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"Diversity," Representation and Checkboxing
Write your own stories
If you don't know Otto Penzler, he is to murder mysteries what Edgar Rice Burroughs is to the Pulp folks, or Asimov to post-Campbell SFF. He's edited more anthologies than I can count, he runs his own press and his own bookstore.
Then there's this...
Yup. You read that right. He just got fired because he wouldn’t grade according to representation. He would only grade according to QUALITY.
I think it's time for this rant.
[Parks on soap box.]
These are of course, synonyms for bullshit.
If you ever get around to writing a story — novel, a short, what have you — and anyone… and I mean ANYONE … tells you that you need more of X, Y, or Z “character,” smack the fool in the face with the heaviest object you can.
Because the only characters you need are the ones that drive the story forward. Anyone else is a waste of time and words. Jamming in a character because they’re X, Y, or Z only makes them tokens.
Granted, this is funny coming from me. I’ve had people tell me I have “great diversity” in my novels.
That’s the point where I smile, nod, and say, “Thanks, what did you think of the book?”
I sincerely don't notice the “diversity” in my books. It takes me five minutes to add up how many of X I may or may not have. I may have one or two lesbian characters, but I didn’t ask them, and it hasn't come up, so I don’t think about it.
Ask me if I have any black characters, it takes me at least a few minutes to remember that oh, yeah, I have a Pope who is literally from Africa. He’s the primary factor that moved forward my first major trilogy.
Why don't I know things like this off the top of my head?
Because they’re characters, not tokens. For me, every character I have is better defined by characteristics than by anything else.
Granted, give me time and tolerance of stupidity, and I can compile checklists for people who want them. Aida Jones of the murder mysteries, who I have in my head as a taller Mariah Carey. Brian Levine, whose body type is “big black football player #4,” but I remember him best as ex-Delta who knits. There is Thomas Nolan’s friend “D,” who plays as gang banger, but has an MBA.
I’ve got a few more characters, but I’m already bored compiling THAT list. Because I hate “check-boxing.”
I just thank God none of my readers give a damn about that sort of thing. Thankfully, they can't, especially given how I like to subvert the clichés — and check-boxing is so cliché, it’s painful.
Let's put it this way. I’ve been able to tell people about the cast of characters of cartoon shows I’ve never seen, just based on clichés. “Any team has to have an Asian— probably female — a black engineer / gadget man, someone with a disability, and maybe a token white guy.” Don’t even ask me why that is — maybe “black guy as mechanical engineer” came out of Greg Morris on Mission: Impossible, and Ivan Dixon on Hogan’s Heroes (and good luck making that one these days).
And we can all thank God that I don’t even talk about sensitivity readers. The first f**ker who goes “I’m offended” while beta reading a novel will find themselves IN the novel, and far more offended. Hell, I’m fed up with “Let’s bash Christian,” Dan Brown-lite novels, and I’m perfectly happy to offend someone who harps on about how X or Y is offensive.
Hell, someone called me a white supremacist in a review because I used MS-13 as a random encounter bad guy... because one of the the biggest gangs in the world, so big they're on a terrorist watch list, and run human trafficking operations can only be the villain … “because they’re not white”?
Nooo. They’re bad guys because they’re evil bastards who do monstrous things. And because I’m really tired of Aryan Nation gangs. Talk about cliché. I’ve only seen MS-13 as the villain in one novel, once — Vince Flynn, Consent to Kill. And they were only in one scene as hired guns. Since then, MS-13 has had fictional knockoffs in Peppermint and CSI: Miami, if anyone can remember back that far.
“But what about LGBTQMOUSE and strong waman?”
And? What about them? Seriously, to call LGBTBBQ a minority is a gross exaggeration. They’re not even big enough to be a minority. I’ve seen numbers that suggest they may top off between 1% and 2% of the planetary population. I’d need a cast of nearly a hundred to justify having one. In my books, I’ve had three—but that’s only because I had characters in San Francisco.
As for the second, one might think I’ve got enough in my novels — but trust me, my “strong women” don’t work for the check-boxing idiots. After all, they don’t spend any time trying to deliberately show up my male characters, or be the bestest evar....
If you are confused by the above paragraph, go watch an episode of Batwoman for the check boxing definition of “strong women” — the women are indestructible, treated as though they are without flaws, and “they don’t need no man” ... so much so, that the men in the episodes are disposable, easily replaced by any female character no matter the function. If she’s part of the LGBTQMOUSE faction, a woman get extra invulnerability points.
I’m not even going to discuss the trans movement. The public face of the trans movement seems to be so obnoxious, there’s been at least one article from the gay community that discusses kicking the “T” out of LGBTQ. Between mediocre men declaring themselves “trans” so they can join women’s sports to batter women (see MMA), or “trans” prisoners who move to women’s prisons to sexually assault inmates? I don’t even want to talk about it.
Hell, I will only make one comment on “trans” anything. Last year (January, 2020) a trans person going by named Isabel Fall wrote a story called I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter. But the story was a way of working through some of his issues on transitioning. (Don’t even ask me which way the author was transitioning.) But since said author hadn’t publicly made a big fuss about BEING trans, it was merely assumed that the story was “transphobic.” Cancel culture being what it is, the author was attacked and mobbed online.
This fallout killed the author’s interest in writing, killed the author’s interest in transitioning, and effectively shoved “Isabel” back into the closet.
On top of this, making this even worse? Forced “diversity” has only led to even more racism.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s look at the BBC “diversity coordinator” who recently said that the title character of Luther “wasn’t a black character.” Why? Because “he doesn’t have black friends or eat Caribbean food.”
Luther himself is played by Idris Elba.
… Really? I’m sorry. That’s as racist as saying Denzel Washington can’t be black because he doesn’t have fried chicken and watermelon.
On top of that, Elba was also called “not black enough” to play an alternate universe black Superman… which is funny since he just played a character referred to as Black Superman. (It’s one of the few things I recall from the Hobbes and Shaw trailers).
You think that’s a BBC problem?
Maybe just a “problem” with Elba?
No, I’m not joking.
Apparently, Zoe Saldana is half Latina, so she wasn’t ethnically pure enough to play the part. Not that she wasn’t talented enough, not that she wasn’t right for the part, but she plane old wasn’t pure enough.
I’m not being mean in how I phrased it, it’s what these jackasses meant.
The last time I saw “standards” like this, they were being enforced by the Klu Klux Klan as they discussed who was black, who was “passing,” who was “high yellow” and a bunch of other stupid terms that make no sense to me.
Of course, who could forget when someone insisted the Marvel character of Iron Fist shouldn’t be played by a white guy, because only Asians should be martial artists…
We went from “how dare you stereotype all Asians as knowing martial arts” to “only Asians can be martial artists” in only a few years.
Seriously, I haven't seen this level of racial BS in decades. Old 1940s movies were more racially forward-thinking than this, and they had Jews and Italians playing Hindus in Gunga Din and Douglas Fairbanks Junior as Sinbad the Sailor.
Welcome to Identity politics.
If you’re a person of color, you must be racially pure.
If you’re LGBTBBQ, you must only, and loudly, be LGBTBBQ.
Not only does this “diversity” push reduce characters in fiction to tokens, it reduces people in real life to tokens. In fiction, it’s disrespectful to characters. In real life, it disrespects the human person.
I’ll give you a real-world example. At DragonCon, I genuinely saw someone post that they wanted 2001: A Space Odyssey, to be “more diverse and representative.” Nice of him to say, but there were three characters in the film: Frank, Dave, and Hal. Dave is a robotic wooden human. Frank is similarly robotic and wooden, and dies. Hal is a psychotic and homicidal computer. Swap out Frank for his race or gender, and he dies, that’s racist or sexist—or why not both? Tokenize Dave, and you’d have to rewrite the character, because why is the token a walking piece of wood? Make Hal gendered or racialized, why does X-token have to be the psycho killer?
Okay, that was more in theory than in real life. Let’s do another one that happened. One author, I believe she was Chinese, had a fantasy novel that featured slaves as part of the society. She was “canceled” because her book featured slaves that were not black. Yes, apparently, if there are slaves, they must now only be black … even though this woman probably never saw a black person in real life, and based it off of slavery in her history’s past. Despite the fact that if you are a human being who lived on this planet, somewhere in your family tree, some relative of yours was enslaved by someone else, being a slave is owned solely by blacks.
I cannot make this s!*7 up, I truly can’t.
Which of course brings up another avenue: the dread “cultural appropriation.” Where you have to have a certain number of tokens in your work, but if you’re writing a character whose ethnicity is not your own, that’s “cultural appropriation.” I’ll see if I can dig up that fisk sometime for some real fun.
See, even if you wanted to play, there’s no way to win. And that’s the point.
So, yeah, I don’t play these games. Writing tokens is stupid and leads to some of the worst writing I've ever experienced.
Characters in the story have to fit the story. If Thomas Nolan wasn't married with children (both wife and kids are armed), trust me, no one would know what his sexuality was. If Sean Ryan's girlfriend wasn't an agent who brings him his client in It Was Only on Stun!, sexuality wouldn't have come up there either. I'm not even sure it is mentioned in Set to Kill.
We won't go into the books with genuine romance subplots.
If the story is twisted to fit the check-boxing, we get CW shows and Agent Carter. And no one wants that. Just look at their ratings.
My point: write your own stories. Don't try to shoehorn anything or any one that doesn't fit in naturally.
You've just seen a bunch of woke idiots fire one of the biggest names in modern mystery so they can virtue signal how diverse they are, solely by judging authors by the color of their skin, and not the quality of their writing.
Be judged by the quality of your writing, and not the BS you can jam in.