Several years ago, I was talking with a puppeteer friend of mine who had helped me land an audition. I thanked him for that. He said, “But you helped me get the part on Avenue Q. That’s what we do. You gave me a boost up the ladder. Now I’m in a better place to pull you up with me.”
This came to mind because I think there are some people who aren’t clear on what a landscape of equality and diversity looks like. People who are looking for equality aren’t looking to see some people cast down off the ladder into the muck of oppression. No one should be oppressed.
Likewise, with diversity. It’s really, honestly not about making sure that white men never get another opportunity. It’s about correcting centuries of imbalance that have favored white men and instead representing the diverse people who make up our society.
The reason that diversity in SFF is so selfishly important is really all about survival of the species. And by species, I mean science-fiction and fantasy itself. We know the danger of a small gene pool. It affects ideas and stories as thoroughly as it does anything else. If you want more interesting and original material, you need diversity.
A person’s background absolutely affects their writing. Absolutely. It affects the way they communicate, even if they aren’t a writer. Even if you think that your background doesn’t, you are wrong. It influences your expectations in ways that are absolutely invisible to you, until you travel outside of your area.
I say this from experience. The thing about being a professional puppeteer is that I traveled a lot. I mean… I’ve performed in all but six of the contiguous United States, and even within the continent the way people communicate is different. In the same town, class differences will change communication. Gender. Family life. Ethnicity. Racial identification. Ability. All of it changes the way a person perceives the world. Things that I thought were universal, were regionally specific.
So if I want to read more interesting and engaging SFF, it behooves me to use my position on the ladder to try to help other people up. This doesn’t mean that I have to cast white men under the bus. It doesn’t even involve anything heroic beyond pointing out “Hey! This is some good writing.”
Our community has been working on that for the past couple of years and the efforts to make room for other people on the ladder are working. That’s exciting. That’s what a community is for.
And we’ll get to read better fiction for it, because of the people. And because of the experience they bring up the ladder with them.