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Friday, August 15, 2014

Call to Action: Normalize Diversity

This post is not going to be funny. Instead, I'm going to pull out my soapbox, and ask you to do something. Something important. Because I don't have any clout or any high platform to talk about important issues. But I do have this blog and a feeling of obligation to say something.

I do not want to diverge completely from the purpose of this blog. I am here to talk to you about writing and publishing and genre fiction. I'm not here to give my op-eds about the world. So, I am going to frame this in the context of writing.

You have a responsibility to normalize diversity.

It is the personal responsibility of every citizen of the world. It is especially the responsibility of writers.

The world needs to be a safe place for all different types of people. We need to be able to coexist, to love each other, to be the people we are without fear. As it is, entire groups of people walk through the world with the constant fear of being silenced, having their liberty stolen from them, being injured, being killed.

It is a problem that is so big, it overwhelms individuals. It makes us ask ourselves helplessly, "But what can I do?"

Feeling helpless, doing nothing does not mean that we don't feel empathy and pain. I understand. I feel stagnated by the bigness of it all.

But we don't have to do nothing.

What we can do, what we can contribute as writers and as individuals, is normalize diversity. We can look at difference as a symptom of life, as a part of the world that doesn't need to scare us and doesn't need to be cured. That doesn't need to earn our discomfort or anger or hatred. We can project understanding and acceptance. We can create stories and characters that represent people who are other than ourselves, who are other than the people we see in stories, who are other -- but not really other at all. We can acknowledge the otherness is actually just normality. We can recognize common humanity.

I believe that most people care. I believe that most people want to do the right thing, that they recognize the humanity in one another.

And yet, so much of fiction looks like a world "cured" of diversity. Difference is not represented. We see sameness everywhere, and where difference does appear, rarely is there sincere engagement. If fiction is meant to entertain, then those conversations that we should be having are an anathema to entertainment. They are not fun -- they are uncomfortable and unpleasant. We would rather avoid than engage.

Many remark that prejudice and hate are rooted in fear things that are different. I think that for some, that fear that is experienced is actually the fear of being wrong, of being misunderstood, of being called out. Sometimes prejudice is not blatant -- ethnic slurs, hate crimes -- but insidious. Prejudice exists when we avoid, where we edit out discomfort from our lives so that we do not need to fear giving offense or being exposed as ignorant.

There is fear of talking about something that you do not feel that you have the right to talk about, or the basis to understand. We cannot let that fear control us or control the conversations that we have. Our fear of appearing ignorant is bred by and breeds the ignorance that causes fear. Which is why instead of normalizing diversity, we have ignored it. We as a society use token characters or cliches or stereotypes, we wrap ourselves up in these shallowly accepted forays into diversity that are in no way representative of the abundance of difference the world offers us. These tokens that we use to represent vast swathes of individuals boil away difference. They subsume reality and experience and individuality to write a single story. A story that replaces people, that informs our thoughts and feelings and interactions -- a story that can turn an entire people into a threat.

But here we are, back again at the original question: but what can we do? What can I do?

I have harped on so many times about the responsibility that writers owe to the world to create diverse worlds with characters who are people of color, of varying ability, with apparently unorthodox gender or sexual identities. I repeat myself because it is so, so important

What can do you do?

You can write stories about experiences other than your own.
You can create characters with different skin and hair.
You can talk about ability and privilege.
You can take pictures of nonconforming beauty.
You can teach yourself and others about mental illness.
You can listen when people speak.
You can give yourself and your time to a cause.
You can be vulnerable and open to yourself about your own deficiencies and ignorance.

And most importantly, you can be courageous enough to begin and engage in conversations about difference, and humble enough to listen when people talk back.

Fiction is entertainment, but it is also opportunity. I do not want to lecture readers of my novel about racism or ableism. I want people to enjoy turning the pages, to enjoy the reading experience and the story being told. But I choose to create a world that is diverse and, above all, human. It is not enough -- it is never enough -- but it is more than nothing: it is a start.

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