TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST IS LIKELY TO OFFEND AND CONTAINS UNPOPULAR OPINIONS. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
Social Media. Everyone knows it; everyone uses it. It’s a place to connect, to feel supported by like-minded individuals, to stand up for one’s beliefs. And lately, it has become toxic. Activism comes in many forms, and is a basic human right, but there comes a point when I feel it starts to do more harm than good.
Does the world need to change? Absolutely. Should people fight to be heard? Yes. But when that fight goes from being advocacy for a better world to mob mentality with a hair trigger, we’ve gone from progress to living in fear — the fear of offending.
This is exactly what’s happened to the online writing communities over the past few years. There’s a movement within publishing which advocates for more inclusive literature. And it’s a movement I actually agree with, before anyone tries to twist what I’m saying and claim otherwise. Everyone should have books, characters, stories they can see themselves in. But the problem is that the fight for that inclusive diversity has started to poison the very cause it seeks to spotlight.
Agents and editors are now looking for books which include diversity, yes, but in their attempt to listen to the calls of the community, we’ve turned diversity into a selling point, a box to be checked. The marginalized groups fighting to be heard are not token elements to be thrown into a story simply to increase its chances of acceptance. That’s not how this works. My personal belief is that diversity should just be, the way it is in real life (though I’m well aware that the fight for equality in real life is far from over, and yes, fiction should do better than reality in that regard). Those characters and elements should be treated first and foremost as people, not whatever race/religion/sexuality/disability they might possess. And — here comes a highly unpopular opinion; brace yourselves — I don’t believe that every story needs to feature these things. Forcing a story to be inclusive when, by its nature, it doesn’t want to be, is actually a disservice to the marginalized voices you’re trying to represent.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying that we should go back to the way publishing used to be. No, what I’m saying is that writers who are distinctly unqualified to write about something outside their own personal experience should STOP DOING SO. There’s an undercurrent in the queries I’m seeing, in the whispered opinions no one is brave enough to voice in public, that writers feel they must chase diversity in order to be published. No. That’s absolutely not true. And I’m sorry, but unless you have the personal life experience to pour into your work, you’ll never accurately portray the reality of whatever marginalized group you’re trying to represent. I don’t care how much research you do, or how many sensitivity readers you have, you cannot do them justice if you do not belong to said group. So move aside, let the writers who can tell those stories tell them and tell them well.
These are opinions I’ve held for awhile now, but have never really made public. Why? Well, did you notice what I did there? I put disclaimers and explanations and the equivalent of written cowering in those last few paragraphs. Because I’m a cis, heterosexual white woman, and therefore what right do I have to say any of this? And this, my friends, is exactly what I’m talking about. This is the subversive toxicity that’s permeating all forms of social media. I haven’t said these things because I’ve been afraid of the torches and pitchforks that will likely follow.
But writing is about expression. Creativity is supposed to be free, to represent a piece of the person’s soul. It’s not supposed to be muzzled with the fear of offending the mob, stifled by the terror of being torn to shreds if you make the wrong move. And yet, that’s exactly what’s happened to my own creativity. It’s the reason this blog has fallen semi-dormant; it’s the reason I’m not writing anymore. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. I am afraid. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing, of unintentionally causing someone pain, of having my life torn apart by the bloodthirsty mob for a single misstep, even one I’d gladly apologize for and learn from. So instead, I hide. I let the fear stifle my creativity until it’s nearly gone completely. Because the toxic environment that has become the online writing community tells me my voice isn’t worthy. My opinions are wrong. I don’t matter.
Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that problematic opinions and stories should not be called out. What I’m saying is that we’ve gone past the point where we’re educating the ignorant, where we’re moving forward, where we’re making the world a better place. Instead, we’re inciting fear; we’re terrorizing those who make mistakes instead of helping them do better, be better. We’ve taken our supportive little community and turned it into a piranha-filled cesspool where only the arrogant, the prejudiced, the assholes feel safe, because they simply don’t care.
Is that really what we want, though? In fighting to be heard, do you, Activist Authors of the World, really want to push away the people who are willing to listen, to correct their ways and be respectful? Do you really want to make them feel so crippled with fear that they stop creating anything at all? To me, that seems like the exact opposite of the intent behind the fight for equality in literature. Perhaps, instead of a social media feed that’s constantly filled with anger, and hate, and vitriol, we should try not being dramatically offended by every little thing. We should try approaching the conversation civilly, without the shaming, the threats, the destruction. We should realize that, in a world where someone will always be offended by something, no writer can ever be 100% perfect; that no one can ever avoid all the possible land mines out there and still sound like a person. Maybe, just maybe, we cut each other some slack and punish only those who truly aren’t willing to grow. But then, what do I know? I’m not one of the marginalized, so I’m not important, right?