Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Diversity IS Important!

I'd had this post drafted for a while, and actually posted it for like a day a few months ago,  but took it down 'cause I didn't think it was really necessary.  I thought I just sounded super chip-on-the-shoulder-y, but after my weekend conversation took a turn for the worse, I figured I might as well dust the old post off.

PLUS, I don't think people are quite tired of me talking about why diversity matters, and after this awesome response post I really just want to keep the conversation going.  So bare with me while I step on my soapbox.

*Steps on soapbox, clears throat*

Diversity is a buzz-word in, well, pretty much every field, and can mean many things other than race and ethnicity.  But, for the purposes of this soap-box chat, I shall only discuss that aspect (mostly because I know the most about this specific part of it, and can only speak to my experiences BUT in the future I definitely want to do a blog post on ability/mental wellness/sexual orientation after I've done a bit more research!).

Over the years I've had lots of conversations with peers, mentors, family members, and random strangers who'll listen to me talk about diversity, and one particular company where the lack of diversity was sorely noted (and is still pretty sorely noted).  After a Twitter convo a few months ago (which is when I'd originally posted this), I wrote this blog post.  So, here are my (slightly rant-y) thoughts on the company that started it all...


Now, don't get me wrong, I can sing-along to every single Disney song with one hand tied behind my back and a blindfold on (which probably wouldn't mess with my ability to sing, but I digress).  I grew up on Disney movies, and they will always have a special place in my heart.


These movies were filled with people of only/mainly one race for decades.


Snow White, Disney's first foray into the fairy-tale-Princess-lands, came out in 1937.

Aladdin didn't come out until 1992.  According to my calculator, that's 55 years.
55 years to have main characters from "another land."
And, even then, the only sort-of middle-eastern looking character was Jafar.  Yeah, the bad guy was the only character who looked remotely ethnic.
Also, the beginning song in that movie was racist when it opened in theaters.  Just saying.  It is NOT okay to have a line like, "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but hey, it's home!"

Just don't.

Fast-forward to Mulan. 1998.  Six years after Aladdin, and 61 years after Snow White.  
Now, as a half-Filipino, half-Caucasian child, it was always really weird to me that I didn't look like Any. Single. Disney. Princess. Ever. When Mulan came out, I clung to her, clung to that movie, because she sort of looked like me.

She was Chinese.  I am not Chinese.
But it didn't matter, 'cause she was Asian, and I sort of look Asian, so, there, problem solved, right?

Nope.  Not at all.

Fast forward again to 2009, when The Princess and the Frog came out.  I was so excited about this movie because Tiana was going to be Disney's first African American Princess.  For those of you calculating with me at home, it took 72 years for Disney to have an African American Princess.

72 freaking years.

And, while it was pretty awesome that an African American Princess finally existed,  you know what happened in the movie?

Take a guess.  I'll wait.

Oh, that's right.  She spent most of that movie AS A FROG. Disney's first (and hopefully not only) African American Princess spent most of her movie as a frog.  I kind of just want to keep repeating that sentence over and over again, 'cause I'm still mad.  But, for the sake of this post, I'll move on!

If I, as a little bi-racial girl, was sort of lost without any sort of Disney Princess doppelganger  I can't even begin to imagine how other diverse girls felt/may still feel (there hasn't been a Latina Princess yet).

Even if you've run across these stats before, it begs the giant-ass question that no one seems to have an answer to.

That question: Why did it take so long to start acknowledging other cultures/races/heritages/stories?

We live in a diverse world, friends, and it blows my mind when Disney movies, TV shows, books, or, hell, even just regular movies still have predominantly Caucasian casts/characters.

What are we teaching all of the kids who don't have a role-model/character that looks like them?  And no, I'm not accepting the argument that it doesn't matter what a character looks like, that kids will look up to them anyway.  To an extent, this is true.  I connect with someone like Hermione because she loves school or Percy Jackson because he's loyal to a fault.

But you know what?  How characters look also matters.  And it doesn't just matter for the kids who need a positive, successful role-model who looks like them and gets a happily-ever-after, or is a super-genius, or cares about their friends.  It would have been nice for me to have those as a kid (and I do hope that the gap lessens for kids growing up today).

  You know who else those diverse characters would matter to?  The kids who might not have had the opportunity to meet people different from them.  I can't tell you how many people I've met who've said their first interaction with someone who was (fill in the diversity blank here) wasn't until college


And, by then, what do they have?  A few exaggerated caricatures, a whole lot of pre-conceived notions, and none of the desire to get to know someone for who they are, rather than passing judgement on them based off of what they look like.

Now, I'm not saying that Disney movies were the end-all-be-all to my identity development, 'cause they weren't (also, Disney Princesses and their adherence to/occasional defiance of Gender Roles is going to be one awesome future blog post).

But what I am saying is that, as a kid, it was hard for me to find heroes/people to look up to that looked like me.  All the characters I admired looked like one of my friends, and I was always so jealous that I couldn't have Belle's long brown hair, or be blonde like fifty gazillion Disney Princesses (why is blonde the default, anyways?  Curiouser and curiouser).

So, my point.  I'm sure you want to me to get to the point.  Here it is:

This is my Diversity Plea to you.  Please, PLEASE go out of your comfort zone and talk to someone you might normally not talk to.  Immerse yourself in another culture, or ask your friends about theirs.  Write stories with diverse characters in them, and please, for the love of everything good,

Just acknowledge that diversity exists, and that it's OKAY for it to exist.

Stories, our stories, exist in our heads.  And then we share them with the world.


Which has about 7 billion different reasons supporting the idea that diversity is everywhere.

So, no matter what you write, whether it's High Fantasy or Contemp, YA, MG, or Adult, take a second to think about how diversity can add to the world you're building.  

That one character might make all the difference to someone out there, searching for a character who kind-of-sort-of looks like them.  And, as writers, isn't that what we want?  For people to connect with our characters?

Right then.  I'm done.


*Steps off of soapbox*


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  2. yeah, let's not even talk about the head spin Disney and that freakin' Prince Charming do to you if you should....gasp....get a divorce. And where are the princess loving princesses and the prince loving princes? A deaf princess? A blind prince? Oooh, this post is so good.

    1. Haha, maybe one day we shall have all of these variations on royal romantic relationships! Only time will tell...