Diversity in Writing

Last summer, I went to Geeky Con: a fan convention for people of all kinds of media. Including books.

There were special guests like actors from tv shows and Youtube stars and, if you were interested, authors. There was this one panel composed of authors called “This Page is a Mirror” talking about, you guessed it, diversity in writing.

The authors were people who are not typically seen in traditional media: Mexican, gay, trans, female, Asian. These writers saw a void in media in which they didn’t see themselves represented so they wrote books where people like them were shown.  At the panel, the authors were really supportive of people outside of a minority writing characters like them. They figure even if a person hasn’t had the same experiences as a character, with the right research they could write them effectively. And all diversity is good diversity.

I totally agree. But the key is research. And the dude in my script writing class just now CLEARLY didn’t do his.

I’m an English major, just as a quick reminder, and I’m in a lot of creative writing classes. Because I like it and I’m good at it and whatever. The problem is: peer editing. It’s really hard for me to hold my tongue when someone writes a thing and there are racist/sexist/ableist whatever undertones. And this happens a lot.

I applaud those that write outside themselves – Lord knows I have a problem doing that – but for fudge’s sake,  if you’re gonna write a black man, don’t make him an abusive father, literally describing him as ‘brutish man’ in the script. Don’t, when reading his dialogue aloud, make him sound like a thug. And for the love of god, don’t describe him as ‘bipolar’ as if that’s an excuse for his abuse or as if ‘bipolar’ is an adjective in the first place. It’s a serious mental disorder you clearly know nothing about!

Using mental disorders as adjectives is a whole other post I won’t get into now but know that it is something  neither Jessie B nor I will ever tolerate. Mental and emotional disorders are serious and casually throwing them around is ignorant and destructive.

Anyway.

I deal with this kind of thing a lot: people relying on stereotypes for their characters. I’ve seen a white girl write a latina woman whose father died of gang violence. I’ve seen straight boys write gay men to be willowy and flirty and sassy and nothing else. My own brother got caught up and wrote a designated chick friend (you know the kind: two dude friends and then a third girl friend) who was Latina and fiery. It’s exhausting.

And aside from it being lazy and boring for an audience, it’s also extremely socially harmful. When you parrot stereotypes, you’re taking away someone else’s voice. Are there black fathers in the world who abuse their kids? Statistically: probably. But by and large, the majority of black men are not abusive. They’re vilified for their skin tone and their size because people think they know them based on the media they’ve seen. Big, black men, are already seen as intimidating enough to have to be detained through force (Mike Brown and Eric Garner, RIP), do you really want to provide another ‘example’ to support people’s prejudice?

Stereotypical characters aren’t bad in and of themselves: if you’ve got more than one character of a minority and they’re all different personalities and one of them happens to be a stereotype, no one’s gonna call you on it. But when your only character of a certain race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is exactly what everyone is expecting, you’re doing a disservice to everyone in that group.

Do your research. It’s fiction, yes, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.

-JM

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