In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, we've been talking about diversity in science fiction/fantasy this week. Why is this so important? Here are five reasons:
1. To challenge the tropes. Stereotypes such as the passive damsel in distress subconsciously teach women that this type of behavior on their part is expected, even preferred. But why should women always be weak or men never show emotions? That's not healthy for either gender. Everyone, no matter what your gender, race, sexual orientation, physical abilities, or favorite Beatle is, should be allowed to be himself or herself and not confined to a narrow range of behaviors.
2. So other people can see themselves in the genre. Speculative fiction may not be the best-selling book genre, but it does do well at the movies. However, movies are often targeted to adolescent males. Why not broaden the appeal by including many different types of people in these stories? If you look at cosplaying, you'll see that some popular characters can be reimagined as a different character or race without losing their essence. (Unfortunately, not everyone believes a black cosplayer can/should dress as a white character; please check out the link. I was tempted to post some of Chaka's images here, but I won't to respect her copyright.)
3. To reflect the real world. By the middle of this century, whites/Caucasians are predicted to be a minority. Therefore, when I write about the future, I feel the need to show a diverse range of ethnic groups. For example, in Twinned Universes, Paul's best friend and romantic interest are both part black, the leader of the time travelers is Hispanic, Sean's wife and son are Filipino, Julia Kee from TwenCen Earth is Navajo, and so on. Although Paul as Sean's clone is 100% Irish, his sister is part Filipino and Native American, although those ancestors are several generations back and play more of a role psychologically than genetically. It is a bit ironic that I wound up with a white male as the main character, though Scott does counter tropes by referring to Paul as his magical white friend.
4. To learn about others. Although Paul is the main character of Twinned Universes,the next book in the series will feature Julia instead. I have been researching the Navajo culture and the Navajo Nation to prepare for writing from her perspective. (She would refer to herself as Dine, with an accent on the "e.") I've learned a lot, but it is a bit intimidating trying to learn about the Navajo language (which I'm not sure I can write accurately). It would be great if I knew someone I could interview about this culture, but you can't expect one person to represent an entire culture either. In the end, I will have to do the best I can with what resources I can access.
5. To develop empathy. I recently read The Golden Theme, which emphasizes that despite our diversity, we are all still the same in our wants and our needs. That's what makes us human, and that's what allows us to develop empathy for someone else. Reading is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in someone else's world. As authors and as readers, let's keep spreading empathy. I have a dream that that is one way to make Dr. Martin Luther King's Promised Land a reality.