K. Ceres Wright

by K. Ceres Wright

Introduction

As our world becomes more diverse, so must the pop culture and media that reflect it. But many writers who are not persons of color may ask how they can reflect diversity in their work without sounding as if they’re pandering to ethnic or minority audiences, or without using stereotypes.

First, writers must ask themselves whether they should add minority characters to their work. What’s your motivation? Just because? To make more money? Or are you truly committed to putting in the research and the work to make your diverse characters as rich and nuanced as the others. You want to create complex characters, no matter their background, who will draw you in, force you to accept their strengths and flaws, and still make you pull for them to win in the end—however winning looks—whether it’s realizing their own inner strength, or defeating the evil boss. Underneath, people are people, and their motivations should drive their actions more than their color.

As writers, we’re told to “show,” not “tell” … to let the reader “see” the characters more than be told the particulars. Let the reader use context clues to figure out that Christine is the daughter of a Japanese mother and African-American father, or that Trevor’s heritage is deeply embedded in the Caribbean. You want to give characters of color the same depth and humanity you give others. Don’t leverage cheap stereotypes and their prepackaged content. It’s lazy writing. Writing the other is harder, and it deserves particular attention as a result. Don’t do it unless you are willing to invest in a whole lot of time and commitment and get into some heavy conversation about what it is like to live our lives, deal with racism and micro-aggressions and fear and hate.

Reasons for Diversity

  • Kids need to see themselves represented in books, media, and pop culture in order to develop healthy self-images and feel comfortable with who they are. Teens, in particular, may struggle with accepting themselves. They may not see other folks like them in their hometown, and if they don’t see themselves in the media they consume, it may make them feel even more isolated. High suicide rates and internalized racial/gender oppression are real.
  • There are real-world implications of viewing people of color as less than, such as disparities in employment and pay rates, adverse perceptions by law enforcement, higher rates of harassment and profiling, and greater likelihood of being victim of mass shooter. Recent killer said, “Whites don’t kill whites.”
  • Some voices aren’t being heard, and that may make those voices feel invisible. Having nondiverse books reinforces feelings of being marginalized.
  • Diverse writing creates opportunities for others in the field…the demand for agents and editors who are familiar with themes in diverse books, and actors and actresses to play diverse roles.

Considerations

  • Default character: Readers not given a description or context of diversity will usually assume a character is a white cisgender heterosexual.
  • Research is key: Consult with writers and readers of color, websites, how-to books, and other resources.
  • Relationship to power: Include scenes that describe the challenges of not having the privilege or power of members of the dominant group. Example: A person of color may have additional hurdles to jump to get a bank loan.
  • Dialects and speech patterns: Not all members of a minority group will speak the same, whether it’s related to slang, speech patterns, or accent.
  • Skin Tone: It’s advised to not compare skin tone with food, as it is fetishizing and has links to colonialism. (What is the best way to show dominance? By eating someone – like in the animal kingdom.)
  • Stereotypes: As mentioned before, inserting a character of color that incorporates stereotypical elements is lazy writing.

Links

General blog with specific categories:

Arranging for a sensitivity reader:

Describing skin tones:

Learning about White privilege:

Using appropriate terminology for people with disabilities:

Using dialect:

Writing about slavery:


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