Feel free to comment, especially if I trip over something I shouldn’t and you come from that identification.
1. Why would you want to write diversity?
If it’s for quotas, step away from the manuscript. More on that later.
Because human beings are naturally diverse. There is diversity within groups and within the world. If all the characters were white, straight men with blond hair blue eyes from dominant socioeconomic class (nod to Brits out there), skinny, with square jaws, and exactly 6 feet to 7 feet and neurotypical on the right side of justice–that makes for a pretty boring story. Charles Darwin’s first law is that there is diversity in every population. I’d like to honor *humanity* not the dominant class definition of “human” because, honestly, I don’t think *anyone* can live up to that expectation of the “perfect” human that society creates for itself. (for women it’s skinny with big boobs… large lips well-shaped behind, but not too big, long legs and a flexible spine that men’s can’t do.)
Second, I have a soft spot for the underdog in any situation.
Third, prejudice, even unintentional prejudice sucks and I would really, really like to relate to my fellow human being *as* a human being. Stories may not be the best platform in order to learn this, but it does force me to think through the representation of people and the more adept I get at it through one group, then the more adept I get at it with the next group, which to me is awesomeness. I’m seeing people for more of their *who* rather than their what–which is labels. And how people really navigate those labels.
Better fictional representation of any group has been shown to have powerful effects on humans in general. Should I succeed with the story which happens to have diversity, even a little, I feel like it would help just a little because that’s the first step. (TV can boost self-esteem of white boys, study says Anorexia exported.TV brings Anorexia to Fiji)
Usually the discussion goes like this…
Person A: You know there were gays, larger people, and people of color in Europe.
Person B: What? I have to include them now? Is this like affirmative action?
Person A: Just letting you know.
Person B: So, does that mean my cast of white, straight men with blond hair blue eyes from dominant socioeconomic class (nod to Brits out there), skinny, with square jaws, and exactly 6 feet to 7 feet and neurotypical on the right side of justice is not diverse enough for you?
Person A: I’m just pointing to reality here… and I’m saying there is diversity.
Then it gets worse…
The fault lies with *both* parties. Person A is really saying to person B, that they’d like better representation in fiction. 99.9% of the time they have not read Person B’s story. They don’t really know if it could naturally fit in. Better to probably say, “I have not read your story, but I know in the real world people are diverse in that region. Do you think you could examine to see if there is diversity you could fit naturally into the story?”
Person B, then goes to the I must be being called X-ist–this must be quotas. No. That’s not what Person A is saying. Person A is saying “Ah, wouldn’t it be nice if stories equally represented people in reality in fictional representations (and though they don’t know it they probably are also saying): because there is a long history of putting down people who have those representations when they *naturally can show up and be done well.*”
tl; dr: If you feel the *obligation* to put people in, however, you aren’t passionate about it, I don’t think you should be putting time into putting in diversity. Everyone I’ve ever met said they’d rather it be done right in the first place rather than be done for the sake of it.
That’s not a quota.
3. When do I put in diversity?
Only put in diversity if it naturally fits the story. If you are diversity shy and don’t want to put in the work, find a premise that naturally won’t have the diversity you don’t want to represent. (which would be very, very difficult to cover all bases–but ya know–you can try and not make it obvious.)
Shoehorning it in makes for token characters most of the time.
If you are passionate about several types of representations, then spread it across multiple stories. This is not the only story you’ll write. If you do end up publishing, I would hope it’s more than one book.
4. Be prepared to eat Humble pie.
You will learn about how your group dominated and took advantage of another group and how you currently benefit from it. It will be upsetting. But remember you aren’t the victim. Example: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack Most of the time when you enjoy privilege you don’t know and you are pretty helpless to change the tide. But the people who get it in their every day lives know and have known for a long time these things were true. If you do it right and well, then you help. (read the conclusion at the end.)
And in the more blunt manner: Once you write diversity of any group, it’s no longer about you. It’s about that group and their wish to be fairly represented in the regions they come from. It’s time for you to push aside your ego, push down your emotional responses and listen. You think you are suffering from all this diversity talk? There is a system and long history of prejudice that holds in place that has put them in a lower position than you in society. Close mouth. Listen first.
5. History of Prejudice.
You can read this awesome, but very long paper on the psychology of racism… (which works for all prejudice): The Multiple Futures of Racism
Beyond the Myth of Race through a New Paradigm for Resolution in the Third Millennium or you can read the summary at the end.
Basically it is this: Prejudice holds up the privileged class in its place. (Whatever the privilege is) It’s not just the individual you are writing about that’s important it’s a two fold factor: You as part of society which includes those people you are trying to represent and the long history of oppression of the people you are trying to write which may have fluctuated over time as important or unimportant, both attached to religion and unattached to religion. You will need to know that history inside and out in your current time and the rough approximate time you are writing about and make decisions based on that information.
6. How does one write diversity?
A. Research as much as you can.
History, current climate of prejudice, History and origins of that prejudice, every day life (which is a laugh in your face about gay lifestyle crap), how the label interplays in every day life, how it doesn’t play in every day life
Do this step FIRST before asking someone. Put in the effort into at least reading as much wikipedia, scribd, google book excerpt, library research on the topic as you can muster and stand. Show that you care. If you can’t get through this basic step, you probably do not have enough passion to follow through.
BTW, Wikipedia alone does not count. Put in the effort.
B. Research the stereotypes and physically decide how the character will react to those stereotypes/navigate them? Do they internalize them as true or false?
This is also the step where you list the stereotypes given to those people and put in the effort *by yourself* and then flush the dominant cultural stereotypes down the drain. Also this is the place where you find out if your premise is feasible in the first place. If it’s not, be prepared to dump it. See how much *you* have internalized and dump it. If someone has a better idea of representation, *take it* it’s a gift.
Stereotypes–some people within the minority power group will believe it, some will not. Some will buy in halfway and then change their minds. Some will be offended at the idea. Your job is to represent those differing viewpoints.
Do not make your character 100% representative of the stereotype. I’ve yet to meet a single person that 100% fits into any stereotype because most stereotypes by their nature are supposed to be repressive of the people they describe.
D. All of the above will vary on culture/segment of culture.
If you need no better group for this, the adoption, orphan and foster community is one of the most diverse and pitfall communities you can run into. People will disagree within the community. They will disagree on representation and what it means. Your job when facing this community of a large diverse group is to sort who is who and from where and WHY their opinions exist.
Taking the adoption community, if you roughly segment is by time period the person comes from, the age of the child in question and the segment of the adoption community they come from, you will find a clear cut pattern. Even people from within this community mess up the representation. (for a variety of reasons). Which means your job is to sort and figure out the why. Sometimes people don’t know the exact why, they just know it’s true. Which means you have more history research to do.
E. Don’t make X the big issue of the book. It’s been done, and probably been done better. (especially when you aren’t from that group.)
Why not? Because really people with that ascribed label do not spend 24-7 thinking about it. It’s a part of their lives in general, but it’s not the whole definition of who they are. It’s a mere label, but even labels have effects on self-identification and self-esteem.
Most of all people want to be seen as human, not for their labels, but who they are and how they identify themselves on a larger scale. Mostly books that make it about that issue.
F. If you belong to the group you’re writing about–research other POVs on X and represent them in your book.
If the person who is bigger gets lap band surgery because they have diabetes, it does not mean they want to fit into a Size 2 dress. It means they want to not die of the terrible other diseases that comes with it. Even people who belong to the minority classifications won’t know everything it contains.
Saladin Ahmed said this too on Writing Excuses.
And you will notice that Manoj Shyamalan cast Aang in The Last Airbender as white despite the Sanskrit name and despite the fact that Manoj Shyamalan, himself is Indian, so should have recognized the Sanskrit name.
G. Read from people who are of that representation both fictional and non fiction account.
For me, I usually do a basic sweep of the major organizations that talk about the prejudice the group faces. Read a few books from people of that representation who are representing people from the same representation. (all the books I can get my hands on). Also watch television shows and movies where that is also true. (I do not look at the dominant power group’s representations no matter how good), and mark off where it’s brought up and figure out how it is brought up. And then also look at how people describe themselves from that representation.
H. Be willing to fail and get it checked–even if you belong to X. (sometimes stereotypes get internalized.)
I. The key is to represent the DIVERSITY within the groups (opinions and physicalities), and not use a single character as “The X person.” If you have only one representation of those opinions, you need to restructure the book or allude to other opinions. Treat the character as an individual first.
J. Universals apply in prejudice.
Magical X. No.
Token X. No.
Outting people who do not want to be outted. No.
The only person there of that representation to represent the entire novel. No.
The only person of that representation to represent the entire novel No.
Two people or more of that representation to represent the entire novel and show up, but are not named does not count as diversity. No.
Two people who show up and are named but only talk about how they are not part of the dominant or only serve the dominant class. No.
On the nose of everything that the dominant class writes about that group. No. (Make a list of the dominant group’s representations and see if you can find a way around it.)
Reverse prejudice on the those people. No.
100% bad, 100% good person of that representation. No.
Last minute save representation. No. (If 99.9 percent of your story portrays it with prejudice, pushing a last minute save does not save the rest of the novel.)
Political and moral platitudes/soapbox of that representation. No.
Dominant class saves the minority power group. No.
Using prejudiced slurs outside of a story atmosphere when you do not belong to that representation. No. And it’s not a double standard. It will make you look like a jerk.
You never describe their affiliation with the minority power group. No. People will assume the Dominant Power group affiliation every single time, even if they belong to the minority power group. That’s what systemic societal prejudice is.
You only describe the minority power group affiliation. No. Describe people equally.
Mainly tropes about *events* are fine. tropes about *people* are usually not fine. WARNING: BLACK HOLE OF PROCRASTINATION. TV tropes
7. About asking people to help.
A. They have no obligation towards you or your story to help you out. It is not their career choice to help out everyone that doesn’t understand their segment of the culture.
B. Give them room to say yes or no. If they don’t have time or don’t want to, that’s HUMAN, not because they think you are X-ist.
C. Be specific with your questions so their answers can be short.
D. Be humble. They are giving their precious time and effort to help you.
E. If you F-up, which you will… (believe me, I’ve been there), be quick with the apology. Do not jump to victim mode.
F. If there is more than one person that disagrees, ask them *carefully* *specific* questions *if they are willing* why they think this way. Understanding the experiences of the person will help inform your character’s experience.
G. They will not know everything about their label. That’s why you ask a *group* of people if possible.
H. And if it goes sideways for whatever reason. Do not rant and play victim. Chalk it up to you weren’t experienced enough and there were communication issues. (Dale Carnegie on this one)
8. I screwed up. Someone said that the things I wrote were X-ist or X-phobic.
Jay Smooth will take this one for you.
What you said was Racist
TEDxHampshireCollege – Jay Smooth – How I Learned to Stop Worrying an Love Discussing Race
Also works with other prejudice.
Remember, work through it and *ask questions* before taking something personally. Making a *mistake* and being called for it is not the end of the world. Say “Sorry. I would like to understand better. Would you mind if you explain why?”
If they say no, it’s not the end of the world. You can find someone who thinks the same way as them. It does not mean that you can’t win. It means you don’t understand well enough to navigate.
9.Do not accept compliments for putting in a minority power group when you are part of the majority power group nor use that as a trump card.
It will come that you might get complimented. Do not let it go to your head. remember your history research. Remember there are people from the minority power group you just wrote about who are not getting published ion the issue you just got complimented writing for. Hold them up in high esteem and point to the authors you read and say, “What about them? Please read them too.” Because without those people, you cannot stand and you will be basking in a privilege that should *also* be complimented of the group you wrote about. Help the group that you benefited the compliment from.
And just because you are complimented doesn’t mean you got it perfect so never, ever use it as a trump card that you know everything. Stay humble.
10. There is no losing.
Personally, I think all the work is worth it.
If the story fails and a puddle of its own piss because I messed up, I learned something and can do better next time.
If the story manages to beat all odds and become a good representation of that segment of diversity, then it fails publication, that means I learned something about my fellow human being.
If the story gets published and I did a good job on the diversity angle, then it’s 100% win for everyone.
If the story gets published and I have to apologize, then I can always do better next time. And the faster I apologize, the more likely it won’t blow up. And my mistakes can inform other people who are less likely to fail on their books because it is public on how to do it better. There is no losing if you are willing to learn and put in the work. Stories are a lot of work anyway.