Thursday, January 13, 2011

Handling Diversity

This is less of a post and more of an open call for discussion.  I'm curious how you all handle writing diversity and how you read diversity.

I love filling my books with people of all colors and races and sexual orientations and genders.  But I hate drawing attention to it.  Because people don't walk down the street going, "LOOK AT ME!  Over here!  I'm ASIAN!" Unless of course, you're Margaret Cho.  People just are who they are, and I like writing diverse casts.  I don't think you have to write a gay character and then make the whole book about their gayness.  I think race and all those other things are just facets.

But I'm asking you here.  Does it bother you when writers attempt to write outside their comfort zone?  Like Shane.  He was black.  I'm not black.  Did it bother anyone?  I'm curious.  Are any writers out there intimidated to write people of other races or genders or sexual orientations?

Speak to me!


  1. No.

    The only thing I find awkward is having to describe that another character is black, or Asian, or whatever. Depending on the context it can be tough sometimes because you don't a character thinking about the ethnicity of somebody they've known for a long time. But it's also kind of lame in books when the character goes to their house for a traditional Korean meal or something like that.

  2. I think it is great to represent diversity, but for your book to be decent you better understand those you're portraying in a real way, and for you to be ethical, you'd better not claim to speak for those who are unlike you.

    I tend not to think deliberately about diversity in my work, but that's partly because most of the time I really only delve into what's important for the story. But I also write for adults, and while adults need to come to grips with diversity as much as (or more than) young adults, I'm not sure the impact is quite as great them. Still, it's something I should probably approach more intentionally.

  3. I think we discussed this once on the blog chain, but that was a long time ago.

    The world is a diverse place, and as a science fiction writer, I think diversity will continue, if not increase. The challenge is to figure out how this diversity will be reflected in the overall culture and the individual. For example, I have an Hispanic character who likes to cook, but he likes Asian and Italian food as much as he does Mexican. Another character of mine is both black and bisexual, but although those traits are part of him, they don't define him completely.

    C.N. makes a good point that we can't speak for someone who's not like us. The important thing to remember is we're all human. We all share the same wants and needs, even if we fulfill them in different ways.

  4. This is always a difficult subject for me because I don't see the world in the same way so many others do. Or at least I feel like I'm weird compared to so many others. First off, I rarely (if ever) acknowledge or recognize a particular race in anyone. Or maybe it's that I don't consciously think about it. But if I am talking to an African American person (for example), I don't consciously think about the fact that they aren't Caucasian or Asian or what have you. Since I'm not one to sling racial slurs around or be rude on a normal basis, it's never really been much of a problem. Those that know me know that I don't care one way or another what a person's race or background is.

    When I read about Shane, although I knew he was black, I didn't think twice about it. Of course, he also wasn't written as an overtly stereotypical black male (whatever that embodies), so that's a part of it as well.

    To get to my answer though, I am not intimidated to write any type of character. In fact, my first attempt at a novel had a MC that was a young Hispanic female. I didn't choose her race, anymore than I choose the race of any of my characters. They choose to let me tell their story and I just do my best.

    Lastly, I think the problem writers may have (completely spitballing here) is when we worry about trying to be too stereotypical or not enough with regards to our characters. We might worry about being too politically correct or not enough. But if we just write the story well, reveal the characters honestly, I don't think any of that other crap should matter. People that get offended easily will always get offended. Our job is just to write well. Sorry for the long response :)

  5. Joseph: I also find that tough. If you're writing in first person, you don't want the narrator introducing their Asian friend Dan. I'm curious if anyone has found strategies for this. I tend to use humor.

    C.N. - You make a good point. I suppose I tend to ignore issues of diversity rather than confront them. I mean, I like creating worlds where it's not an issue. Is that a cop out? Possibly. But coming from a white, middle-class background, I find it difficult to conceive of the difficulties some minorities are up against. Even the one claim to minority status I have can be "hidden" so to speak. I can choose whether people know or not. You can't really hide skin color.

    Sandra: I do remember that chain. But I find myself working on my current book. The main character is white. His two best friends are gay, one of whom is Asian. The girl he's lusting after is Hispanic. Her jilted ex-boyfriend is black. I didn't set out to do this, it's just the way the characters came to me. To me, these characters just are who they are. Ben Kwon is Asian, but his Asianness has nothing to do with his story any more than the color of his eyes or the way he dresses. I don't know.

    Eric - That's a great response. I'm so anti-stereotype that I sometimes worry that I lean too heavily in the opposite direction. I just worry that, if by using multiethnic or multigendered casts of characters, I'm shirking my responsibility to address issues that are specific to those groups. Or is it enough to write the world as I see it?

    I don't think I'll ever be able to answer it.

  6. Well Shaun, I don't think we as writers have a responsibility to address issues. I mean, if I write something and there is an issue inherent in that particular scene or with that particular character, I should write it honestly. But I don't think by NOT addressing issues in my writing that I'm shirking any responsibility. Of course, too often people try to read too much into any particular work rather than just enjoying it for what it is - a good story.

  7. No.

    What bothers me is when people make a fuss about writers writing outside their sex, race, etc. If you do it authentically, I don't see the problem.

    What kind of writing would we have if everyone only wrote w/in their sex, religion, race, orientation, etc.?

    As for Margaret Cho, LOVE her!


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