Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Talk: Diversity in fiction




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?

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6 comments:

  1. This is a very interesting discussion. I can see how your unique situation would make finding role models in books difficult. Really, there is only a small subset of authors who could understand your life and portray it in a way that you could relate to. And I think that's part of the issue. There aren't as many diverse authors as there could be, and white authors probably don't really feel "qualified" to write about diversity - so a lot of times they just leave ethnic characters out. Being a mom in a mixed race family (my youngest son is black - adopted, obviously), I cheer when I see diversity in books as well! In my NaNoWriMo book, I have a bit of diversity - one of my characters is bi-racial, though I don't really make race much of an issue since it takes place in the distant future. And one of my characters is deaf, which I actually do address a bit more since it alienates that character from the others a bit. Of course, who knows if my NaNo book will ever get to the point of being seen by anyone, but, hey, I'm trying. :-)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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  2. I can see how it's hard to write about groups and people that aren't like you. I've definitely seen some well-meaning authors do a disastrous job of portraying minorities. Still, I think it would be a step up if people from different backgrounds were even just minor characters or part of the background cast (every completely white HS in YA fiction, I'm looking at you). If it starts to become normal to see minorities in the periphery, we can eventually get to a point where it's not a big deal when the main characters are diverse too.
    I'm glad that you're making an effort to include diversity in your book! If it ever does get polished and published, I'll be sure to read it :)

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  3. I've definitely found that as I've been reading more and being interested in books that specifically have diverse characters, I've found it easier to empathize and understand the various things going on in our country from both sides. I'm from Minnesota which is REALLY white once you get out of the urban areas, so it wasn't until college that I really had the chance to even be friends with people who didn't have my skin tone and culture. When visiting family, it shocks and embarrasses me how unable some of them are of seeing the police shootings from the black community's perspective for instance. I always appreciate when a book points out some experience and how it affects the character that I had never thought of before because I want to be able to understand.


    One thing I've had some trouble with is finding SFF books that embrace diversity since a lot of the books put on these diversity lists are contemporaries. I assume DiverSFFy is going to specifically be diverse SFF books??? :D

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  4. My dad first immigrated to Minnesota 25 years ago. My family is vegetarian, so he went to McDonalds and asked for a Big mac without the...mac. The cashier was just like wth you don't eat meat and spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to ring it up. It's a funny story, but I can definitely believe that when you don't see a lot of diversity around you, you tend to live in an ideological bubble.


    Yes! DiverSFFy is specifically sci-fi and fantasy! I haven't read/come across too many of them but I have a couple of posts up already and one in the works. I'll link up the old posts to the DiverSFFy tab on the header so you can find them :)

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  5. Oh cool! What part of Minnesota, the Twin Cities? Have we had this conversation before, I'm feeling a bit brain dead today ;-)

    Awesome! I've been trying to tag my reviews with my Diversity tag when I find a book that has diversity of any kind, including disability and sexuality and gender identification along with non-white characters: http://www.onstarshipsanddragonwings.com/tag/diversity/

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  6. yeah, Twin cities! I might have mentioned it but I don't remember.
    Nice! I didn't think of disabilities! I've been tagging sexuality/gender/POC but I will keep an eye out for disabilities too.

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