What Diversity In Books Means To Me

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”–Martin Luther King Jr.

I grew up in Rochester, New York. It’s a fairly large city with over 210,000 citizens. According to Wikipedia, in 2010 Rochester’s population was made up of 43.7% Caucasian, 41.7 % African American, 16.4% Hispanic, and 3.1% Asian. Seeing other colors, races, and religions was commonplace for me. I went to an inner city high school where Caucasian was the minority. As you can imagine, I had a diverse group of friends consisting of Vietnamese, African American, Hispanic, and Laotian. I’ve always gravitated toward good people regardless of what they look like. For me, how someone acts is more important than how they appear.

My experiences around such a diverse group of people naturally found its way into my writing. In my opinion, if you’re writing about a large city, different colors should be represented. You can’t write about any borough in New York City without incorporating several different colors of folks because that’s what you’ll find there. Trying to accurately represent the look and feel of the places I write is important to me. It’s also important that I include diversity in as much of my writing as possible. Not only is it what I’ve been immersed in my entire life, but it’s the way the world is today.

More importantly, I have two bi-racial nieces. They have an African American father and a Caucasian mother. I’ve heard other kids call them names and make fun of their hair. I’ve had to try and supply an answer when my younger niece asked me why there weren’t a lot of people with brown skin on the cover of the books she reads (she loves to read). Trying to find her place in this world can sometimes be difficult.

My first manuscript features a Japanese American main character. In that same book you’ll find Hispanic characters as well as African American characters too. It takes place primarily in New York state and I wanted to include as many different colors as I could. Virtually all of my stories have some kind of diversity in them. My latest short story, THROUGH MOURNING, features an African American main character. COVERT GENESIS and NOTHING BUT NET do too. It’s important for me to portray each and every character I write as authentic regardless of color, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Good people are good people and I want to bring that mindset to my writing.

Diversity in books should mirror reality. And in reality, the world is more diverse now than ever. Our books should be no different.

Someone once asked me why my I created a female, Japanese main character for BETWEEN SHADOWS AND DARKNESS. Without hesitation I responded, “That’s the way I always envisioned her.” Once we can get past which sex, or race our characters are and concentrate on making them as three dimensional as possible, we won’t have to wonder why we make our characters the way we make them. Good characters will always be good characters.

I’ll always try to bring as much diversity to my writing as I can. Why? Because it’s important that I set a good example for the next generation of writers. Hopefully my niece will one day read my stories and won’t feel the need to ask why there weren’t more characters like her.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”–Martin Luther King Jr.

I’d like to share a few links about diversity with all of you. Please, check ’em out.

Race in YA Lit: Wake Up, by Sarah Ockler, for SFWA.

It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers, by Annie Schutte, for The Hub.

Why I Write “Strong Female Characters,” by Greg Rucka, for io9. 

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4 comments

  1. I never understood race issues. I’ve always loved a certain accent by an African American race and integrated into one of my main secondary characters in HUMAN OR HIDDEN. I love it, so I added it to my novel. I have a few Salvadorians, a beautiful but nuts gal who’s Pakistani, Blair is Romanian and Hungarian, for a random selection of my characters. People are variety.

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