Stay in your Lane! Diversity is for the Experts!

         I once had a beta reader tell me to watch the film Shutter Island to help with the psychological portions of the book he was reading for me. The problem was that I have a degree in psychology and everything I’d written was spot on accurate. His telling me to watch a Hollywood film on mental illness was akin to someone telling a surgeon they should watch Grey’s Anatomy on how to be a doctor! It was more than insulting because the reader was so ignorant, but he just knew he was right. 
         The writing community is being bombarded with the idea of diversity. The problem is that without empathy and first-hand knowledge a multi-cultural cast will become the race, ethnicity, or culture of the author in ethnic face paint. I adore Anne Rice and Stephan King, but both are terrible at writing non-white characters.
         Here's a list of reasons why an author shouldn't write a book with a diverse cast or with a MC of a race or culture different from the authors. 
1.    The author feels guilt over their social privilege. 
2.    The author wants to explore a new culture. 
3.    The author met one really interesting person of a different race, ethnicity, or culture and decided to feature that experience in their book. 
4.    The author wants to call out racism. 
5.    The author wants to capitalize on a new trend. 
6.    The author feels they can write the story better than an actual person of that race, ethnicity, or culture. 

         If you feel guilty about having only characters of your race or culture in your book then you are not the person to write a book with a diverse cast. Guilt should never drive a plot. Social guilt only results in the writer making racism about how it makes them look instead of how it affects the minority. Unless you as the author can be objective and sensitive to what it means to really not be you don’t attempt to be diverse!
          Exploration of cultures foreign to yours is great, but that’s not the way to write a book. To really write an authentic story you have to live among the characters you want to create. Do this a long time before you put that story into a word document. Do not try to write a story as you’re doing the initial research. Cultures are different in nuanced ways that take the time to appreciate. Anything less is insulting. 
          So you met a Native American during that year you backpacked across America. His stories were so great you want to write stories based on Native Americans. Sounds good, huh! No, not at all. First, if you’re referring to them as Native Americans then you don’t know enough to do their story justice. They’re still foreigners to you. (Just because two people are citizens of the same country doesn’t mean that they aren’t culturally foreigners. Especially here in the United States.) 
          You’ll know when you’re ready to be culturally diverse when you can stop seeing them as others. This takes practice. Before that time comes stay in your lane, please. You’ll end up writing two types of characters: a stereotype that needs a social savior or a stereotype that’s as multi-dimensional as a paper doll. 
           People may not get how number four is a bad reason for writing a diverse cast, but it’s the worst one! Calling out racism is for facebook posts, twitter, and Instagram! Novels are an art form. A fiction book goes past calling out a society ill by showing all the nuances of that ill. A novel should make people question their beliefs if it wants to have a social conscious. Simply calling out racism or another social problem is the very least a writer can do. Tackling all the gray areas of racism including minority prejudices aimed at whites and cultural obliviousness is to truly write diversity. 
            By the way, if you don’t know the difference between racism, classism, and cultural obliviousness then you’re not ready for a diverse cast. 
            I hope that number five is obvious, but I know it’s not. Writing a book to make money isn’t wrong, but that takes away from the integrity of the story. Writing with a diverse cast to follow a trend means you’re going to be very insulting in how you approach your characters. Many people, people who are probably your target audience and culturally similar to you, most likely won’t notice or care. Still, if you have any principles then don’t write a book with a diverse cast for money. You’ll be part of the problem. 
            I read an article once where a white guy wrote about an Indian boy because he felt like he could do it better than an actual Indian. True story! Good is a subjective idea. Certain groups tend to control almost all forms of art and the media, in that they cater to what mainstream groups want. For that reason, the idea of good is shaped by a few people, not an overall objective-as-possible idea of good. 
            So if an author is totally inauthentic to a culture, but writes the book the way his target audience likes it then it’ll be considered good. It will not matter if the story is a gross injustice to a particular race, ethnicity, or culture and therefore far inferior to an authentic story. See how unfair that is? But it happens so much that people take this for granted. Kinda like when my beta reader told me to watch a movie to understand the mind. His idea of good ( ie what is correct in this case) was so skewed that me, the expert, was told I was wrong! Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that piece of advice. 
             You may be thinking that I’m nitpicking on some people. The truth is I am! If you as an author care so little for authenticity then you’ve opened yourself up to criticism. We don’t call ourselves The Beta Witches for fun.  
             Until next time, have a magical day.