There seems to be some rekindling of this issue in recent weeks. And I used to think it was obvious why we needed diversity. We want to see ourselves represented in the media and because our world does not consist of just white cisgendered males. But lately I’ve been seeing this trend where when someone reads a book or watches something with a diverse character, the character is somehow endlessly praised just for being “diverse”. But diversity comes with a lot of stipulations than just simply inserting a “diverse” character. Take, for example,
Uhura (Zoe Saldana) from the new reboot Star Trek who is the only recurring woman of color in this series. In every single interview, Zoe is lauded for being a woman of color and being a role model to little black girls as if the color of her skin is her only merit never mind the fact that she might be a good actress or anything. But the sad thing is even though we have come many, many years from the original Star Trek when seeing a black woman on screen was revolutionary, we haven’t come that far. She does not have much to do in these movies other than being the obligated “badass” woman.
And that’s kind of my problem with the way diversity is being interpreted now. It seeks to alienate and make that story the only story. In Captain America, Peggy Carter is really the only important female character in the entire movie. So people see her as a beacon of feminism and badassery even though she doesn’t even have that much to do in the movie. And the only thing we see when we see her is that she’s a woman and she’s here to represent all womankind whereas there are numerous male characters in the movie that are defined by their traits and not be seen as just a man. So Carter has to be everything. She has to be strong, intelligent, fierce, vulnerable, and feminine. The dangers of a single story as feminist and literary writer Chimamanda Agozi Adichie would say.
I also use to say that diversity is important because we have to be inclusive of other types of people in all different walks of life but in our daily lives, we may be inclusive but we also practice segregation. On school campuses, there are things like Chinese Student Association or VSA or Asian Peer Mentors that may not technically exclude other people but subconsciously does. We seek diversity but we also seek community among people that are similar to us so that we feel less alone.
And then there is also of course the continuing trend of using diversity as a sort of moral weapon. I watched Bre Fauchuex’s video on her problem with diversity. She had a lot of points that I don’t agree with but she does make a good point about others. She mentions that people have been attacking authors like Victoria Schwab for not including people of color in her books. I’ve been seeing this around as well on Tumblr and Twitter where people were accusing Sarah J Maas of not including queer characters and people of color in her books which I don’t really understand because Sarah J Maas is not the first nor the last author to not include “diverse” people in her books and yet I don’t see people hating on Brandon Sanderson for not being diverse in his books. But I think it should be noted that the meer fact that we are attacking authors on this issue is because we need more diversity and more accurate diversity in the first place but I think we should address the issue differently rather than sending hate.
Nevertheless I do still believe in diversity wholeheartedly but I want to advise using the word more effectively and meaningfully.
*Some questions I pondered while making this post but didn’t know how to discuss:
If diversity is supposed to represent the real world, how realistic is it suppose to be? How much diversity is “realistic”?
Why do we not criticize literature from China, Japan, Senegal for not being diverse, for not featuring people of other ethnicities and races but we do with American or Western literature?
So we keep talking about diversity but can we do? What can we do to do better? To be active in applying diversity? Here are my suggestions that I try to personally apply.
Consume diversely, but more importantly, wisely.
Don’t just read a book featuring an Muslim American for #diversathon and say “hey, I read a book featuring a Muslim protagonist”, pat yourself on the shoulder for being a moral person, and then be done. Don’t treat it as a checklist and learn something from it. Does the author have anything to say about the culture that’s different? What is a cultural value that’s different than others? From your own? Is it even making a statement? Or is it just a protagonist that just so happens to be x, y, and z (because we definitely need those too)? Don’t be like that person that says I read To Kill a Mockingbird and say I cannot be a racist.
If we should be looking at a person’s character instead of the color of their skin, or their gender or whatever as fantasy author Robin Hobb says, then why not be diverse? The very fact that we need a diversathon is a little annoying to me personally because it’s just a week-long event. Shouldn’t we be reading diversely all the time?
2. Forgive and critique.
Nobody thinks they’re being ignorant until they are told they are. But we should not be afraid to learn from them. And if you are a consumer, the one critiquing these works, you will only anger and alienate people if you bash them and make them even less likely to listen to you. Do not make an attack on ignorance an attack on the person. We all have our ingrained prejudices that we cannot undo; we can only strive to do better. Today, everyone is afraid of offending someone and that’s because we are so quick to judge and hate. Instead forgive and critique.
3. Do not make one person the sole representative of their race/gender/sexual orientation etc.
Why can Wonder Woman only be a role model to little girls? Why is Lupita Nyongo only a role model to black girls? Nobody’s story should represent the entirety of a peoples’ experience because that leads to generalization and stereotypes. In fact, this is the reason why we still have work to do in terms of diversity. We have a plethora of amazing male superheroes and not so amazing male superheroes but we only have one Muslim superheroine (Ms. Marvel). Some readers have said that her parents are stereotypes of Muslim tradition, others disagree but if we had more Muslim superheroes
4. And the most important to me, seek out media that is different from your own viewpoint and be aware.
If you’re not a Christian, read Christian fiction even if you might not agree. If you are or even if you’re not Asian, watch Fresh off the Boat. If you’re not black, watch Black-ish. And so on and so forth. Because we want diversity so we can see our stories represented, but we want other people to know how dangerous a single story can be, that we are more than our stereotypes and that we should not generalized.
It’s the reason why Muslim Americans are now being segregated out of restaurants because of the pure fact that they are believed to be terrorists. Generalization at its finest. If we take the time to appreciate other people’s stories that are maybe vastly different than our own, maybe we realize that our differences are only the fact that we are afraid of what we don’t know. And maybe then, the argument of “writing what you know” can be obsolete.
I read some lovely posts on diversity this week that say things so much more eloquently than I do and that inspired me to write this post:
Marlon James (author of A History of Seven Killings): ‘Why I’m (Almost) Done Talking About Diversity’