Upping the Diversity Factor

In both of my professional realms, teaching and writing, there’s a lot of talk going on concerning diversity. It’s the sort of important talk that an idealist would think shouldn’t be necessary; the sort of talk a cynic looks at and thinks, Well, about friggin time, too bad it won’t last. A lot of people get up in arms very quickly, especially when there’s resistance to diversity, but often because they feel that the pace of increasing the diversity in the voices we hear in our world isn’t fast enough. As a history and social studies teacher, I’m impressed by the fact that we’re making progress – this kind of change doesn’t happen easily, but with the exception of a minority that sees change as a threat to their established “power,” people are bringing it forward with success.

In the SF writing world, I see the signs all the time that give me further hope about the future. And I’m not just thinking about big news events like the Hugos last year. I’m talking about the writers, events and publications that are popping up to fill a very obvious void.

For example, I learned last weekend about the first-ever Indigenous Comic Con, which will be held in Albuquerque later this year. This is one of those events where one almost pauses for a moment and thinks, Wait, there hasn’t been one before? There is a huge community of FNMI writers across North America, and so it was only a matter of time before an event like this was organized – and it sounds awesome.

Then there’s a contest call I spotted for the Islamicate Science Fiction Short Story Competition, open until June 8, when Ramadan begins this year. The contest is looking specifically for SF that incorporates Islamic culture somewhere into the story – which I think is really neat since I can’t recall the last time I read a short story in this genre that does that. Again, contests like this are filling a void that more and more people are realizing exists, and which deserves to be filled.

Among writers, there’s a lot of discussion about increasing diversity in our characters, etc, but also the risks of “writing the other.” Seeing more and more events like the ones above is great not just because of the increased diversity in the SF world, but also as a reminder to me to continue working on adding more diversity to my fiction – not just for the sake of doing so, but to add an interesting dimension to my characters and plot. One of my most successful published stories, I think, is “Teachable Moments” in the anthology Tides of Possibility, and one of the reasons the story is so intriguing is because the main character is originally from Ghana, but emigrated to Canada and then New York City to find work as a teacher. His cultural origins aren’t essential to the plot, but they flesh him out a little more and make him (I think) more interesting to the reader. And that’s part of the route I think we need to take as we continue to increase diversity in SF: not doing it just because, but as a natural part of the story of our entire planet – there’s a lot of us here, and we should all be represented.

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