Diversity in fiction matters: here’s why

Disclaimer: this is not comprehensive by any means.

This wasn’t what I planned to write this week. With what’s been happening today–and most days–it seemed like a good time. (There’s a lot that can be said on this subject, but I’ll keep it brief today. I am appalled and angry. I am also starting a new job tomorrow and desperately need to make sure I’m prepared to teach.)

The stories we read and watch matter 

Fiction acts as a mirror. It gives us a way to examine new thoughts, to live new lives, to look critically at the world around us. It teaches us empathy.

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If fiction is a mirror, what happens when that mirror is distorted? When the society it purports to reflect is missing huge swathes of the actual population?

Everyone loses.

Children miss out when they don’t get the chance to have heroes who look like them in books and movies. People also miss out if they don’t see heroes different from themselves. If you only hear about an event or time from one perspective, you miss out. Our world is so much more interesting and varied than one color or one community.

There have been lots of stories about how social media acts as an echo chamber, simply echoing your own beliefs back to you. Fiction shouldn’t be that way.

If you’re tempted to say the following: “But historically….”

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If you’re telling a historical story, it’s easy for your readers to believe the people missing from your story weren’t there at all.

But people have traveled and traded and emigrated for thousands of years. (Australia has been continuously inhabited by Aboriginal groups for over 65,000 years. Polynesians and Vikings were master navigators. Travel is hardly new.) Reprehensible things like slavery and imperialism have also shaped our world. After all, slavery forcibly relocated millions of people from Africa across the globe. On a more positive note, gold rushes in Australia and America also brought people from all over.

Historical dramas can, and should, contain POC.

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This was another beautiful movie I watched with my grandmother.

I want to hear, and read, and see history from everyone’s viewpoint. When I saw the movie Dunkirk with my friend a few weeks ago, I kept thinking back to  this BBC article .

Two Two members of the BEF (British Expeditionary Forces) Indian Troops who have just arrived in England from Dunkirk. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images

Two Indian soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk–photo from the BBC article above.

People are good at spending time with people who look just like them. There are many stories that could easily be all white, all black, all Chinese, all Indian, etc. But why should they have to be? There are decades of stories out there like that. Why not tell something else? (As the success of Hamilton shows, it’s not as if there isn’t a market for it.)

History is not merely black & white. History is every shade, every story. It absolutely matters whose stories we hear and whose faces we see.

It’s dangerous not to tell stories with diversity 

It is so much easier to dehumanize people you don’t know.

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And how can you know someone when you’ve never heard their stories?

It’s shockingly easy to lean on stereotypes when you don’t see people as individuals. No single person can accurately represent their whole ethnic group or their entire community.

Unfortunately, when there is only one character in a story that’s different from the rest of the cast–especially one who is there as a “token minority“–that’s often exactly what they’re forced to do.

This really came home to me when I started watching Bollywood movies and K-Dramas (Korean dramas.) After all, when the entire cast is Indian or Korean and the stories are written by people from those countries, nobody is relegated to playing the part of the “noble savage” or “model minority.”

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One my friend wanted us all to watch in college. I was hooked.

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I also made two friends because we were all watching this.

So pick out a movie whose leads look different from you. Pick out a story with main characters who are different from each other. Try one that is written by somebody from another country or cultural background. You may be surprised at how it makes you look at the media from your own country.

Fantasy without diversity is lazy 

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. You’ve created a whole new world. It only exists because you’ve brought it into being. What do you mean it’s all white? Why???

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Tolkien was born in 1892 and published The Hobbit in 1937. What’s your excuse?

If you are writing now, what reason could you possibly give to not include POC? Your fantasy world can be whatever you want it to be. Characters with different skin color don’t have to be analogous to Earth cultural groups. I can’t fathom why so many white writers are content with creating an entire world in their own image.

(Even setting aside the issue of race for a second, I can’t count the number of books I’ve read where male authors literally forget half the species exists. Dude, it’s not that hard to write women. Start with the idea that we’re people and go from there. But that’s a post for another time.)

Now, it can be daunting to write a character that’s different from you. It’s drilled into us from the start. “Write what you know.” So know more.

Start by reading and watching diverse stories. Pick up a book by an author who is Latina/ Latino, Black, Chinese, Japanese, Indian….you get the idea. Watch movies from different cultures. Watch movies and TV shows that were absolutely not created with you in mind. Listen to the people in your life who don’t look like you.

Writers can also be scared of doing or saying the wrong thing. There are lots of dos and don’ts. (I read an amazing article years ago and can’t seem to find it again. One idea in it that I found thought provoking was “if you don’t have a reason for the main character in your story to be white, then don’t make them white.” <–although it’s easier not to screw this up if you are writing fantasy and working hard to stay away from stereotypes. I wish I could find it again.)

For more reading 

There are many people who’ve written more eloquently than I have on this subject and with lived experience of what it’s like not to see representation that doesn’t reek of appropriation. These are a few I’ve seen today:

Offensive mistakes white writers make with good intentions

White authors writing characters of color 

More things to stop doing if you’re a white writer 

Why you should stay away from writing POC protagonists if you’re white 

Writing people of color as a person of another color

In conclusion, we are part of a diverse world. The stories we consume and the ones we create should reflect that diversity. We have the ability to learn and do better.

If you have stories with excellent representation in mind, or stories/ articles you love, please share! I’m always trying to expand my reading list and learn more about writing.

 

 

Reasons why I have no self control….

There are many things I should be doing.

I should be brushing up on Physics…after all, as of next Tuesday I will have two blocks of 12th grade girls depending on me to teach them that very subject.

I should be washing my car, or working on finding a place to live, or doing one of the things on my growing to-do list.

All of that may have been easier to handle if I’d spent more time sleeping this week.

If you’ve read my blog before, you will know that I have periodic bouts of insomnia. Of course, there are other reasons not to sleep…. Continue reading

Escape to the past: books and movies for when you need to get away

This one is about historical dramas. It’s also about love and loss. The reason all of that is on my mind this week is because of my grandparents.

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My grandfather died on Monday. I sat with him near the end, trying not to cry as I read the words in the hospice pamphlet the hospital dropped off when they brought him home. I knew it wouldn’t be long.

Not more than an hour after I left, my aunt called to say he’d slipped away.

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He wasn’t perfect. Grandpa was bipolar and had a complicated relationship with my dad. He was the most stubborn person I’ve ever met. (Stubbornly refusing to eat is why he died when he did.) His jokes could be odd and more than a little embarrassing in restaurants. He liked to lie in his stories–you could rarely believe half of what he said–and conversations frequently turned into a test.

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Of course, that isn’t the whole story.

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Grandpa was very sweet to me for all but the last nine months. He loved cars, even lending me the rest of the money I needed to buy one of my own. I know that he loved me and wanted, more than anything, for me to be happy. He was completely and utterly devoted to my grandmother.

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Who told us that she wanted to come back as a pelican because she liked to eat^

Grandma died a little over a year ago. They were married for 57 years and it’s hard to think of one without the other. While I’m glad Grandpa is no longer apart from her, I’m sad that I’ve lost all three of my grandparents in less than five years.

So, I’m trying to focus on happy moments. Neither one of my paternal grandparents was a big reader, but one of the ways I spent time with my grandmother was by watching historical dramas at the movies.

In honor of her, and the love my grandparents shared, I’m going to go over some of my favorites:  Continue reading

Choose your own adventure

I wanted to give some background information before I delve into my topic. They connect, I promise, but feel free to scroll down if you only want to read about books.

Personal note: 

I haven’t written in a long time.

Reasons

It’s mostly down to stress. Not only have I been interviewing for jobs–a fun activity at the best of times–but my grandpa is dying. (He’s entering hospice care this weekend.) My current job hasn’t exactly been helping.

But wait, there’s more! 

As a result, I’ve been getting tension headaches. (Which have been nearly continuous for a week now.) They’ve either been causing or exacerbated by my insomnia.

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Ah, insomnia. It’s horrible to go to sleep early enough to get a good night’s rest and then spend half the night lying awake. I’m too wound up to sleep, but too tired to do anything else.

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A couple of nights like that and I feel like this:

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Side note: why are there so many disturbing images in a kids’ cartoon?

My insomnia stems from stress as well. It almost always shows up around the time I have major life choices. Which brings me to my topic:

Have you ever seen a “choose your own adventure” book? 

They’ve been on my mind lately.

At my elementary school, they were the most popular books in our library. There was a mad dash for the best ones during reading time. Even when you promised your friend they could have a turn too, it was hard to give up once you’d started.

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The crack cocaine of third grade Continue reading

3 types of books to read when it’s too hot to think

I always have the best of intentions.

When it comes to reading, I pick out a lot of books that sound fun. I also usually try to get a couple nonfiction or literary books to balance out the sillier fare I love.

But this has felt shockingly accurate lately:

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It’s awfully hard to focus on books “to improve your mind” when you’re pretty sure you’re about to melt. Continue reading

Good God(s): Wonder Woman vs. Mythology (pt. 2)

In my post yesterday, I started comparing the Wonder Woman movie to the mythology that inspired her world.

Now, let’s see how Wonder Woman does against the gods.

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Children of Zeus

Movie/Comic: It’s later implied/stated that Diana is the daughter of Zeus. Honestly, I think this is an incredibly boring twist and preferred the earlier women-centric origin story. At least it’s different.

Myths: My biggest problem with this is that Zeus raped, seduced, and/or generally screwed almost every woman in ancient Greece. (And carried off a young boy once as an eagle, presumably with less-than-honorable intentions.) The idea of Hippolyta sleeping with him is…icky.

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Seriously, it’s harder to find a hero who isn’t Zeus’ kid. Continue reading

The Problem with Wonder Woman: Confessions of a Mythology Lover

First things first, I’ve been excited about the Wonder Woman movie ever since Diana Prince showed up in Batman vs. Superman.

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Was it perfect? Of course not.

Did I expect it to be perfect? Also no.

While there were some clumsy moments–mostly the way the whole origin story was framed–I loved the movie. My biggest problem was actually with the mythology. Continue reading

Adapt or Die

The students I’ve worked with this year are now on summer vacation. Some of them have probably even taken a look at their yearbook since then. I’m willing to bet at least a few of them see something like this written in there:

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Nice sentiment. Horrible message.

As I think about yearbooks and all the years since high school, there’s one concept I keep coming back to: transformation.

 blue satisfying chrysalis moho GIFYeah, like that, but more literary.

Continue reading

Mum’s the word

I started this on Mother’s Day.

At first, I wanted to write about wonderful mothers in stories. Then I thought about how often the main character doesn’t have a mother. It’s not all that surprising…if you want to give your character a tragic backstory, few things are more traumatic than the loss of someone who loved you unconditionally.

Besides, think of the ways the story might have changed if the character did have a mother:

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There aren’t many mothers in fairy tales…or Disney movies. After all, if there’s going to be a wicked stepmother, the mother has to go.

Exceptions Continue reading

“I got it from my mama”: stories to share

It’s Mothers’ Day today! In honor of the occasion, this post is going to be all about those fabulous, life-giving women in the world.

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More specifically, it’s going to be about the stories they shared with us.

When my sister and I were very small, my parents read us bedtime stories. There are far, far too many to recount here. I still remember most of them with love.

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This, however, was terrifying. Thanks, Mum! 😛

from What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss

Answer: This picture.  Continue reading