Diversity in Fiction: Goodbye to Stereotypes

In a recent Criminology lecture that I attended, the discussion turned to the harmful effects of media reporting on crime rates, specifically, how the repetitions of certain racist phrases contributed to Canadian and American citizens believing that crime rates were increasing and caused by minorities.

This phenomena lead to a toxic cycle of racism and victim-blaming, even if the rage was not set in any actual fact, but was, instead, a direct reflection of the biased media people were subject to.

Given the current political environment that we find ourselves in, I find this conversation to be increasingly important and impossible to ignore. Those media reports resulted in a modern society that believed certain groups to be evil, and people who let those racist stereotypes find a way into their fiction and their stories, which is why today we find ourselves immersed, both by news and movie channels, into a world where some people are shown to always be villains.

This, however, is not a political article, it is an article about fiction and how we cannot escape politics, even in fiction. Our murder mystery villains are dark skinned, we promote and rewrite with different names the Shylock’s and Ali Baba’s, our gangsters are black sons of drug lords and cocaine dealers, and we promote and read this fiction, never realizing how far it goes in shaping our perceptions of the world.

That is, indeed, what fiction does. We read or watch TV in an effort to escape reality, but we really only submerge ourselves in an alternate reality,  in a similar world to this one, except maybe one with more magic or more menace.

In finding ourselves gleefully in this alternate reality, we oversee the coded stereotypes.

That is, until we look up from our books and realize that all we see now is what we’ve read, and we’ve only read that some people are bad and some people are good, and a lot of that has to do with race and religion, whether we mean for it to, or not.

As minorities, we will always be looking for positive representation of what we know we are. That is, nothing more extraordinary than your next door neighbor, your high school English teacher, your family pediatrician, or the writer of the article you’re reading.

Yet, we also know that we are deserving of being radical superheroes and complex protagonists and yes, even villains, insofar as our villainy is not just the color of our skin, the gods we choose to believe in, or where we were born.

It’s 2017, and I think the time for racist tropes, minority scapegoating and overdone clichés about religious extremists are long past their expiration dates. In a knowledge based society where everyone is trying to educate each other on sociopolitical issues, I think it’s only fair that the books we read, the movies we watch, and the TV shows that we schedule our weekday evenings around, also reflect the truths of the society we live in.

No more easy-way-out villains, no more background characters of color with unimportant story-lines, and no more stories that are not open for POC to reach into and feel comforted in. We’d like to know that, even if our news channels may never truly understand the complexity of our nature, at the very least our fictional universes understand us to be as human as we truly are.

Art has been a revolution in and of itself. It has challenged ideologies, political movements and broken preconceived notions.

It has been a power-tool, a comfort and an uncomfortable truth. I think, and I hope, that this is the time to make art that matters. This is the time to grant voices to the ones being asked to be silent, a time in which we all must stand in solidarity and on the right side of history.

Even if all we do is write a short story about a girl named Lulu who stunned the world with her bright mind, while telling everyone about her war-torn home in Syria, her best friends and her childhood dreams. Because, the important thing is to never believe for a second, that there is a better story than that. That this story is unimportant.

Make this our goal – to bring to mainstream attention the stories that truly represent us, the Hidden Figures of the literary world, to bring to attention the writers of color who have so much to give and the characters that they craft that reflect so much more than their own skin.

Make this the year that we realize, truly and honestly, the incredible art of inclusivity, of diversity and of stories that reflect all realities. Make this the year in which we, a collective society of readers, dreamers, writers, TV-show watchers, poets and artists, make a mark upon history by refusing to be silenced even when the laws change. Even when the media lies. Even when it seems that the darkest of times have been reached, let us refuse to be silent.

Let us write, read, and create art that showcases the brilliant people who are facing a terrible reality tonight. Let us give them another: where they can be superheroes in crimson hijabs, lead secret missions from synagogues, lead the Syrian rebellion and be the son-of-an-immigrant who saves immigrant detainees in airports across the States.

Let this be the year.

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