I started and re-started this article a number of times, revising my words in the best attempt to position myself irrefutably.
But then I remembered, "Oh wait... the Internet." Where someone or many "someones" will argue always and forever. That fact is more reliable than any marriage or any grudge, to have and to hold until our last bitter days.
And that's OK, because much like I never asked for permission when I started writing stories with diverse characters, there's no need to ask for permission to express an opinion.
The great thing about an opinion is the safety clause, that everything's subjective so nothing can actually be proven right or wrong. I accept this and yet... what about subjective matters that are obvious? In terms of what side you should land on? From a basic humanity perspective? "Diversity in stories" is one of those topics to me, but like anything else, there's always a devil's advocate pledging allegiance to the other side.
Which is stunning. Stunning in a horrifying way (see: murder tableau from an episode of Hannibal).
For me, this is how my brain works:
There are humans.
Humans have emotions.
Emotions are the invisible threads that connect people to stories.
Emotions are universal.
And so... how could stories with the only difference of diverse characters or cultures not be "mainstream" enough, as the devil's advocate argument often goes?
Am I done? Is this article over? Because I'm not sure how it could possibly be more clear.
OK... I am hearing that there are still some detractors, because again we are living on the Internet. So allow me to expand...
Let's reflect back on movies and books based on Sci-Fi themes of the future and planets and aliens.
I'm finished reflecting, and it seems to me that we, as a society, are on a decades-long streak of consuming content based on totally imagined and seemingly impossible-to-relate-to worlds. Indeed, this is us, a human race that's fully accepting of bug-eyed, slimy aliens with impressive eight-pack abs in our tales. And yet...a story that involves a different culture or a different skin colour is simply a little too..."out there?" Too different for western culture to relate to?
(Can someone please provide me with an extra-large bottle of Febreze to spray over the stank of B.S. I'm current calling from a mile away? Thanks...)
In my strong estimation, it's not the zero-percent body fat of the slimy aliens we relate to in these Sci-Fi books, but the emotions surrounding it all; the thirst for exploration, the anxiety of fitting in, the fear of death, etc, etc, etc. If my estimation is correct, and it's emotions that ultimately connect most readers to the stories they consume, then doesn't every human of every colour and from every culture, fit comfortably underneath that umbrella? Shouldn't there be no shade of Pantone brown that's too niche? (I'm one of the Pantone shades of brown, and I think not.)
Of course not, and any argument against that literally makes no sense to me. I've even proven to myself that the argument makes no sense, through my own publishing efforts and success.
To describe this scenario, I must take you back to a time when Twitter had not yet become the beating heart of our culture (I literally need a shower after writing that sentence; I hate myself). I'm referring to 2011, the year when I started to publish a three-book series centered on an Indian-Canadian woman looking for love.
Since this was the pre-"Twitter hashtag wars" era, I didn't think twice about publishing these books. I didn't ask for permission, and I didn't at all question if the chapters were too heavy on Indian culture... I just wrote the stories I liked and the chapters that made me feel things. Maybe I didn't have to worry, because who was going to even read these stories? Death by irrelevance in self-publishing oblivion! Take that, foolish dreamer you!
It actually turned out okay, but since I'm no J.K. Rowling or anything of the sort, I employed the approach of making my first e-book free to serve as a gateway drug, through both Amazon and the reading app Wattpad. With this hope of legal addiction in full effect, and the subsequent books being served up at a juicy 70 per cent royalty... my little business plan turned out OK.
I mean... everyone must define their idea of success for themselves, but when I look in the mirror, I know that I do not possess hundreds of thousands of friends who read the first book on Wattpad, or 6,000 family and friends who purchased books 2 and 3 for 12,000 in sales. They were simply readers who found my words, and I'm pretty glad about that.
When I think about those readers, who consumed a trilogy about this woman from a strict Indian culture looking for love, it occurs to me that the majority of us don't share the same Pantone shade of skin, or even a common cultural experience. The majority of readers were actually American women, and if the reviews reflect the demographic, these readers were from places like Kentucky, Alabama, Atlanta, Colorado... and thanks to Wattpad -- readers from across all the continents, too.
Their reviews reflected the lack of our common experiences, but the universal nature of emotions they were able to connect with (on occasion, their reviews reflected their desire to have me jump off a cliff since they hated my books that intensely, but such is par for the course).
It was all the evidence I needed to continue to write my stories with whatever cultures and whatever Pantone-coloured faces I damn well please.
I mean... why start asking for permission now when I never did in the first place?
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