Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.
Do you write diverse characters? If so, how do you avoid cultural insensitivity?
This is a tricky one. These days, the subject seems to be riddled with pitfalls, and whatever you say can very often offend, even where no offence was intended. And yet, it’s important to make your cast as realistic as possible, with a range of characters that reflect the reality of your setting.
I spent forty years travelling the world and met some amazing people. The one thing about them all was that, to me, they were people first, before they were shipmates or people that I did business with, in some foreign port. Whatever else they were never mattered, I never considered their race, religion or the way they chose to lead their lives, as long as they were happy for everyone else to do the same.
So, whenever I get a little confused about what’s acceptable when it comes to diversity, I console myself with the thought that I survived all those years (and encounters) without ever saying or doing anything to upset or annoy those I had to deal with. I like to think that I achieved that by being as sensitive to the way of life of everyone I met as I hoped they would be to mine. I observed and honoured the things they thought were important and respected the fact that they might see and do things differently to me. Above all, I remembered that I was a guest in their homeland and tried to act accordingly.
When I was at sea, in a position of authority, I did meet people who tried to use their race or sexuality as a weapon, or an excuse for not doing their job properly. They usually retaliated to any criticism with you don’t like me because I’m (insert stereotype here), but that always felt like a sort of abuse of what was a very serious accusation. From my point of view, I was only ever interested in what they did, not who they were.
And it’s important to recognise the distinction. Your identity should not be a get out of jail free card. As far as I’m concerned, using that sort of tactic demeans the whole argument.
As I used to tell my children, there’s no place for any prejudice when it comes to people, tolerance and kindness are paramount and can work wonders to solve just about any problem.
As a result, when I came to write, the people I’d met were the inspiration for many of my characters, together with all their idiosyncrasies. I have never shied away from writing characters as they come to me. And that doesn’t mean using them as stereotypes or fillers to make up some sort of quota. The worlds of the future will contain just as many types of humans as we have today. It would be nice to think that, as we reach for the stars, we can leave our prejudices behind. By portraying a more tolerant society (apart from the villains – OBVS), I think I can show that in action. Which has to be a positive thing.
I’m very pleased to say that the portrayal of a gay male character in my Andorra Pett series has been singled out by reviewers for praise. Like this part of a review, from an American reader of the series.
I especially liked that one of the chief members in the motley crew of heroes is gay, and he’s a good guy, and it’s presented as no big deal. Usual billing for such a character is as the psycho bad guy or as the subject of politically incorrect humor. Glad to see the future does indeed hold some things to look forward to—at least in this author’s universe.
Some thoughts to close.
When it comes right down to it, we’re all God’s kids.
When in Rome, speak Italian.
And, more importantly.
Just be kind.
Let me know what you think about this week’s subject.
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