. I can read any book, watch any TV programme or any film, and I will see myself reflected back at me time and time again. I don’t need to look for someone like me in books because I am everywhere.
And I hadn’t quite realised that until this debate on diversity appeared, when suddenly it was so apparent to me that I did not read diversely until recently. I still don’t read extremely diversely, although I’m really trying to change that, but my degree in English at least opened up a wide array of books to me, and I’ll be recommending some at the end of this post.
It’s not that I go out and actively seek books with only white protagonists; I buy a book because it sounds good and, more often that not, I’ll open it and discover the character is white. This is not good.
In my opinion, there is no excuse not to represent different races and religions within a book, because they are everywhere. Whites are not the dominant race, nor is Christianity the dominant religion. Of course, you will find more white people in certain countries, such as the USA and the majority of Europe, but white people aren’t everywhere. Africa isn’t a white continent, neither are India or Iraq or Korea or Argentina white countries. There are so many different skin colours and races. Yes, certain skin colours will be prevalent in certain countries, but in our age of globalisation races and cultures are mixing. A Muslim may be a minority in America, but they are not in Pakistan. They are not lesser because there are fewer of them in one country.
In addition, homosexuality is still just as important and deserves the same representation. Just because there might be more heterosexual people doesn’t mean that LGBTQ+ people are not as important.
I find it worrying and laughable when I see some white people complaining about how POC are trying to eradicate whites. No one is asking for that. If you suddenly got rid of white people in books, then again books would not be diverse. It works both ways.
Okay, let’s say suddenly there are no more books being published with white characters. You might see one or two, but they’re on the sidelines and they’re pretty 2D, essentially just plot points rather than people. You, as a white person, start to become confused. You wonder, where are all the people like me? Where is my race? Why are we not included? There are lots of us!
Now, that’s exactly how POC feel a lot of the time. They feel marginalised. They can’t find themselves in books even when, in reality, they are just as numerous as any other race. I have no problem connecting with a POC character. In fact, I enjoy learning about other races and cultures. At the end of the day, everyone is human; how can you not connect to another human because their skin colour is different to yours?
The same goes for straight people who say they just can’t connect with homosexual romances. Well, how do you think homosexual people feel reading heterosexual romances? Also, at the end of the day, a romance is about love. Love is not exclusive. Do you think it’s weird when someone says they love their dog or their cat? No. So why should it be weird if a man says he loves another man, or a woman says she loves another woman? Of course, loving an animal is very different to loving another human, but why is it okay to profess your “love” for your pet but it’s then “uncomfortable” if a man says he loves his boyfriend? Love is universal and should be open to all, no matter your gender or sexuality, and if a woman loves another woman or a man loves another man then I don’t see how that’s any of your business.
However, there are going to be some instances where books cannot have truly diverse characters. This is mainly in historical novels. For example, if you want to write about a tribe of Celts in the remote Irish wilderness, then your characters are going to be white. Yet just because a character is white doesn’t mean they have to be straight. Of course, homosexuality may not have been accepted in the community, but that doesn’t mean everyone would have been 100% heterosexual and totally not harbouring any other feelings.
The same goes for if you’re writing a book in Medieval Japan. Pretty much everyone is going to be Japanese. This is diverse in that it’s a race other than white, but it’s still only one race. However, that’s because the time period was not like ours; they didn’t have globalisation to allow this substantial mixing of races and cultures and religions. Diversity of race is a product mainly of modernity. There have always been other races, but they were unable to mix like they do today. However, diversity of sexuality is not a product of modernity. I mean, look at the Ancient Greeks!
No one is saying you need to make all of your characters diverse. As I said, the historical setting may not allow it, but that doesn’t mean you always have to write about a white country. Ye Olde England wasn’t the only place out there! However, if you’re writing a Contemporary novel, is it really an accurate portrayal of the times we live in if all your characters are white, middle-class and heterosexual? Take London as an example: it’s a hub of multiculturalism. You cannot walk down any street in London without seeing a plethora of skin colours, or without seeing hijabs or turbans, or without hearing Polish or Punjabi. If you want to set your book in London, you have to be prepared to not only do research on the city itself, but also on its inhabitants. And there are many.
Of course, don’t force it; don’t make all your characters diverse just for the sake of it or because you feel pressured. No one is asking that all your novels have to have different races and different sexualities. However, by writing a book you are attempting to capture life. Life is diverse. No one person is the same. Even in Fantasy, there is the scope for so much diversity. Fantasy is just another potential reality; it still needs to represent the diversity of life.
Now, here are some diverse books I’ve read and which you should definitely check out if you want to read about different races or religions or sexualities, or just want a book that has someone like you:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid: Depicts a Pakistani man’s struggle to adjust to his life in America post-9/11. (Also a great film).
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson: A semi-autobiographical novel about a young lesbian girl growing up in a 1960s Northern England industrial town amidst a strong Christian community.
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers: The life of a young tomboyish girl, her cross-dressing male cousin and her African American maid in a Southern American town during WWII. The novel tackles the themes of sexuality, race and gender.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: The novel spans a number of different timelines and characters, from the slave trade in the South Pacific to post-apocalyptic tribes in Hawaii. The characters are all very diverse in terms of race and sexuality.
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston: The memoirs of a Chinese-American growing up in 20th century USA. It depicts the struggles between Chinese culture and American culture.
The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix: Not only is this an amazing Fantasy series, but it also features a group of clairvoyant women living in a glacier who have dark skin and are generally just badass. The main protagonists are white, but that’s more to do with their deathly paleness from constantly entering the river of Death than a specific race.
Half Way Home by Hugh Howey: Features a gay protagonist struggling with his sexuality. It’s written from a very unique viewpoint as the characters are teenagers but have only just been ‘born’ from their test tube state. The protagonist is forced to understand his sexuality in a world where such things are not already clearly outlined.
Rebel of the Sands: A Fantasy series set in a Middle Eastern land and culture. It’s also strongly feminist.
So, what’s your view on diversity? I’m happy to discuss it in the comments as long as everyone is respectful! Do you agree with me or disagree?