Diversity, Cultural Appropriation and Ghettoes

One common complaint of the gatekeepers— editors at publishing houses, and literary agents— is that there is not enough ‘diversity’ in fiction. There need to be more characters from various ethnic backgrounds, sexual minorities, and ‘differently-abled.’

So one author decided her new YA novel should have an African-American lead character. She wrote it, and gave it a book cover displaying the ‘diversity’ of her character. And was condemned for ‘cultural appropriation’ because of her presumed ‘whiteness.’

So: what the advocates of ‘diversity’ really want is this: they want to get rid of most of the current crop of writers and would-be writers, and to replace them with writers who personally have the right kind of diversity. But it wouldn’t do any good if these ‘diverse’ writers were free to write what they wanted. What if that wheelchair-bound African-American man wants to write mysteries featuring a Swedish-American female detective? That wouldn’t do! He has to write ‘diverse’ materials that match his own diversity. In other words, he needs to write characters that are African-American, in wheelchairs, or both.

This is actually a great step backwards for writers. It used to be that a writer could disguise unusual or controversial things about themselves and write what they wanted. A woman writer often adopted a male pen name. A Black writer didn’t have to announce his skin color, but could write as if he were white. And Gay writers could write from their legendary closets if that was what was best for book sales.

What the ‘diversity’ advocates really want is ghettoized writers. Writers whose careers depend on writing about their personal diversity. Lesbian writers who include lesbian characters, usually lead characters, in every single book. Blind authors with equally blind characters. Asian-American authors who write nothing but Asian-American stories.

I guess I could start writing Lesbian, Asperger’s Syndrome characters— I would have to leave out the Catholic, conservative and chastity parts of my life— but I wonder how that would play out. If I had to write from a ghetto, or a ghetto-within-a-ghetto if I had to include both my ‘diversities’— could I ever build up enough of an audience? Yeah, I’d have the progressive readers who might buy one of my works to gain progressive points. But how many of those would identify with my hoards of Lesbian Aspie characters enough to prefer my ‘brand?’ I’d probably be stuck with a tiny subgroup of readers. Who would drop me like a rock once they found out about my unacceptable religious and political opinions.

I think the diversity ghettoes are a losing game for writers. You might get a little boost by starting to write just for/about your diversity group(s.) But it probably will make your writing less appealing to the general public. And those gatekeepers who demand all that diversity? When your diversity ghetto leads you to have fewer book sales than more general/non-diverse writers, they will drop you like a rock.

Writers must be free to write about the kind of characters they want to write about. They should be able to write characters of every ethnicity and every diversity category at will. The ultimate end of the cultural appropriation narrative is that a Black male Gay author will have to write stories with only Black male Gay characters. And where in all the potential galaxies could a story like that realistically happen? We should react to accusations of lack-of-diversity and cultural-appropriation the way we react to a dotty old lady who says our sci-fi novel is all wrong because it has a spaceship in it and spaceships aren’t real. In other words, ignore it and write on.

3 thoughts on “Diversity, Cultural Appropriation and Ghettoes

  1. One big issue I see with the diversity push and the push that the diversity must come from the “diverse” groups is that I think it’s going to backfire badly. For example, at the writers’ conference I attended, about 90% of the people there were white, or at least white passing.
    Let’s say a publisher decided that they were going to publish at least half their books with a non-white MC and that author is publishing ten books. This person had 100 authors to pick from. They pick the first six writers blind. One is black, the other five are white. These six are the six best out of a hundred.
    Now the publisher needs to pick four more POC writers. This means that when those are picked, they’re better than 50 of the writers, but worse than the top 10. (I already stuck the black writer in the top ten in with the good white writers.)
    The 10 books go on sale. The 5 white writers sell well because they’re the best of the best. The 1 black writer who was good also sells pretty well.
    However, the other 4 POC have sub-par books. If they’d been white, they wouldn’t have gotten published. They leave readers of their books disappointed.
    In the end, 5 white writers didn’t get published because of their race.
    4 POC got published because of their race.
    As time goes on, readers start to realize that 80% of the POC writers aren’t as good as the white writers. This leads to them avoiding books that are “diverse.” It hurts the 1 black writer who was a good writer because now people think her book won’t be good because they’ve been burned by the other POC authors.

  2. I think that it won’t be long before African-American writers start to b*tch about having to write African-American main characters all the time. I mean, what if an African-American male writer has a great idea for a book centered around an Italian-American woman? Isn’t it racist to say he can’t write it because he’s Black?

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