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October 20, 2013

In defense of arbitrary diversity

In Defense of Arbitrary Diversity | HAWP
Diversity is important not just so the groups you represent through characters can have someone to identify with (though that’s also pretty great), but also so the majority can see them in a positive light. It was important that black people could see Uhura and identify with her, but it was just as important that white people saw her as an equally talented, intelligent, important member of the crew. Pop culture is an incredibly ubiquitous and powerful tool that artists can use to shape their audience’s perception of the world in ways both bad (many parents think children are kidnapped and murdered with alarming frequency, when in reality your kid is more likely to be struck by lightning)* and good. If you believe as I do that art can change the way people look at the world, then arbitrary diversity can only be a good thing (assuming the minority characters you write are positive and interesting in their own ways, of course, but that’s a different challenge). If a writer arbitrarily makes a particular character a transgender, homosexual woman rather than a cisgender, heterosexual man, and if that character has a positive effect on an audience’s perception of transgender women — no matter how small the effect — then that writer has made the world a slightly better place. So what if it’s arbitrary? So what if you make your audience acknowledge that a character is black, or gay, or transgender? No one ever complains about the other 99.9% of media “forcing” heterosexual male whiteness down anyone’s throats, so why should a black Doctor Who be considered arbitrary and forced whereas another white Doctor wouldn’t be? Arguments like this imply that there are only two reasonable courses of action. One: make your story about meaningful diversity — build everything around the experiences of whatever minority group you’ve chosen and explore it fully. Two: don’t include any underrepresented groups and make all your characters “normal”, because to do otherwise would be distracting and forced. To which I say: bullshit. I’d rather be arbitrary than maintain the status quo through inaction.