Friday, 26 August 2016

Why diversity across all forms of fiction is so important to me

It's no news that representation in fiction is important to me. I mention it a lot on this blog, and my friends know I highlight diversity or lack thereof in books and TV frequently. But one thing I haven't explained is why it's so close to my heart.

For those who find themselves represented in the media a lot, the lack of a diverse range of characters often goes unnoticed. So sometimes when the minoirty tries to raise attention to the issue, it can often be dismissed. But the reality is that many don't know what it's like to look at a TV screen and see no who looks like them taking centre stage. You don't know what it's like to have a part of who you are reflected only in minor characters who's personalities and story lines don't go further beyond the thing that makes them diverse. And when part of who you are is minimalised in that way it can be difficult to see yourself as normal, and there's a greater chance that others will reduce who you are in the same way.

I won't pretend that my struggles with diversity are as significant as others. All I want to do is explain my experience with lack of representation to help explain why it is so important.

Until recently, it never truly struck me how under represented I was in fiction. I have never read a single book with an Iranian character in it unless they were in an extremely minor role. Even in TV, all my life the only Iranian characters I saw in English and American TV shows and movies were minor characters, typically antagonistic and never a prominent part of the story.

None of this had ever truly hit me until I started watching Person of Interest. In it's second season, a character named Sameen Shaw is introduced, becoming a main character in season three. This was so new to me. I'd never seen a main character on TV before that actually looked like me and was on the side of the good guys. 

It occured to me that if the majority of the little representation there is of my people on TV is so negative, then one has to wonder how others percieve the culture.

When something is foreign to us it is diffucult to automatically relate to it. And so, intentionally or not, we minimalise this thing to our limited understanding of it. We start percieving cultures and people as things and not people.

What I love about the Shaw (portrayed by the wonderful Sarah Shahi) is that she is not limited to what makes her different. To oversimplify Shaw as a character would be to call her just a woman; an Iranian; bisexual; someone with a personality disorder. But instead of this limited focus on what makes the character different, the writers actually write her as a human being. She's witty, blunt, intelligent, a fighter. Human.

Shaw is not just someone limited to labels. No one should just be limited to labels. It reduces them to two-dimensional individuals that end up blending into the background as the 'token diverse character'.

When people say we want more representation, what we're really saying is that we want well written diverse characters. Don't just write in a person of colour for the sake of appealing to the minority. Write human beings that have human struggles - relating to their diversity or not. Don't reduce them to stereotypes. Don't just do it because you're trying to be 'current'.

We're all human. We all go through the same basic human struggles, and depending on the individual we go through other difficulties as well. All it takes is a little research and the ability to percieve the person as a genuine person. If we see more people from different backgrounds on screen and in fiction we can get more interesting and dynamic stories that show the minority that they are not alone despite not fitting into the media's standard of what is ordinary.
What are your thoughts on diversity? How has reading about diversity impacted you? What are some awesome diverse reads you've come across? I would love to have a discussion - just comment below with your thoughts!


  1. This is a WONDERFUL post. For me I'm able to both see many parts of myself, which I think I need to remember more often, but I also don't see others. It made me so happy to read an asexual character in a book for the first time. *nods* But YES. You're right -- it's so important to have WELL-WRITTEN diverse characters. I really want authors to write diverse characters, but I also want them to research and consider it, you know?
    YES. I'm not sure if my comment made much sense haha but what you said is awesome.

    1. Your comment makes perfect sense and thank you so much! It's so good to hear about others seeing themselves in fiction - it makes me feel like this post wasn't for nothing :)
      I'm so glad you found a book with an asexual character because I know how few there are. Which book was it? I was over the moon when I discovered that the protagonist in Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson was asexual and even more pleased to find that she was written so well.
      Thanks again and I'm really glad you liked my post <3

  2. I loooove this: "Write human beings that have human struggles - relating to their diversity or not." That is like THE best storytelling advice of ever and I wish more storytellers would take it to heart!! I think diversity is very very important ,for sure, and I think it's sad that there are people who rarely get to see themselves portrayed in literature/movies or whatever. It's not fair. And I do like how you said that diverse characters shouldn't just be labelled minor characters. Complexity is such a must!!

    1. Haha thank you! I agree, it's so important to write about people who are people and not just labels. I'm glad that in the bookish community diversity is becoming a more prominent thing we want to see in our books because authors are listening and understanding the reasoning behind what we're saying. And yeah it's super sad that greater representation isn't a thing that just /is/ yet and not something we just hope for. But hopefully in the years to come we'll be seeing more diverse characters who aren't just sidekicks and actually take centre stage and kick butt! Complexity being a must is so true - having 2 dimentional diverse characters is not much better than having no diversity at all.

  3. This is absolutely right on. I don't have much to add or say besides that and I'm proof positive of how the right representations can expand your mind and breaks you free of the BS.

    I grew up in a small, white, Christian, and rural town. The only way I learned about trans* people, non-straight people and different ethnicities was because of books in the middle school library. The librarian was awesome and stocked diverse stories on purpose.

    I ended up moving away after 5th grade and am SO glad.

    1. That's so amazing that books were able to help you in that way! Your librarian really does sound awesome. Even when communities that lack diversity or widespread acceptance it's so important to understand that there are so many different types of people with different experiences to learn about.