Diversity For Diversity’s Sake?Tags:
March 13, 2016 by Travis Anderson
Oh, how I hate that stupid sentiment.
Look, I’m incredibly white. I was born and raised in northern British Columbia, Canada, surrounded by a fair chunk of other white people. I lived primarily in what, I assume, people from actual civilizations call the suburbs. If you cut me, I should bleed snow, white bread, and mayo, though I’m not a big fan of two of those three. So, to point out the obvious, I don’t exactly have the same perspective on life that PoCs do. Plus, I’m a dude, which brings another heap of privileges with it on top of the pasty skin tone. Suffice it to say, I may have my troubles, but there are quite a number of things I have never and, most likely, will never experience.
Other Caucasian males out there might take that to mean that they shouldn’t write characters of different ethnicities. A few more may stick to writing white, male characters because it’s easier or because they don’t want to risk offending anyone or “getting it wrong”. And some – and I hope this is a small percentage – probably just don’t give a shit and have no desire to write characters that are non-white, let alone non-cis, non-hetero, non-binary, genderfluid, etc.
These people are lazy, and the audience that cries and whines and makes the above statement with sincerity are just as lazy in their imaginations, lack empathy for others who deserve characters they can relate to, and need to stop foaming at the mouth whenever others who are not them ask or demand for inclusion.
There is no such thing as diversity for diversity’s sake. That’s complete and utter bullshit that ignorant people tell themselves so they can feel justified in their hatred and rage and irritation at change. The world is filled with more than white men. No piece of entertainment, whether it’s movies, books, comics, video games, tabletop games, sports, or anything else is exclusive for one gender or sexuality or ethnicity and that’s a pill that needs to stop being swallowed, right now.
It’s all marketing. That’s it. Advertisers focused on what they believed worked, churned out material to grab people’s attention, and that created a cycle that then influenced society (atleast in North America) to think the way advertisers wanted us to think, which only helped to confirm to said advertisers that they were right so that they could continue to push their gender specific/race specific/sexuality specific marketing plans forward. We fell for it and now it’s time to realize our stupidity and charge into the future, a little wiser and a lot more compassionate.
To make characters in your work different from the “standard” (white/male/straight), is not diversity for diversity’s sake. It’s called being inclusive. Do you know why PoC writers in North America write characters that look like them? You may not be wrong to say it is, perhaps, because it comes more natural to write a character like that as opposed to a white character, but then I’d say you’re missing the greater overall point. They do it because they have to. They do it because they are underrepresented. They do it because if we, the white males who dominate an incredibly large piece of the entertainment industry pie, won’t do it, who else will?
When individuals ask for diversity from companies like Marvel and DC comics, from authors they love, from game designers, it’s because they want to actually feel included in the stuff they care about. I have no idea what it’s like to yearn for representation. I see white male protagonists everywhere, of all different sizes in roles as heroes, villains, and everything in-between. I’ve never needed to ask, to demand, to cry for equal representation because I’ve always been the default. It’s the responsibility of those creating entertainment – the artists, the writers, the producers, the directors, etc. – to create worlds and stories that everyone can feel a part of and, as it stands, a large number of those gatekeepers are white males. Why shouldn’t they include a variety of characters? Is that so much to ask? Not in the fucking slightest.
If anyone who is reading this has said, “Why don’t they just create their own thing themselves and fill it with whoever and whatever they want?” You don’t think people know that? That’s what creators of colour do, but not everyone who wants representation is a cartoonist or a filmmaker or a game designer. Why does the burden fall on them? There are plenty of people in positions to enact change if they’d just pull their heads out of their asses and stop worrying about bullshit metrics, data, and other objective numbers that don’t mean a whole hell of a lot. Creators will create, no matter who they are, but the colour of your skin or gender or sexuality should not have to dictate who you write and who you write for.
I know a big reason this issue persists is because of fear. We don’t want to write a person of colour and get it wrong. To some degree that’s a ridiculous notion. If you’re writing a fantasy novel, for example, the cultures and societies function how you want them to function. As long as you don’t build everything off the foundation of stereotypes and racism, I think you’ll be okay. But therein lies the problem. No one, especially a white male author who legitimately wants to be inclusive, wants to be seen as racist. Why risk having something misconstrued in your work when you could stick to playing it safe by writing another white male protagonist? I totally get that fear, but just because you’re afraid of something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
The main thing I consider when writing a character is this: don’t ever perpetuate stereotypes. That’s it. I’m not saying there aren’t other things you should consider, but that is my guiding star. You know why? Because – shocker – people are people. Characters are what you make them. If your character is a racist caricature, it’s because you made them a racist caricature. If your characters are people, everything else is there to push your narrative forward. Maybe their skin colour, gender, or sexuality is integral to the plot. Maybe it’s just what they look like and no one brings it up. Your story is your story. What matters is how it makes your audience feel.
Diversity is never just for diversity’s sake. Inclusion is human. Let your audience feel human.