Last night I got into a completely unproductive discussion on Twitter (Justina, is there a productive twitter discussion?) about the idea of diversity in media. The person in question had posted a video in which she posited that diversity wasn’t so much about getting PoC and LGBT folks into media but about getting creators to acknowledge they exist. If PoC and LGBT folks want representation we need to create it ourselves and support those authors.
After I picked myself up off of the floor I tried to explain to her (after she camped out in my mentions for a bit) why these ideas completely ignore race and social change theory, but she wasn’t hearing it. The more I thought about these ideas the more they bothered me, so let’s discuss why these ideas are 1. Wrong and 2. Fucked up.
Authors from centered groups know that people from marginalized groups exist. I don’t think any white author walks outside, sees a brown person, and thinks “Holy shit, that dude is brown. I didn’t know you could do that.” Even if you were a hermit living in a compound in the woods subsisting on the bounty of the land you’d still see people different from you when you trekked into town to mail in your manuscripts or whatever. The problem isn’t that authors from centered groups don’t know that marginalized readers exist, it’s that they don’t care about them.
Refusing to include diverse characters in a work, or settling for shoddy representation, is saying to people from that group “You aren’t important enough for me to consider you a reader.” A lot of people say to write the book you want to read thinking this means you write a book for you and only you, which is great if you’re going to trunk the book later, less good if you want to be published. When called out on shoddy or nonexistent representation some authors will tell you that’s what they do, but if the book you write is all heterosexual able-bodied white girls with blond hair and blue eyes, it’s time for some soul searching. If you ONLY want to read about people who look exactly like you, that’s a problem.
This is also a problem if you’re a person from a marginalized group and you write only blond haired, blue-eyed, able bodied white girls, because that is a sure sign that you’ve ingested some problematic beliefs and maybe a bit of self-hate.
So, what about the second point, supporting creators who write books with character diversity? I totally believe we should support PoC and LGBT creators. But the idea that supporting PoC and LGBT creators means we don’t criticize the people who erase us from media again and again (or include us only as red shirt characters) is ludicrous. Criticism and discussion, sometimes very loud discussion, is how things change. Not by passively sitting back and hoping someone notices we exist and decides to include us. This isn’t the high school cafeteria where we wait for an invitation to join the cool group, this is real life. Recognition requires work, and sometimes that work is loud. Because the end result is worth it.
I also want to point out that “create your own” is a tactic used daily by members of centered groups to derail or defuse movements of equality. It’s a way of continuing to marginalize PoC and LGBT folks. By being locked out of mainstream media we continue to exist on the margins of media we consume, the same way we exist in the margins of society. The goal of equality movements is to bring ignored groups into the center with everyone else. “Create your own” directly contradicts that goal.
Anyway, another day, another frustrating conversation about diversity *shruggy guy emoji*