I've had my eyebrows raised a few times recently when I've stumbled unexpectedly over arguments about diversity in film, fiction and so on. Although I grew up in a community that was nationally diverse, it wasn't very ethnically diverse. But I was educated to be open-minded and accepting of difference, so it always surprises me when I trip over someone arguing that diversity is threatening. No, no, it's fascinating.
My mental discombobulation triples when it's someone arguing against diversity in genre fiction or depiction, as I thought the whole point of fantasy and science fiction was to challenge boundaries (by way of example, one bloke argued strongly against inclusion of POC in fantasy illustrations because he grew up in an all-white midwestern town and he was perfectly happy with illustrations implying all-white fantasy worlds. Wouldn't we all be happier if imaginary worlds were just like Iowa? Don't answer that). Apparently I'm a hopeless idealist. Also, I live in a big multicultural melting pot and I'm as sick of seeing the one black/Muslim guy being the villain or an early casualty as I am of seeing kick-ass women still needing to be rescued.
A More Diverse Universe (#diversiverse) is hosted each year by Aarti Chapati over at Booklust as a challenge to read and review one book by a person of colour; this year, between 14-27 September. In previous years this has focused on genre fiction; this year there are no restrictions.
Her challenge is intended to recognise that our media consumption (including our reading) is hopelessly skewed and does not represent the diversity of our culture (in terms of ethnicity, sexuality and gender). This does sod all for helping us understand other cultures and experiences. So stick one in the eye to unreasonable or unconcious prejudice and read something different.
I like exposing myself to new ideas and foreign cultures (that education again), so I'm going to consciously seek out more books by POC through the autumn; #Diversiverse is a good excuse to get started.
I'm kicking off with Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea – never intended to be published in English, but banned in her native Saudi Arabia for promoting vices and undermining traditional values. It tells the story of 4 university friends as they struggle with life and love in upper-class Saudi society; I'm already trying to keep my own attitudes and prejudices in check (inevitably I need to bridle that inner feminist and not just rage at the repressive social setting), so it seems to have been a perfect place to start.