My tattoo appointment got moved to next weekend, so here I am!
In the shocking wake of this election, with hate crimes being committed against people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, women, and other marginalized groups, representation in fiction is more important than ever before (and it was already pretty goddamned important). No doubt you have heard of the We Need Diverse Books movement, but I want to talk about it today because, in my opinion, its reach is too short.
Maybe I’m following the wrong people or reading the wrong articles, but it seems to me that the talk about representation is brought up most often in relation to books for children and young adults. And while I absolutely agree that we need as much diversity as possible in media targeted at young people, diversity needs to happen *everywhere* in order for it to be effective in changing our culture for the better.
In stories for children and young adults, the importance is in showing them that there are heroes that look like them. That they don’t have to be or emulate abled, heterosexual white males in order to succeed in life. I have heard wonderful, moving stories about young people discovering that there are black heroes, women heroes, disabled heroes, etc. It’s fucking important and we need more of it.
But young people are not yet the shapers of our country. Of our policies. Of our morals and actions. They will be, one day, and it’s crucial that we raise them to be open-minded, tolerant, accepting, and kind. However, we also need to help the adults of our country see that we are all just fucking people, man. And I believe that we can do that through representation. Why? Think about this:
Have you ever seen a politician who was against gay rights say that they have “evolved” on the matter because one of their loved ones came out? I have. People have a hard time empathizing with the “unknown Other,” but they empathize as FUCK with their families (sometimes they don’t, but those aren’t people…those are monsters). The key is making them care about others enough that something like sexuality won’t change how they feel about the person…and it might even change the anti-gay person’s mind on the entire issue.
I know it’s a tall order to try to achieve this using fictional characters, but, man, people get ATTACHED to their fictional characters. And I feel like if we as writers make a pact, to not only INCLUDE marginalized people in our fiction, but to give them roles of power and agency, we can start to chip away at their “otherness” for the vast majority of consumers. We need to NORMALIZE our marginalized groups, so that people don’t think twice about accepting them.
Don’t believe me? Look at these:
There are tons more articles like this. Google it. Pop culture shapes the way people think. We invite characters into our lives, and our lives are sometimes never the same.
Of course, this can’t happen with fiction alone. Television shows, movies, comics/graphic novels, and video games need to STEP IT THE FUCK UP. The line you always hear about why there aren’t more movies starring women or minorities is “they don’t sell.” FUCK THAT. That’s bullshit. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” starred a black dude and a chick, and it made BANK. Sure, it’s Star Wars and they could have made a 3 hour movie of Chewbacca trying to fight his way out of a paper bag and still made billions of dollars, but still. It made a shitton of money DESPITE the fact that “women and minorities don’t sell.” If Star Wars can do it, everyone else can follow in their wake.
It is going to take time. It is going to be difficult. But we can do this. We can start by buying diverse books, especially those written by marginalized people (including women!). Publishers need to publish more diverse books, EVEN IF they might not sell well at first. Maybe sales of diverse books aren’t great because there aren’t a whole lot of them yet. Maybe they aren’t in a genre that a particular reader is interested in, or they haven’t been given any marketing so readers literally have no idea they exist. The more you put out there, the more time and effort you put into cultivating these kinds of stories and getting them to readers, the more access people will have, and your sales will go up.
Lastly, white people need to start including marginalized people in their books, too. And I swear to THE GODS, if one more fucking person tells me that the reason their FANTASY NOVEL doesn’t have people of color/the people of color are slaves is because it’s “historically accurate to the time period I was using for research” FUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUUU. You have MAGIC but a BLACK CHARACTER is TOO MUCH? What the fuck is wrong with you??
Just a note: white abled cis het writers ARE GOING TO GET IT WRONG, even if we have tried our best. Here is where we need our people of color, our LGBTQ people, our immigrants and disabled people and women and everyone else from a marginalized group to help us. We are going to fuck up, sometimes a lot. Call us out, tell us when we’re wrong, but also tell us how to get it RIGHT. And white people: when we are inevitably called out because we fucked up? Don’t argue. Listen. Hear. Accept. Understand. Do better.
We are all in this together.
Together, we can shape pop culture, and pop culture can shape the world.
*steps off soap box*