Writers are increasingly creating stories featuring exclusively minority casts and cultures, in an effort to fill diversity gaps in popular literature. Are they realistic… or are they denying the realities of human development?
As a writer, I’m familiar with the process of trying to create a realistic mix of characters for my stories. Although I primarily write science fiction, diverse casts are realistically demanded in all modern stories, except those set in locations that are naturally or historically monocultural, monoracial and traditionally sexual.
I also live in an American culture that has historically been presented in literature as monocultural, monoracial and trad-sexual, despite having a healthy pan-cultural, pan-racial and pan-sexual population. It’s good that the false facade of that American monoculture has finally been recognized as such, and is starting to crumble under pressure of reality.
But I’ve noticed that, to further pressure the collapse of the false monoculture, the response of a lot of non-European and non-trad peoples has been to produce their own literature devoted exclusively to the cultures hidden behind that facade for so long.
I understand the idea completely: After so many years of exclusively White content, it’s now time to produce, for example, exclusively Black content. It’s time to write stories set in the African Diaspora instead of the American Heartland or the European Old World. It’s time to write about characters with diverse sexual attitudes, instead of the traditionally monolithic mores. It’s time to fill in the diversity gaps with stories that exclusively feature those diverse groups.
As I’m African-American, I’ve been encouraged more than once to try writing such exclusive content myself, for the sake of my people and our culture. But though I understand the idea behind exclusive non-traditional content, and I respect the desire to create such content… that strategy doesn’t sit right with me. I see it as being just as unrealistic as the existing monocultural content that is being challenged. I see it as a denial of what’s really happening in the world, and where we’re going as a species, a culture and a planet.
I mentioned that I live in America: I grew up in the U.S., frequently described as the Melting Pot. But using that label to describe the U.S., in fact, does a disservice to the rest of the world, as it implies North America is the only place in which different peoples and cultures have mixed and are mixing.
In fact, all of the Americas have seen multiple groups appear over the centuries, mixing with the natives and other groups that have visited at different times, and creating new groups. And it’s hardly exclusive to the Americas: Pretty much every continent except Antarctica has seen its share of racial and cultural mixing, intended or forced, in a constant stirring of the global pot.
I am also considered by official government labeling as an African-American… translation: Part African, part European; and if you think about it, that isn’t an accurate label at all, since in point of fact all people are descended from Africans, who then migrated throughout the world and propagated.
To think of it properly, then, when you define someone as African-American, you are describing them as an African with part of an African ancestry that propagated through America (many of which are in fact Africans who propagated through Europe); an Arab is an African with part or all of an African ancestry that propagated through the Middle East; a Chinese-American is an African with part of an African ancestry that propagated through China and another part of an African ancestry that propagated through America (hence, propagated through Europe); etc. This is why I tend to resist using the word race to describe people, since ultimately we are all of the same race… the Human race.
From whatever direction our ancestors chose, we all ultimately come from one place. We are Africans who live in Europe, Africans who live in the Americas, Africans who live in China, Africans who live in Africa. We are all sub-cultures of the same culture, some very similar to, and some very different from others. And one of the things we do as a people is to remix and re-propagate with each other. (The motto of the Human race is: We get around.)
So, when I come across a story that takes place in a modern or future world where everyone is of one racial group, or one cultural group, or one sexual group, I can’t help but think: How unrealistic. There are fewer and fewer places on this planet where you can go and see only one racial group, or one cultural group, or one sexual group. In fact, the few places where you don’t see more than one group are generally so stagnant that no one’s writing stories about them (unless it’s a story about how shook to the core they are by the person who arrives and presents a different group to them). After eons of spreading apart, the world is now homogenizing; and that trend is more likely to continue than not.
This is especially true of science fiction, which follows the trends of advancement that mankind has always followed… and that includes mixing those groups. Are we likely to see spaceships full of nothing but monosexual Africans? Are we likely to see planets colonized by nothing but monotheistic Mexicans? Or satellites manned by nothing but celibate Arabs? No, we’re not. We’re going to see the same constant mixing and homogenization that humans tend to do, wherever they go.
When I write science fiction, I frequently hint at this common mixing by using names that intentionally suggest said mixing; names that encompass multiple cultures and regional origins. A lot of the names I use don’t sound that odd to readers… because we’re surrounded by names like that, right now. Names like Constance Wu. Jim Thorpe. Lena Horne. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Aretha Franklin. Spencer Asah. Eva Chen. Derf Reklaw Raheem. (These are all real people. Look ’em up.)
Admittedly, this is second nature to me specifically because I was raised in the U.S., where cultural mixing is literally everywhere. Though I understand that there are still pockets and regions that are dominated by a sole group or culture (which really just means there hasn’t been any mixing in that group for longer than anyone can remember), these are the outliers. It isn’t likely that they will be sustainable, even if they are adamant about avoiding change; because, really, that isn’t the way life works. It isn’t the way humans work. No matter how much some people may want different groups to stay different and unique… humans get around.
When I look far enough into the future, I see a race of humans that has been interbreeding far and wide for so long that eventually there will be only one overriding set of physical characteristics, with minor variations; and we all share them. I see a culture that is all cultures rolled together, with a few specialized groups and particular interests, but all in the same wheelhouse. I see a post-race future of exactly one people, come back together after eons of living or being split apart. I see the Human Race as being One Race; which, after all, we are… we always have been… and we’ve just allowed ourselves to forget.
“The hallmark of science — and, indeed, science fiction — must always be intelligence.” — Steven Lyle Jordan
Steven Lyle Jordan is a blogger and longtime advocate of science, technology, environmentalism and social development. He has authored over a dozen science fiction novels and related content, including the Kestral Voyages series, the Verdant novels and others. His commentary and science fiction can be found via StevenLyleJordan.blog.