When it comes to the topic of diversity, I love referring to Vijay Jojo Chokal-Ingam’s book, “Almost Black: The True Story of How I Got Into Medical School By Pretending to Be Black.” His story is an eye-opener into the complexities of race in the U.S. and in the Western world. It’s a humorous book, considering the source, but it’s quite serious as well.
“I got into medical school by saying I was black. I lied. Honestly, I am about as black as Gandhi.”
One of the things he details is that policies like affirmative action created this opportunity. As his website says, “I shaved my head, trimmed my long Indian eyelashes, and applied as an African American. Not even my own frat brothers recognized me. I joined the Organization of Black Students and used my middle name, Jojo.”
He knew his grades weren’t good enough to get him into medical school but he understood there was a way to get in…by fraudulently saying he was of a different ethnic group. Eventually, while portraying himself to be black, he got into medical school, because he claimed he was black.
Not because of his grades.
Not because of his experience.
Because of his hijacked ethnicity.
Look, if you’re going to be a doctor, I don’t care if you’re covered in green and pink polka-dots – you better be qualified for what you’re doing. Do I really want the student who got into medical school to be my doctor solely because there are marginalized groups of green and pink polka-dotted people? Or, do I want someone who actually knows what they’re doing.
Let’s face it: I’d rather the person who’s going to operate on my heart to, at minimum, know where my heart is located.
In a recent interview on CNBC, Vijay made the comment, (and I paraphrased) “You should get into school based on your grades, your experience, etc. Not on your race.”
Interestingly enough, the interviewer said, “Well, I think we need more diverse ethnicities in the schools like Harvard, Yale, what have you, because I want to see my children grow with different races.”
So, are we looking for qualified people to service our society or are we looking make a colorful mosaic? Which is important?
Let use another example: the movie War Room resonated with a lot of people, Christian and non-Christians alike. People raved about the film. When I went to go see it, it was just something for me and hubs to do. It was either go see War Room or watch another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
By the time I left the theater, I wished I had stayed home and watched that episode about Data’s Daughter.
See, I’m allergic to bad acting. My eyes roll into the back of my head. I sigh. My legs shift from side to side. And most times, when I am exposed to bad acting, my brain automatically goes to find the schematics of H. G. Wells’ time machine so I can get back the ninety minutes of my life I just wasted.
It wasn’t until someone said, “Well, War Room featured a black family as the main characters,” that I said, “Oh. That’s right.” I honestly hadn’t picked up that aspect because of my allergic reaction to bad acting. “They were all black. But what does that have to do with the bad acting I was forced to endure?”
The only thing that kept me in my chair was the message of the movie, about prayer and its power. And even that got a bit muddied because of the acting. I mean, there were times I sat there praying, “Dear Lord, please let somebody in this movie show some acting skill.” He answered my prayer with the grandmother but that’s to be expected.
So, this thing about diversity in speculative fiction – are we simply throwing ethnic groups in there just to do it?
Reading through the posts about diversity and speculative fiction, I want to thank Mike Duran, Travis, and Dan for sharing their input on the topic. I’ve met Mike personally, and have sat in front of him, thinking about how my hubs would kill to have all his thick, luscious, black and silver locks of curly, vivacious hair. Travis, I’ve badgered and stalked over the years because the poor man doesn’t know how to get rid of me. Dan I’ve never met before but from his post, I saw a certain sensitivity to the subject that I connected with.
Mike Duran’s article on Speculative Faith pointed out something that others commented on: when you force diversity, you’re stunting the creative spark. In fact, what begins to happen is that this thing called writing becomes REGULATED by someone else who determines what you, the creator of your own artistic work, should write. This particularly struck me as a very important aspect to this discussion. Are we promoting diversity because we truly need it? Are we promoting it for a political agenda?
Some readers may stop here and say, “But Parker, you’re black! You should be on our side!”
Well, here’s the thing: according to some black people, I haven’t been black in years. Heck, according to this rather humorous (raunchy, Rated R for language & whatnot) clip, putting hot sauce on your food is the deciding factor of being the blackest.
I actually prefer siracha but that’s neither here nor there.
Mind you, this doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced some prejudice, or backlash. But I’m one of those people who have, over time, come to really embrace people as individuals. Yes, there are cultural aspects of different groups that have been marginalized in the past that I feel should be explored in fiction. Yes, it’s great to want to highlight them but to demand them at the exclusion of all else? That’s a problem for me.
Travis’s article (and for those who know me, I’m one of his biggest fans!) pointed out that if everyone is simply writing the same thing like everyone else, just in different ethnic groups, then it’s not really diverse, is it? He makes an excellent point about this. If art and creativity are used, not for expression, but for an agenda, then how is that ‘diverse’?
What if it gets worse: what if a major publisher wouldn’t publish your book because it didn’t meet the diversity checklist?
Publisher: “Parker, I don’t see any representation of green and pink polka-dotted people in your story.”
Me: “It takes place in Korea during the Joseon dynasty. They didn’t meet any green and pink polka-dotted people back then. Green and pink polka-dotted people didn’t become noticeable until after the Fruit Loop virus spread, altering the melanin DNA of humans, causing the—”
Me: “But…I don’t WANT to write about green and pink polka-dotted people. I want to write what I want to write. Do I have to have green and pink polka-dotted people in my story?”
Publisher: “If you don’t, then you’re a polkacist.”
Me: (shivering as the politically correct knife hovers over me) “I’m not a polkacist, I swear. I have two green and pink polka-dotted friends.”
Publisher: “This isn’t about you or your story or your talent. It’s about those green and pink polka-dotted people who don’t have enough fiction written about them.”
Look, I’m all for including diverse ethnic groups in fiction in general, not just speculative fiction. My major works are romance but in my contemporary romances, I write multicultural because that’s what I LIKE to do. I also received backlash and criticism from CHRISTIAN publishers who wouldn’t even touch my interracial love stories because they were interracial. Heck, they wouldn’t even consider it.
However, I know of some authors who don’t want to write multi-cultural and guess what? THEY DON’T HAVE TO.
Diversity should be a choice of the artist. It should not be included just so someone could pat themselves on the back and say, “See? I added green and pink polka-dotted people in my story. I’m better than Parker.”
That’s all well and good, until you hear the publisher say, “I’m sorry but we don’t see representation of the striped and glittery people. Where’s their story?”
I’m glad folks are talking about breaking color barriers. I’m happy that we’re getting more dialogue about it. Lord knows it’s about time. I have to agree with Dan Whyte on that – diversity is a wonderful look into eternity.
However, I’m not oblivious to the long road ahead. I mean, after all, we writers of today are the descendants of history. To make my point, let’s look back at history. There was a time when African tribes sold other defeated tribes into slavery to the Dutch. There was a time when Native Americans owned slaves. There was a time when Japanese doctors during World War II killed thousands of Chinese people and tried to cover it up. There was a time when Irish people were killed for being white slaves. There was a time when Jews were burned in ovens.
If I were to go back in time, I wonder what other sort of racial and ethnic crimes would I find that another ethnic group has done to each other? My point being that no ONE ethnic group holds the banner of hate. We all have carried that thing.
This is the backdrop of our writing. The fact that people are sinners and ALL have come short of the glory of God. EVERYBODY. It’s the one thing we have in common and that we all need a Savior to rescue us from damnation.
That’s a bit more important than what you look like.