The Importance of Character Diversity in Our Storytelling

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    David Mack, a writer best known for his freelance Star Trek novels, gets a handful of emails from fans each week. He generally tries to limit his responses to a “Thank you,” or a “Sorry that story didn’t work for you,” but selecting just from these two choices isn’t a mandatory rule. If it were, we wouldn’t be able to read the deft response he gave back on August 11th to a particularly negative email.

    Here is the unedited and uncorrected content of the message he received, with the sender’s personal information redacted to protect the sender’s privacy:

                Subject: I will not be reading any of your books.

                David Mack will probable never read this email but I am writing it anyway.

                I purchased and started reading your book, Harbinger and stopped when I got to the part where the Vulcan was having a homosexual affair with the Klingon spy. I deleted the book from my E-reader and will never purchase another volume authored by David Mack. You can call me a homophobe or use any other excuse you choose to write me off but the truth is homosexually is not universally accepted and I get to decided what I read and I choose not to read any more of your work. And on top of that no Vulcan would consider the situation “logical”. You can’t just remold the Vulcan persona to suit yourself.

                I am just letting you know that you have lost at least one reader I am not looking for a reply.

                [Name Withheld]

     

    Mack’s response began thusly:

                If he thinks the fear of alienating a few closed-minded readers is going to stop me from writing stories that feature and promote characters of diverse backgrounds—including LGBTQ characters, persons of color, and people who belong to ideological or philosophical minorities—he must be out of his mind. I’m a [bleeping] Star Trek writer. Hasn’t he ever heard of IDIC—“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”?

    He went on to admit that the various Star Trek television series “could have done more in their respective times to portray ethnic and gender diversity,” then explained that he and the other writers of licensed Trek fiction are doing their best to depict a more “harmonious future, not just for humanity but for all sentient beings.” He added:      

                To that end, we’ve tried to make our literary dramatis personae more closely resemble the people of Earth. We’ve tried to include more people of African, Asian, and Southeast Asian ancestry than were seen in the televised and feature-film stories. We’ve tried to incorporate characters who hail from many cultures and viewpoints. We’ve tried to imagine a future in which people of all faiths have learned to live in harmony with people of other creeds as well as those who prefer to lead purely secular lives. We’ve tried to depict a future in which people’s gender identities are no longer limited to some arbitrary binary social construct, but rather reflect a more fluid sense of personal identity.

                I will never be made to feel shame for doing this. I am proud that we’ve been able to do this. I know we’ve still got more work to do, and we can do better at integrating more diverse viewpoints and characters into the ever-expanding universe of Star Trek.

                The author of the quoted e-mail tries to justify his screed by declaring that homosexually (sic) is not universally accepted”. So what? Neither are human rights of a fundamental nature. In fact, I can’t think of any notion of justice or equality that is universally accepted. Why should that limit our vision of a more open, egalitarian, meritocratic future? I reject this aspect of the author’s rant as fundamentally illogical.

    It is Mack’s ‘So what?’ that strikes me as particularly perfect. After all, where is it written that books must detail only universally-accepted subject matter? Would you, dear readers, honestly want to live in a world where everything had to be universally accepted? Would you want all the stories you ever read to include only characters who are just like you?

    The only stories we accept are not the only accepted stories. And diversifying fictional-character relationships will just bring us closer to fully understanding our actual collected selves.

    Every one of us has felt unaccepted at one time or another. Saying “So what?” could be a good way to help deal with this in the future. And one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, maybe it won’t have to be said at all.

    There’s more to David Mack’s response than I have shown here. Check out his blog for the rest.

     

    Jason M. Vaughn earned a degree in Painting from KU, back in a majestic time called “the nineties.” In response to certain life events, he then drifted away from visual art—something he’d practiced since toddlerhood—and found himself addicted to books. Writing naturally followed. He’s published numerous poems and short stories, and his first feature-length screenplay,The Synth House Wife, won the 2012 Script Pipeline Competition. He is working now on a science-fiction book called Cerulean, which will hopefully CHANGE THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT…or at least be a good read.

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