The Diversity Question

Okay, deep breath.  We’re wading into some tricky waters here, but they’re waters we’ve gotta cross.  We need to talk about diversity in fiction.

Let’s start with the statement that diversity is a good thing.  If you don’t accept that premise, you probably won’t get much out of the rest of this post.  The goal with diversity in fiction is to try to create a cast of characters that’s more representative of the world outside your door.

Now, that being said, there’s a challenge there: I’m a straight white male.  My family is so WASPy, we practically buzz when we talk.  I am a tiny bit Cherokee (and, in fact, I have my official Cherokee Nation ID card, reflecting that heritage), but you wouldn’t know it to look at me.

So, the question is, how does a straight white guy write characters who, well, aren’t that?  I’ll be the first to admit my experiences are vastly different than those of a person of color or someone who isn’t straight.  I worry about rendering their experiences authentically, about creating characters who feel true and not cliche.  I worry that I don’t have the right or ability to tell stories about people of color or LGBTQ individuals.  And I worry that if I do write stories about people who have such different experiences than I do, I’ll do it wrong and misrepresent people’s experiences.

At the same time, I feel like it’s important to tell stories about people who are different than me.  I don’t want my stories to feel monochromatic.  I want people to feel like they’re represented and reflected in the tales I tell, and I want my stories to feel representative of the diversity of society.  To achieve this, I’m asking for help: from people of color, from LGBTQ individuals.  Anyone who wants to help me keep the voices and experiences in my stories authentic, who wants to help me make sure I do right by folks, let me know.  I need beta readers for this stuff, folks.  My main cast is predominantly people of color, and I want to be able to have them feel like real people, not caricatures.

As an individual with a hell of a lot of privilege, I feel like I’ve got a responsibility to use that privilege to boost others.  There are already enough stories about straight white men out there; help me tell stories about the rest of our diverse population.