Brace yourselves, I’m diving in again.
Earlier this week we talked about the dust-up over authors stalking reviewers and reviewers stalking authors and people just generally not being all that nice to each other on the internet.
And to go along with this whole theme of me falling into pits on the internet (or jumping into pits on the interenet) I’m going to tumble into another one today. Why not. I’m having an ambitious week.
The general caveat here is that this is basically going to be one big long string of opinion, and I’m not claiming Kate or pretty much anybody else under the sun agrees with me.
I stumbled my way across the internet this-morning to a cartoon outlining the distance between intent and effect, specifically in the use of racial stereotypes in sports. Which I could just explode all over about, but that’s not the point I want to talk about. The link that got me to the cartoon was about how it applied to blindly diversifying books.
And that’s a line as a publisher and as a writer that means something to me. I fully support the concept of diversity in publishing in pretty much every context, but my intent pretty frequently, to me anyway, feels like it falls flat of the effect I’m trying to have.
Because I can shout that I’m trying to be inclusionary, and honoring diversity until the cows come home. If the effect is that I’ve insulted someone I’ve obviously failed. If I blindly ‘find and replace’ gender, or sexuality, or race am I really honoring those people, or pandering? Generally I feel like I’m pandering, and like most human beings I go a long way not to feel like an idiot, so it doesn’t happen.
Also, I’d just like to state that I am a human being randomly stringing words and worlds together as they pop into my head. If you expect that to instantly get over an entire lifetime of people pretending race isn’t a thing anymore, I’m sorry.
Which leaves me staring at a book and whispering why are they all white?
Now I can justify this (and I picked that word on purpose because at best it’s a justification and I know better) by saying that I fully support diversity in books, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s my place to write them. Which is true, to a point. I couldn’t write a book like Their Eyes are Watching God or The Learning Tree (which was written by a guy from–and about–my home town) with any kind of honesty or truth, and I know it.
But equally, I don’t happen to be a space-ship pilot, or a mercenary, or a time-traveler (shh, that part’s a secret) either and I don’t shy away from that. I’m not male, or gay, or bi-sexual, or religious at all. I’m not running away from those either. Well, maybe a little that last one, out of respect and the fact I don’t have much nice to say.
So, since I’ve given you all that, and told you this is a giant block of opinion, I’m going to be utterly honest here about something that at it’s best is unflattering and unattractive.
When characters walk up and introduce themselves to me, about 80% of the time they’re white. Even in a universe where they could just as easily be freaking blue with sideways eyelids, they’re white. They also, equally as frequently, walk up as fully formed people. People who sit on my shoulder and make snide comments when I’m looking for inspiration that fits the vision in my head (I don’t look like that, what is wrong with you? No. That facial hair looks ridiculous Jules, fix it.) or when I’m writing character bios (I would never say that. He completes me? Are you serious?).
Now that other 20% is just as staunch, about making me find the right things that represent them too. Does that negate the problem?
Not even a little. And I don’t particularly feel like that commitment to character relieves me of the burden of stretching for more diversity. Usually it means when it’s time to fill in the people around the edges, that haven’t walked up and introduced themselves, I start muttering. “Alright, I need a Latina lesbian and somebody of non-European decent and who else have I missed in the last couple of books?”
Which still feels a little like pandering, but I’m trying.
And arguably that’s the point I’m trying to make here. Because I still feel like a lot of stories aren’t mine to tell, but maybe if I make a little more space the people who are supposed to be telling them will find it?