The lack of diversity in the Oscars has re-sparked conversations about diversity in media or, more accurately, the lack thereof. We want a variety of characters that represent all people—characters we can identify with—but in the process of pursuing that goal, too often we mistakenly assume that the value of fictional characters lies solely in our ability to self-identify with that character.
One of the most important functions of stories has always been to offer a mirror into our own lives by giving us characters that we see ourselves in. However, this virtue of stories should always be coupled with the power stories have to show us experiences wholly unlike our own. Stories should foster empathy as much as self-awareness, and diversity is necessary for both.
I came across a short news story today about a young black girl who was tired of only reading about white boys and their dogs in school and was raising a book drive for stories about black girls. Her proactive plan to bring more diversity to her school’s library is admirable, but I’m so very sorry to hear that her only response to Where the Red Fern Grows is to be sick of reading about characters with lives so different from her own. It is not unlike the complaint of white boys that Star Wars now lacks any characters for them with its female and black protagonists. However, these stories are for everyone; they speak to our universal human nature as beings made in the Image of God, and they can be both a mirror to reflect ourselves and a window into a stranger’s life.
I don’t think that we’ll ever have truly diverse stories until we can all come to say that we want more diversity in media not only to see more people like us but also to see more people unlike us.