Yesterday we began our discussion on diversity in fiction. You may recall that we touched on this topic a little when we discussed character development and especially cultures in worldbuilding: the more varied perspectives you bring to a work of fiction, the stronger it will be, because it will reflect reality; the more realistic your worlds and your characters, the more immersive your fiction will be. In yesterday’s meeting we discussed how that kind of argument fails to get at the deeper truth. “It will make you a better writer” is a handy way to incentivize inclusion, but that should be a shortcut to the heart of the matter, not the primary concern. Thomasa put it nicely: “These are not materials; they’re people.”
The whole world deserves to be shown in art and media. Readers from all walks of life deserve the chance to see themselves when they pick up a book or turn on the television. A dominant narrative that only shows one facet of humanity fully and resorts to stereotypes and erasure for all others does genuine harm to society. Because stories affect reality, right? We’re here because we believe that stories matter. That dominant narrative dictates how we think of people, the depth of empathy we have for them, how we treat them, and the opportunities we allow them. People who don’t get to tell their own stories lose status and agency in a society that tells their stories for them with all the biases attached, or doesn’t tell them at all.
We talked a bit about how the conversation surrounding representation in fiction has both improved and deteriorated: the intense and often vicious backlash to strides in representation by those who benefit from the status quo or have internalized its message; how artists have attempted to capitalize on the diversity conversation as if it were another trend, without making an effort to include underrepresented voices or do the necessary research; and the struggle to choose between accepting bad representation and sending it back with no guarantee that something better will be offered in its place. Sometimes, if you’re starving to see yourself, you don’t mind so much if your image comes wrapped in stereotypes or is used to perpetuate harmful biases.
We also talked about the struggle to empathize with those who feel threatened by these conversations. A dominant narrative that favors one group of people over others can cause lasting harm even to the favored. Being considered the default means never needing to learn the many strengths and coping skills those with little or no representation develop in order to survive in a world not made for them. For those who’ve never had to share the spotlight, let alone make do without it, giving up even a fraction of their vast narrative power can feel like oppression. That disconnect can make it tricky, if not impossible, to have these conversations where they’ll matter most.
There’s so much we didn’t have time to talk about, so we’re looking forward to continuing the diversity discussion at our next meeting, Monday, April 1st at 5pm. If you’d like to contribute or would like us to address something in particular, feel free to chime in down in the comments!