Diversity in Fantasy
That doesn’t mean it’s good enough. And you know what? I’m as much to blame as anyone else. When casting a story, I often imagine people like myself filling most of the roles: middle class, American, white, female. I think that’s what most authors do (thankfully, not all are quite as boring as I am!). But, I’m always making an effort.
Why? Because it’s human nature. We have learned to fear that which is different. It’s normal for most animals to act like this. I mean, just show a cat a cucumber! New things could be monsters, and well, I could make a very good argument that the iliri are exactly that! But that’s not my point, today.
Rather, it’s how interesting it is to write a diverse cast. Thinking about things like natural hair on a foreign world, or how to describe the difference between a pale-skinned black man and a dark-skinned middle easterner. Shades of brown are most often attributed to foods (caramel, chocolate, latte, etc.) but what happens when those foods don’t exist? I’m not even going to get into the problem with describing a people as something to eat!
But it’s HARD! And why bother, right? Why go through all of this just to portray fictional characters that readers will imagine their own way?
Because I believe that it matters. How many readers have realized that Zep is a black man? A very sexy, very smart, incredibly loyal black man, who is fast, strong, and one of the most beloved characters of the series? How many black men are given a role as the hero/love interest? I mean, it’s getting better, but there’s still not enough.
Currently, I’ve been researching for a sci-fi series I can’t stop thinking about (in my “free” time). I want to have a Japanese/African American girl as the main character. Here’s the problem: I have no clue what type of hair she would have, what daily problems she would encounter when Earth society is removed, and no concept of how to describe her without either removing her cultural background or turning her into a minority caricature. I’ve never grown up as the mixed-race daughter of a black professor and a Japanese immigrant. The only way I can figure out what she might feel is to read stories of what people in those situations have felt before.
And that, right there, is why I think diversity is so important. It allows the writer to show a reader a comprehensible perspective on something they’ve never had to live through. A silly story can become a bridge. Why wouldn’t I want that? It’s one of the most powerful emotions I can think of: understanding.