I’ve been reading a lot lately about #WeNeedDiverseBooks and diversity in publishing in general. It seemed to be a factor in the whole Sad Puppies thing at the Hugos, and now a certain segment is freaking out about the Star Wars movie (see Chuck Wendig’s post about the Star Wars boycott). N.K. Jemisin often tweets about the matter. And that’s just to name a couple – there are many, many authors out there representing both sides of the issues.
I’m white and straight. I grew up in small town Montana. There were very few non-white people there when I lived there (I could count them on one hand). There weren’t very many ethnic restaurants, either – we had a fast-food-style Mexican restaurant, and a Chinese buffet. Neither of those was authentic, obviously. There weren’t many opportunities to get exposure to other cultures.
Enter books. It was my only way, really, to experience the “other.” I wanted to read about people who weren’t like me, whether that be race, social status, sexual orientation, gender, or age. Books and other media were the only ways I had to get out of my tiny, insular town, the only access I had to different perspectives or new ideas.
Now, it’s easy for me to have my perspective. I wasn’t marginalized for my race, only my gender, and even then I had it better than most. I’ve lived with a certain amount of privilege. Fortunately my family wasn’t racist, and my parents were feminists. Then, when I went to college out of state, it was an amazing experience. I met people from other parts of the country and world. I met people for whom English was a second language. I had friends who were black, Asian, straight, gay, bi…it was a revelation. It was amazing to get all those different perspectives, all those different backgrounds. I loved it.
And yet, again, I’m coming at it from a place of privilege. One of my very best friends is Korean and was raised in the Midwest. Even though we’ve been friends for almost two decades, we’d never discussed race until recently. Long story short, it was enlightening for me, and my heart ached for some of the things she’d experienced. Now she’s back in the Midwest, and she and I are both looking for the same things – diversity in the classroom – for our children. I look for that diversity so that my children will have exposure to different cultures and backgrounds. My friend looks for diversity so that her children won’t be the only Asian faces, so that they’ll have people who look like they do.
And why shouldn’t her kids get to read about people who look like they do? And why shouldn’t my kids get to read about people who don’t look like they do? Why shouldn’t we have diversity in our literature? Are white people threatened by people of color in books? Are straight people threatened by LGBTQ people in books? Honestly, it’s not as if there won’t still be stories told about white people. Even if there weren’t, there’s still the entirety of literature written up to this point to fall back upon. I don’t think it’s a mutually exclusive thing. We can, and should, write about everybody.
Now, I’m not a sociologist, nor am I particularly educated on the subject. I just think it sucks that there are people out there who are threatened by diversity or the “other.” It makes even less sense to me when there are other issues to worry about, like the fact that we’re killing our own damn planet, or that so many can’t get medical care, or food, or shelter.
I think that all this is fundamentally related to what I believe is one of the most wonderful aspects of reading and writing – connection. We want to connect with something that is like us, that thing to make us feel part of something larger. When you’re in a minority, it makes sense to me that you’d want to read about others like you. And what’s wrong with providing that, so long as it’s authentic and not some token gesture?
And for those of us in the majority, there’s the other most wonderful aspect of reading and writing – exploration of the unfamiliar. I’m not black. I’m not gay. Nor am I a dragon rider or magician or demon or space fighter pilot or any number of things. But I can read about those experiences, those people, and maybe, just maybe, get a taste of it. That’s one of the main reasons that I, personally, read. It’s also one of the reasons I write.
Am I tone-deaf? Is my privilege informing even this post? Most likely. But I’m open to being educated. If you need to set me straight, please leave a comment.