What I Mean When I Talk Diversity

In the spring I’m going to be teaching a class, currently titled “Writing the Other” and will focus on why we need diversity in literature, while giving practical tips and tools at the same time. As I was discussing the class with my reading group, one friend asked, “well, doesn’t calling it ‘the other’ further alienate, set up further differences?” Our group, which is diverse in its own right, went crazy explaining why the class is needed. I think we might have been a bit overzealous and I felt like we might have made her feel bad. Instead, she reflected on the conversation and wrote this touching blog post (Default white?) where she basically unpacked her privilege and thought about what she could do better. She explored the concept of the “default white”, which she admits, she had never given much thought too. In recognizing her own misconceptions, she realized the importance of having these discussions about diversity and that all of us, white, black, yellow, green and purple, have a responsibility to making our literature reflect our world.

A few months ago I wrote about that I’m tired of the “it’s diversity surprise” but I think I have to amend my statement because as I was beta reading a friend’s novel, I had the “it’s diversity, surprise” and I was actually glad to have it. And when I sent her an email thanking her for the surprise, it made me realize that by sending the “Thank Yous” and the “Nice Diverse world” notes to authors who are not of color, we encourage more authors (and by extension publishers) to open the doors for more diverse stories. In my friend’s novel, the diversity isn’t forced, isn’t a “very special topic”, it just is. As diversity is in real life – it just is. The “it’s diversity surprise” is just a reaction to seeing diversity just as it is and not some overreaching lesson. Those stories still do have a place as well, but we also need to have more stories where diversity just is. It’s in the background where characters interact at the coffee shop, in the classroom, at the movies. It’s in the variety of friends, and not the token Person of Color, especially in a story that is set in a big city. Its in the way teachers, community leaders are presented in a story as diversity exists there as well. Diversity is everywhere and our literature needs to embrace it.

Those examples of seeing diversity in every day lives is what we mean when we talk diversity. We need publishers to understand that the world we live in is not filled with just one type of person, one type of story. The world is colorful with skin tones of every different shade, with numerous cultures that are just as valid as any other. We all have the responsibility to make diversity in literature a very real thing. No one group should be responsible for shouldering the work. We all have a stake in this world; we need to help each other when we make mistakes and lift each other up in praise when we achieve greatness.

So, what do I mean when I talk diversity? I mean that we are all in this fight together. With my friend who wrote the blog post, with my other friend who included diversity in her novel, with my fellow writers here at Rich in Color – everyone. We are a diverse group and if we want to see change, we need to make it happen.

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