I think most writers want to support the We Need Diverse Books movement. But if you’re a white, cis heterosexual, able-bodied, etc. you may be asking just what you can do.
This post is intended to address what you can do to support diversity if you don’t belong to an underrepresented group. I don’t consider myself any sort of expert on this. But I have been trying very hard to be a better ally to diversity. Here is a simple list of things I’ve found that I think help.
- Read This, to me, will always be first and foremost. If you want to support diversity, you have to read books by diverse authors. This is extra true if you ever plan to write a book by a character outside your culture. Do you think you could write a good MG book if you don’t read (extensively, I might add) MG? Do you think you could write a strong fantasy if you only read contemporary? No. You’d probably write the most clichéd book ever. If you try doing this when writing outside your culture, you’re likely to write sterotyped characters. Diversity doesn’t just apply to characters in books; it applies to their authors as well. We want to give voice to writers from underrepresented backgrounds. For that reason I’ll say this: READING OWN VOICES BOOKS SUPPORTS DIVERSITY MORE THAN WRITING MARGINALIZED CHARACTERS.
- Listen There are people out there who are willing to share their experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask respectful questions. Hear what people have to say about their culture, and about the prejudices they face.
- Realize that one person does not represent the whole group While the last point is certainly true, be aware that one person cannot represent the entirety of their culture. Nor should they have that burden placed upon them. In her book El Deafo, CeCe Bell discusses her experience with hearing loss. She adds a wonderful note in the end that points out that everyone’s experience with hearing loss is different. Some get cochlear implants, others don’t. Some use sign language, others don’t. Some people are born deaf, others become deaf during their lifetime. You get the point. Not all members of the Deaf community are the same. Be sensitive to the sub cultures within any group.
- Resist the urge to feel attacked No, there’s nothing wrong with being white, heterosexual, able-bodied, whatever. Being a diversity ally isn’t about tearing these people down. So don’t get defensive. There’s no reason to.
- Own up to your mistakes Yes, there’s a reasonable chance that at some point in time you will say or do something offensive. You will probably make a mistake. It happens. When it does, you then have the choice to defend your mistake or to apologize and learn from the expereince. I think you can figure out which is preferable. It’s been my experience that people are pretty understanding as long as they recognize that you are making a strong and sincere effort to understand and respect them. Learn from your mistakes. Say sorry. Chances are very high that you’ll be forgiven.
- Don’t write a marginalized character just to make your book more marketable Nope, nope, nope. Trust me. You’re not doing any favors to whatever community you’re trying to represent by doing this. If you really feel that your character belongs to a culture other than your own, then you don’t need to shy away from writing them that way. What you want to avoid is making the arbitrary decision to just change the color of their skin (or whatever other feature) because you think it will make your book sell better.
- Be nice Really, this is just publishing basics. Always be nice to everyone. It applies here too, though. If you are nice and make a sincere effort to understand people outside your culture, people will generally appreciate your efforts.
What tips do you have? Please leave them in the comments. Discussion matters!