11 May 2011

The rainbow generation - word of the week

(Diversity n: 1. The state of being diverse; variety. Etym: mid-14c., "quality of being diverse," mostly in a neutral sense, from O.Fr. diversité (12c.) "difference, diversity, unique feature, oddness:" also "wickedness, perversity," from L.diversitatem (nom. diversitas) "contrariety, contradiction, disagreement)

I really struggled to think of WoTW this week. I've been a bit up and down recently - holidays, work, shoulder debacle and also forgot to take my anti-depressants too (norty me) - so a lot of the words I was thinking about, I've already touched on eg: individuality, motivation, integrity. These are all words I come back to, as they help me focus when I feel a bit wobbly. So I think it's time to do something a little less self absorbed - hence today's word.

Firstly, let me clarify what I mean by diversity - generally I mean accepting and being as open as possible in all ways to people from all walks of life. The Equality Act in the UK has 9 strands of diversity including gender, sexuality, race, religion and disability. I want to make sure that my attitudes, my life and my outlook are as inclusive and open to diversity as possible. In some ways this blog is great for that - I have *no* idea about majority of the readers of this blog - if you actively follow me/the blog I can see some of those strands but for most of you I don't know. Which is great!

So I think you can tell, diversity is a subject close to my heart - I work to encourage diversity at work  and so I'm passionate about it. I feel that in some ways, I tick a lot of the boxes in diversity:

- female (gender)
- jewish (religion)
- deaf (disability)

But I am also:

- white
- middle class
- privately educated

So internally, I often feel a lot of conflict around diversity. I may be passionate about it, but how often can I show that (outside of work)? I grew up in a predominantly white, middle-class, affluent area. And yet I now live 5-6 miles away from there in an area of London that is predominately made up of ethnic minorities who do not all have the upbringing that I had. I have chosen to live somewhere different, because oddly, I feel that I fit in! If everyone is different, there is no need to conform - individuality is to be celebrated here - as anyone who has been to Brixton will testify.

But why am I writing about diversity tonight, and what has it got to do with writing I hear you ask. Well, I guess I'm writing about it tonight after watching Made In Chelsea, a reality TV show that follows affluent young posh people in a rather nice area of London (like The Hills). And yet apparently I speak just like them - and they're not far from some of the people I know. I recognised their behaviours and body language. I know a lot of it is `enhanced` for entertainment, but there is an element of truth in what they do. The piss-taking on Twitter - which I joined in with a little - was a bit tongue in cheek though because I was cringing for some of it. I still can't believe that's how I sound. Huh! Blame the deafness.....

But watching that - and the media reaction - made me think carefully about my own biases and attitudes. Am I really as liberal as I think? I have to be totally honest here and say that all my close friends actually, are white. Yes, thinking about it, they are. Is that good or bad? I don't want to have a friend purely for their ethnic background!! But then I do have friends who aren't straight - and one of my parents isn't straight either. Is it possible to get a mix - a properly diverse group of friends - without tokenism? 

You might be interested in this little assessment tool that I was sent recently - it's really aimed at businesses, to help everyone consider what your own conscious - and subconscious biases are, but it's fascinating to do! After all, it's only by owning up to these, and understanding them, can you do something about it. I have to say that I was a little surprised by my results - and I generally think I am extremely liberal. So anyway have a go - do it in private, there's no need to share the results with anyone - but it is thought provoking and challenging. Which is good and refreshing IMO.

So finally....how is this relevant to us as writers/authors/bloggers? Well, who is your writing aimed at? Is there a target market for that? Are you missing anyone? Are you alienating anyone? When I look at my bookshelves, the majority of my books are written by white people. Why am I not more well read?(blames self here) And within my writing, I've got characters with disabilities and who are gay but er, (ashamed now I realise this) everyone is white. Why is that? How do I write so that it is inclusive and open but not tokenistic?

 Lots of questions for everyone tonight - as I certainly don't have any answers whatsoever. I am totally open to being called on for my ignorance - but thoughts going forward (eeep business speak, cringe) would be fabby. Do you guys worry about this? Am I over-thinking the issue, is it paying lip-service to diversity to segment the book buying + reading market in this way? Do all people buy all books? And also my book and blog is clearly not meant to be all things to all people. I suspect there will be people who will disagree with this post or my views on Equality - and why shouldn't they - they're entitled to their opinion.And finally, am I being horrendously patronising? By trying to do the right thing am I doing the wrong thing?

I guess I'm not really sure what I'm trying to get at here. Essentially, diversity and inclusivity is important to me at work, how do I make sure it is at play - and in my writing. Have other writers considered this and what do you think about it all. 
Please, please comment below - although do bear in mind that given the sensitivity of this subject, offensive, libellous and derogatory comments will not be tolerated - it is *my* blog! Although I know you are all lovely people and wouldn't do such things.

Thank you and good night

Stupidgirl has left the building


  1. Really interesting blog. Half my class (aged 8 and 9) are non British (most are white European, mainly Eastern), In the school, in general, the mix is ethnically wider. I try really hard to treat all pupils equally, and the school values celebrate individuality, but the children demonstrate lack of understanding of diversity, often mimicking what they hear at home. Embracing the true diversity of all around us is as much about learning and understanding. If we understand what matters to people regardless of their sexual persuasion, ethnicity, disability or whatever, then we are much more likely to celebrate diversity.

  2. My boys go to a single faith school, so there is zero diversity. Luckily their football team which I manage is hugely diverse as we like you live in a widely diverse part of London. I am so grateful that my boys will be around the complete range of ethnicities, since at school they never will.

    having said that, diversity shouldn't even be on our consciousness radars were it not for all the inbuilt institutional prejudices and disadvantages that penalise certain groups of people, forcing them to make us aware of their issues, necessitating some sort of positive action to put it right. But somehow it never quite achieves that...

    marc nash

  3. Great topic - both interesting and difficult. I like to think I'm pretty liberal and accepting of diversity, but like you, all of my close friends are white and most of the books and blogs I read are by white authors with white characters. I have made some effort to read more diversely since the Liar cover debacle(http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/), but my efforts have still been pretty poor.

    As you say, it is a bit of a minefield - in your efforts to be inclusive, it can be so easy to be patronising, offensive, make the conversation about you, priveleged person trying to do the right thing, etc, etc. But I still think it's better to try than to ignore the whole issue.

    You might enjoy this recent post from Shweta Naryan about the use of exotic locations in a certain type of epic fantasy:

    Not really said what I want to, but having trouble getting it down on paper and need to get back to work...