Hey, romance addicts. Another week, another thought-provoking blog hop post. Let’s take a look at what we have this week.
Do you write diverse characters? If so, how do you avoid cultural insensitivity?
It’s interesting that this week’s blog hop question asks about diversity in writing. I spent the weekend fielding questions on social media, from white authors about including diverse characters in their books. It’s also ironic that the blog hop posing the question is not very diverse. As far as I know, I am the only contributing blogger who is identifies as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). No, Italians and the Irish do not count. Let’s not go there. Anyway, onto my answer.
Of course, I write diverse books. just look at my covers.
As an author who identifies with multiple marginalized social intersections, I write to purposefully highlight a range of backgrounds and experiences in my characters. I think diversity is a stable part of literary expression for many BIPOC authors and that the main group challenged to understand the importance of diversity—and how to integrate into their work—is white authors.
Attempts to expand diversity in literature seem to present as a challenge and threat for authors who need to develop a greater appreciation for diverse literature and resist the cultural messaging that centers on whiteness.
What Are Diverse Books?
Diverse books include cultures, backgrounds, and experiences underrepresented in literature. There is no denying that American literature does not have sufficient books that reflect the multifaceted reality of society. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the majority of children’s books published in 2013 were written by Caucasian authors. The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report revealed that “for every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers in 2018, only 7.7 were written by people of color.” Clearly, the work of more authors of color needs increased appreciation and amplification.
Why We Need Diverse Books
Diverse books written by diverse voices allows highlight the multifaceted essence of our society and provides the opportunity for marginalized groups to be heard and appreciated. Readers need to see themselves in the books and stories they enjoy.
Literature is an important tool to establish and reinforce social identities. Diverse books with a range of representations are especially important for our youth. Diverse books are essential to the growth and development of all students, not just marginalized groups. Students need to see themselves in the books they consume.
According to the authors of a report published by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, “In 2018, 77% of children’s books published had either white children (50%) or animals (27%) as main characters. Characters representing minority children made up less than one-quarter of the main characters combined. Dismal literary representations contributes to the underappreciation of the people and experiences that make up our multifaceted society and encourages the reinforcement of stereotypes and bias. We cannot possibly hope to diminish systemic racism while it remains intact in our literary world.
It is essential that authors of all backgrounds create diverse books with a range of representations and perspectives. However, there are a number of white who authors don’t understand or may not be aware of the challenges involved in publishing diverse books, and others resent the growing demand for inclusive stories.
Last week, a couple of weeks ago a problematic white author posted a video blaming minority authors and the increased desire for diversity in books as the reason for her inability to get published. I won’t share the video because I refuse to give it any views, but her rantings about diversity quotas did not go unchecked. The video response below provides pushback against Buckler’s asinine statements and demonstrates the struggle that BIPOC authors undergo.
I also weighed in on the challenges many white authors have with diversity and inclusion in their writing because either they have allergies to integrating characters of different backgrounds and experiences, or they don’t know how to, showing a need for them to grow as writers.
Fortunately, there are white authors who want to include diverse characters, but many remain hesitant because they do not want to end up exploiting learned stereotypes or whitewash characters, stripping them of cultural nuance, which is something that white authors have done for decades in literature.
Recently, the Romance Writers of America conveyed an award to At Love’s Command, a book that glamorizes the slaughter of Native Americans. It should baffle the mind that organizers made such a grave oversight, but their cultural blind spot is indicative of publishing and literature consumption in our society, which favors white authors and whiteness, reinforcing supremacist underpinnings that have always existed.
Authors who do or want to avoid cultural annihilation and stereotyping must acquire the skills to write diverse literature that enriches us and our society. Below are five things they can do.
Writing Diverse Books
- Do the research – It is important to have an in-depth understanding of the community whose culture you are writing about. The author must do this before actually writing a word. Learn as much as possible.
- Avoid stereotypes – Authors saturate mainstream literature with stereotypes. Stereotypes are harmful to diverse groups and they must be avoided at all costs. The author should take the time to get to know this group beyond learned stereotypes and navigate their writing to avoid perpetuating them in their characters.
- Include different types of diversity: race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, etc. – The idea is to represent different communities in such a way that they are layered and complex. Avoid tokenization: Token characters can be found in many books. Don’t have that one Black or queer character, and for God’s sake, don’t make the villain the only minority character!
- Describe all the characters, including the white ones – There is nothing wrong with writing about white characters, but make sure to describe them. Also, learn culturally sensitive ways to describe minority characters. For example, do not use food to describe a Black character’s skin tone.
- Employ sensitivity readers and editors – No matter how much a writer knows about the topic, it is best to employ sensitivity readers and editors. When in doubt consult the experts or members of a culture. You won’t please all readers, but that should not stop you from doing your due diligence as an author to create characters with cultural depth.
Authors should keep in mind that they have the power to choose the kind of themes and characters they want to portray. However, any author who finds their book lacking in diversity should reflect on the reasons and consider ways they can make their text accessible to a wider breadth of readers. You can be a part of changing and enriching the literary landscape.
Note to my fellow blog hoppers. This is a sensitive topic. Let’s keep the comments section civil.