I'm sure on some level, I have always been aware that the characters in books weren't like me. As a child of immigrant parents, I have grown up with that whole in-between thing of not quite being American but not quite fitting in with "the motherland" because I was born and raised halfway across the world. This in-between crossed over into my books as well. I'd read about typical American teenagers, and be surprised about how they interacted with their parents and friends because it was so different from the values and experiences I've had growing up. Then I'd turn around and be baffled by daily life in Indian fiction because I had grown up in America and absorbed that culture.
I've been lucky enough to live in California for most of my life, where there are large immigrant communities and I never felt alienated, but if we ever took road trips to other states, I definitely noticed the funny stares (there are brown people in this country? whaaaat?). I know a lot of others aren't so lucky, and I just wonder what it would be like to have role models or people we could relate to in the fiction we read or watch growing up. I know Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani American superhero, did wonders for a lot of young Muslim girls living in America. Wouldn't it be cool to have that for everyone?
It wasn't until recently that I consciously realized that people of color and/or people on various points of the gender spectrum weren't really represented in mainstream fiction, and that this was a problem. When the real world is full of different kinds of people, shouldn't our fiction reflect that? It was actually a book (Ash, by Malinda Lo) that helped me understand what it was like to be part of the LGBTQ community. If I hadn't read that book, I'm ashamed to say I would not have been very supportive when one of my friends came out to me. But because of that book, I was able to overcome my ignorance and my prejudices.
Books can help you understand and respect people that aren't like you. Think of all the implicit prejudices and fears we could get rid of if books and movies portrayed the world as full of different kinds of people. I'm paying a lot more attention to this in the books I read thanks to all the lovely bloggers and authors who have championed diversity in fiction. Once I realized how strongly I felt about this, I created my feature DiverSFFy to highlight books that do do a good job of portraying those differences with love and respect.
Diversity in fiction could be one more step towards a more inclusive world. Isn't that reason enough to support it?