I heard a panel at a recent conference say I had to be of a particular race to write about it, but at the same conference a different panel said I don’t have to be of a particular race to have those characters. I happen to have characters from three different countries in my middle grade fantasy WIP. Now I’m confused and questioning my WIP. Help?
Confused About Diversity
Dear Confused About Diversity…
Other writers who don’t consider their lives “diverse” have also told me they want to contribute to diversity in children’s lit but are confused about how to do so in actual practice. I believe that, regardless of genre, to write a character that feels authentic you must understand how that character perceives, reacts to, and interacts with their world. Some people say that means you must’ve lived within the culture to write about it. I agree with that if your protagonist’s race/culture is a driving theme in your story. At the least, writers of those stories should have some immersive experience or deep research that allows them to write from a place of understanding beyond obvious assumptions, stereotypes, and reliance on shout-outs about foods and traditions to signal race/culture. If race/culture isn’t a driving theme, there’s room to diversify your cast if they’re individuals first and foremost; if they exist as representatives of a culture—tokens, if you will—then you’re likely walking the wrong side of the line. For more, I like SLJ’s brief intro to this list of diverse YA fiction and WeNeedDiverseBooks.org.