This is a conversation I’ve been having with a few of my creator friends. We all want to be inclusive in our stories, but a lot of times we have a hard time adding diversity because we don’t necessarily know other cultures. When writing characters, you don’t want to be stereotypical. It’ll definitely cause the readers unease and maybe warrant them to stop reading all together.
So, how do you write a character that comes from a different background?
I write mainly white characters. The reason behind this is because I grew up with… white people. I lived in a small New England town where the majority of the population were white. Most of my friends were white. I was fortunate to have a couple Asian friends from my high school, but our experiences shielded us from knowing what Asian culture was like. We were children of Asian-Americans and raised in this small town. There was no “Chinatown” where we could go and grow up around “our” culture. If I wanted to see someone like me besides my family, I had to go to one of the three Chinese restaurants in town (and I was from Japanese descent).
So, my characters are white, from a small town, and dealt with issues that only white teenagers faced. They were my issues too, but I never imagined my characters to look like me. Up until recently, I never wrote about an Asian person or any other race/culture. It bothered me a little after reading articles about Hollywood needing more diversity. I realized that I was part of the problem. Sure, my characters were female but I was only writing films with an all white cast. Why had I never thought to add in a Hispanic or Black character? Or maybe… a biracial Asian?
When I went to RIT it was the first time I had ever been surrounded by so much diversity. It was a complete culture shock, for sure. Not only were there different ethnicities, but there were also different communities like the Deaf community. I found myself drifting in between groups to learn and discover. I found that when you ask questions without sounding like a bigot, people are willing to divulge information. I learned a lot about identity, how people are proud of their heritages and where their family came from. I learned about hardships and how prejudices and racism affects their lives. I never realized it before, but looking back, I do remember instances where racism did affect me and my family. I always thought people were just misunderstanding but that was me being naive and sheltered.
Surrounding yourself with others broadens your knowledge. People are people, you don’t have to characterize them a certain way because they’re Asian / Latino / Black / Deaf / LGBTQ. Everyone has issues they’re going through and most of the time they’re the same no matter who they are. It’s what influences them and how they make their choices.
So for now, I’m going to continue to try and add diversity into my stories, but I won’t be putting diversity in for the sake of having diversity.