Six More Bad Arguments Against Social Justice in Speculative Fiction

"But if you include social justice, the fans' junk will literally fall off."

Greetings, social justice adventurers.* If you have been on the internet for more than a few minutes, you’ve probably noticed that people have a lot of bad opinions, especially when it comes to including progressive values in fiction. They claim that such stories never sell, that they are shameless pandering, and other such nonsense. Some people make these arguments sincerely, while others use them as a cover for the fact that they simply don’t want more progressive values in stories. Either way, the arguments are wrong.

I’ve talked about this problem before, but the marketplace of ideas is ever changing, and a whole new crop of bad arguments sprang up while I wasn’t looking. That means it’s time to examine them once again, hopefully saving you a few brain cells the next time you encounter such an argument in the wild. Alternatively, if you’re ever tempted to make such an argument yourself, hopefully I can show you why it’s a bad idea.

1. Pointless Symmetry

Killmonger and T'Challa from Black Panther If you add more women and people of color to stories, then you have to go back and add more white dudes to Black Panther. Are you gonna do that? Didn’t think so.

Pointless symmetry holds up the occasional example of a story that actually focuses on a traditionally underrepresented group as evidence that it would be unfair to push for more diversity in future media. Black Panther is the popular one right now, but there were other stories before it, and there will be others after it. Of course, Black Panther is an ironic choice because it already has more white characters than most superhero films have black characters, but that’s beside the point.

This argument is a fallacy because it misunderstands the reason for having diversity in the first place. As much as regressives might wish it, diverse casts are not the result of a checklist handed down by a shadowy cabal of Hollywood elites/lizard people. Instead, the push for diversity is meant to correct an existing imbalance.

White people have dominated Western media for as long as it has existed.* This is also true of men, straight people, cis people, abled people, etc. If a trait comes with privilege, it has been overrepresented in fiction. When marginalized groups have been represented, it is usually in a negative capacity. It gets worse! In theater and film, marginalized characters are often portrayed by privileged actors. While blackface is frowned on these days, producers are still more than happy to cast straight actors for gay roles, abled actors for disabled roles, etc.

This underrepresentation does real harm. Not only does it mean marginalized folks don’t get to see themselves in fiction or that they see themselves portrayed badly, but also it contributes to the idea that these people are rare and unusual. Diverse stories fight back. They give marginalized audiences someone similar and normalize their existence at the same time.*

By contrast, privileged groups are in no danger of being underrepresented. Black Panther does not hurt white people because we already have nearly every other superhero film ever made.* You can’t simply reverse the dynamics of privilege and expect them to work the same way any more than you can throw a fighter jet into reverse and expect it to fly backward. If by some fluke privileged groups did become underrepresented in fiction, it would be incredibly easy to correct. Privileged creators have an easier time getting their work out there.

2. Straw Man Standards

Geordie and his date from the Next Generation Your desire for more underprivileged characters is wrong because then we’d have to make a character who is black AND disabled. Oh wait.

This is the argument that if you can’t make all your characters part of all underprivileged groups at once, there’s no point. The straw man standard is amusing because the people who make it invariably reveal their ignorance of the real world by whatever combination of traits they choose as their impossible example. They’ll demand to know if you want a character who’s queer, disabled, black, and Native American, somehow not knowing that there are plenty of people with all those traits in real life.

Leaving aside the ignorance of its proponents, this argument just doesn’t make sense. Not only is it perfectly plausible to have a character with lots of underprivileged traits, but also no one has ever said you need to have all of them all the time. That’s why this is a straw man argument: its proponents are setting up an argument no one is making and then making a big show of defeating it. This logical fallacy is worsened because the specific examples they fabricate aren’t actually that extreme.

In retrospect, I suspect this argument is a reaction to the storytelling habit of creating characters with exactly one underprivileged trait. This happens everywhere, but it’s especially common in cartoons from the 90s. These shows have a team with a white girl, a Latino guy, a white disabled guy, etc.* It’s like the creators started with a team of white dudes and then gave each of them one underprivileged trait because having a character who was both female and black would be too out there.

With a generation raised on such entertainment, it’s no surprise that some reactionaries think they can shock us with the idea of characters having two or even three underprivileged traits. GASP!

3. Personal Freedom

Paul and Annie from Misery I just hate it when they force social justice down our throats. People should be allowed to write whatever they want. Freedom of speech!

In this argument, some claim that calls for social justice are hampering a storyteller’s right to self-determination. Wanting more respectful stories is basically the same thing as taking hold of someone’s hands and forcing them to write “T’Challa is our lord and savior” one hundred times.

I love this argument because it attributes so much more power to advocates than we actually have. It conjures a world in which SJWs command armies and can send squads of righteous soldiers to the homes of regressive storytellers. From there, we presumably put them on trial and sentence them to watch Zootopia as penance. Now that’s a power fantasy I can get behind.

In real life, of course, no one is being forced to do anything. This is true of any storytelling discussion, not only social justice issues. No one is being forced to craft an ending that satisfies the promises they made in the beginning or use language that is both evocative and understandable.* When we talk about social justice in storytelling, we’re advocating a best practice. That’s it.

Occasionally, this argument has a follow-up about how even though we SJWs don’t have any actual legal power, we’re still forcing storytellers to accede to our demands via buying habits. When we refuse to purchase works either containing bigotry or made by bigots, we’re starving all the storytellers who don’t accept our agenda. Worse, we even go online and tell creators about our preferences in the hope that they won’t make more bigoted work in the future. What monsters!

Sorry to anyone who espouses this belief, but what you’re describing is just the free market at work. People buy what they want, and in this case a growing number of people want stories with social justice. The only alternative would be for the government to mandate that people buy stories they don’t like, which would violate personal freedom just a bit, don’t you think?

4. Appeal to Realism

The White Council from the Hobbit Film Look, we all agree that Sauron is bad, but I found this article about how hobbits are naturally inclined to be enslaved. Don’t ask for my source.

We’ve all been there. You’re having a good time talking about ways to make a story more progressive, but then someone shows up to tell you, “Well actually, it’s just not realistic for a story to be progressive like that.” Often they’ll name someone else as the source of their information. This comes up a lot in discussions of historical accuracy, but you can also get it when discussing women’s rights, queer visibility, and just about any topic worth talking about.

When this argument comes up, our natural instinct is to drop what we’re doing and spend hours poring over the information or doing our own research if no sources are provided. We have an intense need to show that the argument is wrong and that our progressive values are completely realistic. You don’t have to do that. It’s a waste of your time, and it’s all beside the point.

It’s true that many of these arguments are wrong, frustratingly so, or they’re on such fuzzy topics that it’s impossible to draw any real conclusions from them. But if you spend a bunch of time trying to disprove it, you’ve exhausted yourself for no reason. Even if the claims made are correct, and they sometimes are, they aren’t relevant. We’re talking about fictional storytelling here, not a documentary.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that discrimination based on skin color was hardwired into our biological makeup and would arise in just about any culture where people have different levels of melanin. That’s not true, but imagine that it was. It wouldn’t matter. The vast majority of stories aren’t so focused on the nitty gritty details of neuropsychology that they would benefit from such knowledge. On the other hand, most stories will benefit a lot from a setting in which people of color take center stage without anyone thinking it’s weird. That not only inspires people in real life to be better, but it makes the story easier for audiences of color to enjoy because it doesn’t make them relive the discrimination they face every day.

What proponents of this argument don’t understand is that stories break realism all the time. Do you know how incredibly unlikely it is that a world with the geography of Westeros would produce culture that’s nearly identical to War of the Roses–era England?* That’s incredibly unrealistic, but readers accept it without question. That’s the key with realism in fiction: it isn’t about being a perfect mirror of reality; it’s about making a world seem plausible to the audience. Since audiences are showing again and again that they’re perfectly fine with social justice content, most storytellers don’t need to worry whether they’re being 100% realistic.

5. Edge Cases

Chinese Mathematician Xu Guangqi Yes, fine, it’s true that Asian people aren’t inherently better at math than anyone else, but what if I want to write a story about famous Chinese mathematician Xu Guangqi?

For the edge case argument, someone will take a piece of social justice storytelling advice, work really hard to find a specific scenario where it doesn’t apply, and then claim it as evidence that the advice is meaningless. After all, if a piece of advice doesn’t list every caveat imaginable, it can’t really be true, can it? An old favorite is to bring up Scandinavia in the context of pre-modern European diversity. Edge case proponents will grudgingly admit that much of Europe had people of all different skin tones, but the Nordic countries were all white all the time, and what if they want to write a Nordic story? What then?

The first problem with the edge case argument is that its proponents are spending a lot of brain power coming up with scenarios in which they think they don’t have to address social justice concerns. This is a strong indicator of ulterior motives. Are they actually interested in using this edge case to tell a story, or do they just want to use it as a weapon? And if they actually want to use the scenario they describe, are they going to address the social justice issues that are still present? Sure, they could write a story set in Norway that’s realistically lacking people of color, but are they going to address discrimination against the native Sami people? They’ll probably forget to include that.

The second issue is that while these edge cases are presented as ironclad proofs against social justice, this is rarely the case. For most of them, including more progressive elements is the work of a moment. Nordic countries may not have had the same level of pre-modern diversity that central and southern Europe did, but it would take only a few paragraphs to describe how a Han Chinese merchant family crossed the Silk Road and eventually wound up on Svalbard. They can be friends with the armored bears who were also put there for the sake of the story.

Finally, even when the edge case is legitimate, it’s little more than a piece of trivia. Storytelling is complex, and there are exceptions to every rule. In most scenarios, it’s good to show gender diversity in your settings, but Discworld’s Unseen University is an exception. There, Terry Pratchett is making a deliberate point about how the men in power are useless and self-serving, possessing great influence but never using it to help anyone. For that scenario, it’s important that the wizards are men.*

If an edge case is a legitimate exception to a rule or best practice, then that’s that. There are also rare exceptions to the rule that a story’s ending should satisfy the dramatic issue raised at the beginning. That doesn’t make advice about satisfactory endings null and void. Anyone who thinks an edge case disproves the general rule is going to be in for a rude shock when they actually sit down to write.

6. The No-Win Scenario

The Enterprise's route in the Kobayashi Maru scenario. It’s like the Kobayashi Maru out here. If I don’t include social justice in my stories, I’m called regressive, and if I do, I’m yelled at for getting things wrong. I just can’t win!

The no-win scenario can be phrased two ways. First, someone might claim that there’s no correct choice for privileged authors, that they are condemned whether or not they include social justice in their stories. Second, someone might argue that authors specifically get in trouble for including diversity in their stories because the standards for doing it right are so high. So why should they bother?

The first version is easy to disprove. If it were true and storytellers were equally condemned no matter what they did, then it would be a non-factor. Storytellers should make the choice that’s right for their story, because in this scenario, they’ll be critiqued no matter what they do. We’ve already covered why including social justice makes most stories better.

The second version is a lot more insidious, because it has some truth to it. I’ve even found myself sympathizing with that viewpoint in moments of frustration. It seems like there are so many ways to fail at social justice that it’s safer not to try, but this is an illusion. It’s true that if you do nothing, you can blend into the sea of other privileged storytellers who are also doing nothing, and you are less likely to receive individual critiques. That’s just how the limits of human attention work.

But if critiques are your concern, then doing nothing is no way to escape them. It just means you’ll be part of the general problem, and that gets talked about a lot. Every progressive article targeting the broad problems with media will be referring to your story. Yikes. At the same time, blending in probably won’t work forever. As the long arc of history bends towards justice, the number of storytellers completely leaving social justice out of their works will shrink. As doing nothing becomes less common, those who don’t make an effort will stick out more and more.

Finally, while no part of storytelling is easy, there are lower-risk ways to include social justice in your work. We talk about them a lot on Mythcreants. Maybe you’re not ready for a fantasy setting based entirely on a non-Western culture. That’s fine – you can have your Western-inspired culture and slot a diverse cast into it. These methods are important because no one wants to inadvertently cause harm, and they let us build up our skills in a safe environment.

So if you ever find yourself thinking it would be easier to just throw out all social justice elements and go with the flow, remember that’s not the solution to your problem. Instead, look up some resources for how to include social justice properly.

Congratulations, now you understand the illogic behind another round of regressive arguments. Opposition to social justice is an ever-mutating beast, always ready with a new final form, so it’s important stay on top of this stuff. If you like, you can use this knowledge to win arguments with people on the internet. Or you can simply recognize what the other person is doing and move on, saving your energy for a more productive outlet. Not everyone thrives on yelling at strangers.

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  1. El Suscriptor Justiciero

    > From there, we presumably put them on trial and sentence them to watch Zootopia as penance.

    How in thirtheen thousand hells is that punishment?

  2. Lorenzo Herreros

    It is entirely logical than the vast majority of the cast in X country is of the dominant ethnic group in that country.

    It is completely correct for black panther to have a vast majority of blacks, just like it is completely correct for a movie from the middle ages who happens in germany to feature only white german people, with only white men in positions of power.

    What its inherently wrong is demanding unrealistic things because some people feelings are made of crystal.

    If [insert movie or videogame here] features mainly [insert ethnic group/sex here] because its historically accurate, yet you have a problem with that, it is YOU the one with the problem, not the movie/videogame.

    • Martin Christopher

      Indeed. If you don’t want to read or watch stories that are set in homogenous and unequal settings, then don’t read or watch stories that are set in homogenous and unequal settings.

      There are still better and worse ways to depict the disenfranchised people that are present in the setting of the work, but it’s nonsensical to demand that specific groups have to be included in a story, regardless of the setting or any other circumstances.
      There is plenty of inequality in every setting, even one that features great ethnic and religious homogenity. As long as you deal with that reasonably well, there really is no grounds for complaints. Correspondingly, diversity means nothing if its handled badly.

    • Joe F

      I’m not convinced that the Mediaeval Germany scenario you mention is that realistic – for a start, Germany didn’t exist in the middle ages. The Holy Roman Empire did, and at various points in time covered various bits of Europe. Many people travelled extensively within the empire – Albrecht Durer travelled between Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Italy, if not beyond. Furthermore, he would have been in his late teens when the Caliphate of Granada finally fell, so there were significant populations of Moors in Southern Europe in his lifetime.

    • crimson square

      Actually, it wouldn’t be “completely correct” for a movie from the middle ages that happens in Germany to feature only white German people, with only white men in positions in power.
      Because that would, in fact, be historically inaccurate. Depending on what exactly your setting is, you’d have married-into and fostered nobles, immigrants and travellers, mostly from the surrounding areas, depending on where exactly you’re looking a Slavic minority that actually settled there before the German groups, and women in positions of soft power and as heads of households (also, probably some more different because that’s what I thought of and remembered off the top of my head). You also have (some – not very many, but some) black people in various positions – “Moorish physicians” were very, very highly respected, for instance. Although I think black people were few enough that whether or not a person would meet them was a coin toss – so it would, actually, be the storyteller’s choice in that it’s not unrealistic either way, and therefore actually something you can complain about, since it would be realistic for them to be there.
      So if you’re having a movie set in Germany in the Middle Ages that features only white German men… you’re actually betraying you don’t care about historical accuracy at all and couldn’t be bothered to do research who actually lived there. A lot of them? Sure. Only? No.

      Which… well, neatly illustrates the problem with the Historical Accuracy argument: Most of the time, the people complaining about diversity being historically inaccurate or using that as an argument didn’t bother to research who actually lived there.
      Doesn’t mean you’ve got to include someone from everywhere (for instance, including a Native American in a story set in Medieval Germany would… actually be rather implausible – although that might make for an interesting story?) , but… you should definitely do actual research on who lived there and who could have plausibly gotten there before you bring up any example for historical accuracy.

    • Foxcalibur

      So let’s say you’re using the medieval Holy Roman Empire for your fantasy. If your story is just historical fantasy set on Earth, I assume you will be including African, Middle Eastern, and Caucasian (from the Caucasus Mountains) merchants, diplomats, and travelers and expatriates, right? Likewise, I’m sure you’ll include the trials and tribulations of Jewish and Roma minorities? How the inclusion of magic and dragons and such impacts their lives? Because all of these people helped shape the Holy Roman Empire as it coalesced over most of a millennium to be called Germany.

      If you just base a fantasy setting on the HRE, will you include fantasy equivalents of these peoples? Or just pretend Germanic Culture could have existed as it did historically without being cosmopolitan and polyglot and full of people from all over the world who formed a vibrant and influential minority? Or will you use your fantasy setting to erase some groups (the Jews) and badly stereotype others (the Roma) like Warhammer Fantasy?

      As Oren says, the problem with the “realism” argument is that it’s both not historically realistic and counterproductive. You can pick any era of human history and tell realistic progressive narratives, or use the conceit of fantasy to add a bit of social justice goodness in places where it didn’t appear. FFS, the Warcraft movie sucked butts but they were fine with the Queen of Azeroth being a black woman.

    • Cay Reet

      This is going to be a very long comment, so I apologize right away.

      I always find it highly amusing when people assume that medieval Germany was something of an all-white, completely isulated area. Germany is right in the middle of Europe and a lot of people have passed through it over time. For once, there have always been trade routes all through Europe, from Portugal, Spain, and France in the West to Poland, Russia, and other Eastern-European countries and vice versa. From Italy and Greece in the South to Scandiavia and Britannia in the North and vice versa. And a lot of those routes passed either through Germany or France (or, east to west and vice versa, both). For a while, especially under Charlemagne (Charles the Great), they were even one Empire (his sons split it up again).

      Then we have the Hanse cities, free cities of trade which formed an alliance which traded by ship all through the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, from Russia to Britain and beyond. Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Dresden, and others were part of that. As much as went out also came back, including people from very different countries.

      In addition, a lot of people moved through Germany without asking first, from the Romans over the Huns to the Goths (not the modern ones). The Romans recruited their army from all over their empire, including their colonies in North Africa and Asia Minor – and some of them were posted along the Limes, the border which the German tribes breached often. It’s not unlikely for Syrians and other North Africans to have left their mark. The Huns came by several times and the idea of a relationship between a Hun and a German is ‘likely’ enough to feature in the second part of the Niebelungenlied (not 100% the same as Wagner’s Ring der Niebelungen), where Krimhilde marries Etzel (a stand-in for Attila the Hun). Her family is okay with that, which means any fruits of the union would have been accepted, had they survived. Not to mention, that later on Germany held colonies of their own in Africa.

      If you want a more remote location, I’d go for Scandinavia (but even there, it’s a problem, because you’d deal with the far-travelling Vikings at some point in history). And there’s more to come in the next comment.

    • Cay Reet

      Politically, Germany is even more of a mess in the middle ages and far from an ‘all-white, all-male’ affair.

      Nominally, medieval Germany is governed by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, but that guy doesn’t have a seat of power for the first couple of centuries – no castle, no palace, not even a small hunting lodge. The emperor is always on the move, from the moment he’s crowned in Aachen to his death. He moves from Kurpfalz to Kurpfalz, making local decisions (he’s the only one above the local lord when it comes to any kind of legal problems). And Theophanu, the wife of one of the first German emperors, is not only Byzantine (which makes it highly likely she’s not 100% white), she also hold his office while his son is growing up – against several male relatives fighting for power.

      On the more local level, Germany is a patchwork of kingoms, duchies, earldoms and the like (and stays that way until after WWI). Every local ruler rules by themselves, they are not really bound by any other law until the Emperor passes by on his way through the area. Widows can reign until the oldest child can take over or marry a new lord (which actually would make much more sense in Snow White, which is clearly set in medieval Germany, than the whole ‘she’s more beautiful’ thing – the stepmother doesn’t want to lose her power). The wife of the lord takes command when he’s away in war. Women control the house – the wife holds all keys and commands all servants. There is a lot of power in women’s hands on this level.

      And there’s the topic of the Free Cities. Those are cities with specific rights which do not belong to the local lord, but are self-governed. A lot of power in these cities is usually held by the guilds – the associations of the craftsmen of several crafts. And the widow of a master craftsman has the right to take over the shop and continue his work. Women can hold property and lead shops or inns (crafts are special, because of the master position which only a widow can take apart from a man). And everyone who lives in a free city for a year and a day becomes a citizen, including slaves of several levels who have fled there. Cities are centres of commerce – traders from far away might have set up shop there and become citizens as well. That means among the dignitaries of a free city both women and non-Europeans might be found.

      Yes, on the whole men held more power in Germany in the middle ages. Yes, POC were an exception rather than the rule. But it’s not as easy or as clear cut as suggested here. Homosexuality wasn’t openly flaunted, but logic says it must have existed, because it always has. And we know even of gay rulers who have flaunted their male lover in the face of their wife (hint: it didn’t end well for the king – or his lover -, but not because of the gay sex).

      • American Charioteer

        Thank you for bringing in your knowledge about your own nation, Cay Reet. I was interested so I looked into the diversity of the Roman Empire, and it turns out it is a topic of heated debate even among experts: In summary, the issue is that cross migration is very plausible given the duration of the empire but neither explicitly supported by contemporary documents nor supported by genetics. (Historians are unsure if even North Africans were dark-skinned before Islam opened trade routes to subsaharan Africa. Genetic testing of mummies suggests that Egyptians were always more related to Semetic people, and we know Carthaginians were Phoenician.)

        Of course, historical fiction isn’t and shouldn’t be held to the same standards of proof as history. “It could have been that diverse” is certainly good enough reason to write diversity into a story.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      This thread went to some great places.

  3. Mary Madigan

    If proponents of social justice dream of seeing certain characters in certain settings, there’s nothing stopping them from writing those stories.

    • Cay Reet

      I see you’re flipping #3 here.

      • Mary Madigan

        “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

    • N

      Of course not! And they are writing these stories all the time. However, anti-social justice people don’t always take it well. The reaction to Rue (in the Hunger Games) being black is an example. Also the backlash against that BBC cartoon depicting a black Roman soldier in Ancient Britain even though the Romans had conquered parts of North Africa by then and liked to recruit soldiers from conquered territories.
      Then there’s the new Assassin’s Creed game. The playable characters can be gay. Cue immediate backlash from people arguing that gay people did not exist in Ancient Greece (they did; even if you discount pederasty, both “lesbian” and “sapphic” come from a poetess in love with women; not to mention Plato argued that Achilles was in love with Patroclus). And the maxim of Assassin’s Creed is literally “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” so even a misunderstanding of history doesn’t explain the backlash against this inclusion.
      What I am trying to get at is, people who want social justice in their stories do put it in; but the arguments refuted in this piece are still wheeled out (even when they’re flat out wrong).

      • Mary Madigan

        “Cue immediate backlash from people arguing that gay people did not exist in Ancient Greece” LOL . True, there is nothing stopping people from making crazy arguments like that.

  4. SunlessNick

    Yes, fine, it’s true that Asian people aren’t inherently better at math than anyone else, but what if I want to write a story about famous Chinese mathematician Xu Guangqi?

    Then he still challenges the stereotype, because he’s presumably famous on account of having been way better at maths than the other Asians around him.

    Regarding point 3, I recently heard a nice succinct way to clarify freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not the same as speech having no consequences – this is why retail workers don’t tell you to go fuck yourself.

    • Cay Reet

      Wait, they normally don’t?

      Yes, freedom of speech means the government isn’t going to lock you up or execute you for saying what you think. It doesn’t mean other people can’t use their own freedom of speech to tell you you’re saying rubbish.

  5. N

    Regarding the point about Scandinavia: Vikings regularly travelled upto Baghdad for trade, to the extent that one of the main sources about Vikings from that time was written by a scholar from Baghdad. And Moors from the Iberian Peninsula regularly sailed up to Denmark. ( So there absolutely would have been people of colour and Muslims in Viking-age Scandinavia.

  6. Quinte

    What is the intent of this article? The title suggests that you’re trying to counter arguments against including social justice into fiction. However you readership seems to largely agree with you, so it seems like. What is the actual aim?
    Also, you don’t seem to actually take the arguments serioursly. The tldr of this article: arguments against social justice in fiction are made by bigots.
    Please tell me if I am misrepresenting what you are saying.

    • ~Lcnthrp

      To answer the first part of your question: any member of the readership might at some point want to argue on this subject with someone else. Having these points neatly tallied is very useful for people who share these beliefs, but wouldn’t have the skill to put them to words by themselves.

  7. Michael Campbell

    Here’s an interesting question for people to ask themselves.

    Which is the greater sin?
    The butcher puts his thumb on the scales for all his customers?
    Or the butcher puts his thumb on the scales only for the “________* ” customer?

    The answer you choose will likely be quite enlightening to yourself.

    *fill-in the minority group of your choice, as many times as you like, here.

    • Cay Reet

      The second – because treating one portion of society worse than the rest is more horrible than being a greedy person who cheats on everyone.

      • Michael Campbell

        Well I didn’t intend for people to make a declaration: just think it through.

        It’s actually a very ambiguous question.
        I dare say, you’ld change your tune if I asked; “And what if the minority group member was the mafioso who’s running a protection racket on the butcher’s shop?”

        I don’t know if a hate-crime trumps multiple counts of fraud.
        Hence I’m actually glad I’m not a judge.

        • Cay Reet

          First of all, due to their power, the mafia is not a minority group. Second, if the butcher is doing that with a mafioso, he won’t be able to do it for a long time.

          As Oren said, too, you should look up what minority means before you say something like this.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Incidentally, that’s why I generally prefer the term “underprivileged groups” over “minorities.” Deliberate misinterpretations aside, there are plenty of cases where targets of bigotry are not minorities. Women, for instance.

          • Cay Reet

            ‘Minority’ is a misleading word in some cases. Worldwide, there’s more women then men, but women are underprivileged in many places. There’s also more POC than whites, but still whites hold more power and privilege.

          • Michael Campbell

            Are you sure of that!?!

            How many young Italian migrants turned to “La Famiglia” because they couldn’t find legitimate, gainful, employment within the prejudiced, xenophobic, law-abiding economy?

            Is the mafia really “powerful” or just a culturally-regimented self-help group for a particular people-group within the underclass?

            And why do you say “powerful” when you mean “abusive”?

          • Cay Reet

            I am sure of that and if you spent a few minutes checking in on the past and present of the mafia, you’d know about that, too. Also, how about explaining why you think the mafia actually can be considered a ‘minority?’

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Well, I guess I have to add “deliberately misunderstanding what is meant by ‘minority'” to my next list!

        • Michael Campbell

          Well as I said, fill in as many minority groups as you care to, in the blank space provided.

          I’ld argue that everybody is a member of some minority group.
          Indeed I argue that every human being on the planet, over the age of entry into school, has at some point in their lives, been a disenfranchised minority group member.

          And I’ld point to the success of “The Outsider” as a film motif as proof. It’s universally able to connect to the audience…and there’s got to be a reason for that.

          I don’t think I deliberately misrepresented the term “minority group”. I suspect I just genuinely have a different definition.

        • American Charioteer

          I don’t know if there was a deliberate misunderstanding; many members of the mafia are members of minority groups. An Albanian migrant who faces discrimination may gain power when he joins a mafia but that doesn’t mean he stops being a minority.

          • Cay Reet

            Yes, but in that example, the butcher’s actions aren’t against Albanians, but against members of the mafia. Since the mafia has the power to retaliate, it doesn’t count as a minority group. Members of the mafia might, nevertheless, be members of minority groups.

        • MercuryMuse

          Good points. However, in regards to 6, I can remember one actual case of that happening in real life. Laura Moriarty, when writing her novel “American Heart” (a dystopian novel dealing with the deportation of Muslim citizens), put a lot of effort into making sure her depiction of Muslim-Americans was sensitive and accurate, including doing a lot of research on the subject, talking to actual Muslims and even receiving feedback from Muslim sensitivity readers. And yet, when she got a starred review from Kirkus Press (from a Muslim American woman too!), controversy on social media caused that review to be revoked.

          Frankly, a rational part of me knows that that’s not likely to happen to me. And yet, I still find it terrifying. The thought of putting in so much blood, sweat and tears into a book, taking care each step of the way not to offend, only to land in controversy and everyone calling you a horrible bigot because of something you and several other people didn’t think would be an issue at all? As someone who worried her way through writing a short story, only to be accused of being manipulative for something as seemingly innocent as using colored text, the thought of ending up like Ms Moriarty is enough to make me want to burn everything I ever wrote and never write anything again. And that’s without dealing without the fact that one of my favorite OCs is very much an example of an edge case…

          • MercuryMuse

            Oh no, this wasn’t supposed to be a reply! I’m sorry!

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            It’s no problem, Mercury, these things happen.

            As to your original comment, yeah that sort of thing can happen. It’s possible to be very careful and still get things wrong. But remember, American Hearts is attempting an extremely difficult story. It’s not only touching on real life trauma, it’s touching on trauma that is escalating as we type.

            That’s why we recommend lower risk forms of inclusion, diversity, and other types of social justice. You don’t have to jump straight to a moon landing, there are plenty of less risky ways to do the right thing.

          • Michael Campbell

            For what it’s worth, I too made a reply but placed it in the wrong spot.

            To err is human.

            Plus I’m not even sure this’ll be in the right place.

  8. Adam

    Wow, that is some deep stuff.

  9. Alex McGilvery

    I’m an male, white more or less cis author and diversity is an important part of the settings. I don’t make a list of “people to include” but rather think about a character and imagine what making them a POC, or gay, or a woman, or some combination. I know for a fact I will get some things wrong and get criticized for it. But then I get criticized anyway, so what’s the problem? I would rather be flamed by bigots than the people our very limited view of the world marginalizes.

    The reality is I am sure my books are better stories. I have a character realize she’s never looked past ‘black’ to see the variety of dark-skinned peoples. She’s the same person a quiet conspiracy limits her power because she’s a woman. They are small things in the story, but they weave into it in unpredictable ways making the plot less predictable.

    • Michael Campbell

      When Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a child he contracted T.B. and spent over a year in bed.
      He was visited by the local minister who game him books. Not great tomes on theology, as there wasn’t any indication that he’s enter the priesthood. Rather they were just ordinary every day novels.

      And after that Desmond Tutu formulated an idea that he could never shake for the rest of his life.
      Specifically that “on the inside, white people were just the same as black people”.
      And it’s influenced him every since.

    • Cay Reet

      It’s really not about ticking off boxes for me, either. I often ask myself what making a character gay, a POC, a woman, or some other underprivileged group could do to the story. How it might change their onlook or how it might change other people’s reactions to them etc. That usually makes for a much more interesting story. And, yes, I get things wrong as well, that can’t be avoided. But good critic, from people who know more about the group in question than I do, can help me write them better next time, so it’s wanted. And people who just want to put me down, they can go hang, as far as I’m concerned.

  10. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s Note: I have removed a comment for ableist insults. That doesn’t fly here.

  11. Dave L

    >But if critiques are your concern, then doing nothing is no way to escape them.

    If you’re overly concerned about critiques of ANY sort, you probably shouldn’t let the general public read your stuff

    • Cay Reet

      True, but if you’re not concerned about critiques at all, not may people might read your stuff, even if it’s out for the general public. Good critique can actually help you get better at writing and weaving stories.

  12. Annalena

    What I got from this is people arguing “but what if it doesn’t historically makes sense/it doesn’t fit the narrative/I just don’t want to include diversity, and you saying “well fuck, that doesn’t count”.

    Using the Scandinavian argument, sure, you COULD include that Asian family who somehow wandered into Viking lands and settles down there, but why the fuck would you do that? Is the story ABOUT this family and their struggles in these foreign lands with strange culture, or is the story actually about something completely different and this family is just kinda there because diversity?? Because then you just wasted your time doing these mental gymnastics of how these people came to be there just to have them at the edge of the plot, not really contributing anything to the story.

    • Cay Reet

      There are a lot of different kinds of diversity. In a lot of stories already including more female characters than the ‘token woman’ would be diversifying the story. In a Scandinavian setting, including someone with darker skin or someone with Slavic roots (the Vikings did a lot of trading with Eastern Europe and specifically Russia in latter periods, they also regularly met Arabian traders who came up the rivers they went down) is possible (Asian is a stretch, I’ll freely admit that).

      Basically, diversifying always means ‘as many different types of people as you can include in your setting instead of just your regular group of white guys doing their usual stuff.’ Add more women. Add a gay person or two. Add someone with a disability (but research it well beforehand).

      • Yora

        Diversity should mean including all the members of a given society in stories set in it. Not to put people from other societies into the society of thr story’s setting.

        • Cay Reet

          The Vikings I mentioned travelled far and they did sometimes bring back slaves (who had a chance of being freed at some point), so there is historical base for that.

          The members of a society should always be the majority in a setting (all types of members the society has), but that doesn’t mean people from other societies can’t be part of the story as well – humans sometimes travel and they always have.

          • Dinwar

            As I recall, there was a group of Norse (“Viking” was something you did, not a group of people) that invaded the Byzantine Empire. The Empire being, well, and empire, this brought in a LOT of people, so they’d run into all sorts of folks. For example, China and Rome had diplomats in one another’s courts.

            The issue you run into is that historic accuracy makes a story seem less accurate to most audiences. Writing a story about Rome that includes Chinese diplomats, semi-automatic weapons, and mechanized factories (all of which are well documented) will ruin suspension of disbelief.

          • Cay Reet

            You are right, of course, although it depends a little on the genre, too. If you write alternate history, eveything goes…

            I was merely pointing out that there are ways to include even more diversity, but in a Norse setting, some women in more central roles and, perhaps a few people with a disability (loss of a limb or an eye could happen relatively quickly, after all) would already mean adding a lot of diversity to the usually very much straight white male hero group.

  13. Dvärghundspossen

    I wanna say something about this: “While blackface is frowned on these days, producers are still more than happy to cast straight actors for gay roles, abled actors for disabled roles, etc.”

    I really don’t think the gay-straight distinction is comparable in any way to black-white or abled-disabled. Gay and straight people don’t look different, for starters.

    You made a comparison with race and abledness here, but I most often see people lumping gay-straight together with trans-cis, and talk about how horrible it is that Hollywood casts straight and cis actors in gay and trans roles – but that’s not comparable either.

    When trans characters are played by cis actors, it’s usually cis actors of the wrong gender; most common by far are cis men playing trans women. This strenghtens the VERY damaging prejudice that trans women are just men dressing up.
    Furthermore, this only goes in ONE direction. Trans actors never get to play cis characters. When trans characters too are played by cis actors, this obviously makes the situation very difficult for trans actors.

    Having straight actors play gay characters don’t play into any similar prejudice, and it goes BOTH ways. Just off the top of my head, straight characters Barney Stinson, Count Olaf, Malcom Merlyn, Lindsay Bluth, Vanya Hargreeves, and Josh Chan are all played by gay actors. If I were to sit down and Google, I’d obviously find more examples.

    It’s really not obvious to me that a norm according to which only gay actors can play gay roles would really help gay actors that much, because it’s likely that this norm would also bring with it the idea that straight characters must be played by straight actors. Ellen Page already complained in interviews, before she got the role as straight Vanya Hargreeves, that after she came out as a lesbian she became pigeonholed by lots of people as a lesbian actress who can only play lesbian characters from now on. Do we wanna strengthen this idea?

    Even apart from the above problems, the suggestion that you got to be gay to play a gay character rubs me the wrong way… Like, is gay attraction and gay love so different from the straight variety that a straight actor couldn’t convincingly portray it? Actors pretend to be attracted to and in love with people they’re not actually attracted to or in love with ALL THE TIME. Are we saying, though, that there’s some kind of gulf between straight and gay that makes a straight actor pretending to be gay OR a gay actor pretending to be straight SOOOO different from, say, an actor who’s only into young geeks pretending to be attracted to a middle-aged macho man?

    • Cay Reet

      You certainly do have a point there, especially with the discussion which has been blooming about the Batwoman series. The actress cast to play her is lesbian (as the character), but not Jewish (as the character) and people are now complaining about that. I wonder where that will end. Or where it should end.

      I can see the point when it comes to ethnicity and to disability – both are visible to a certain degree and it probably is pretty difficult for an able-bodied actor to really know what it is like to be deaf or blind (two cases in which the disability is not immediately visible) or to have a mental disability. A disabled actor who does have that disability will surely have it easier playing it right. Not to mention cases in which a character is, for instance, missing a limb. I know an able-bodied actor can play such a role, especially today with greenscreen and all, but it would be better to have an actor with that actual disability play the role, because they will, I’m sure, play it more realistically.

      When it comes to sexual preference (or religion, for that matter – and I know ‘being Jewish’ can be both religion and ethnicity), there’s no clear visible clue. As a matter of fact, when it comes to gay or lesbian characters, there probably shouldn’t be a visible clue. The characters shouldn’t be defined by their sexual preference and be cookie-cutter stereotypes. And actors do, indeed, often pretend to be in love with someone they actually loathe behind the scenes or are indifferent to. It’s part of acting. So, as long as there’s no on-screen gay sex (which cis actors would probably find a bit more difficult to do), I don’t really see much of a problem with having a straight actor in that role. And given how many studios shy away from gays in general (because of the Chinese market and the conservatives in the US), we’re decades, if not more, from a gay sex scene in a regular movie.

      I see, of course, where the demands come from – it’s important to make minorities visible in media. We need by far more LGTB+ or disabled characters on screen and we need to see POC characters that aren’t just stereotypes much more often (“Into the Spiderverse” did well with Miles and his family, I think, but even here we have a huge number of white spiders and only one POC – two in case Spider Noir is also not white under that mask – and one animal).

  14. Dvärghundspossen

    Yeah there’s some point at which it becomes absurd to demand that the actor is a PRECISE match for the character…

  15. Yora

    I fully believe that you can’t win.

    Though to me that is an argument to ignore accusations of appropriation. I’d rather be accused of appropriation than participate in segregation.

  16. Lionheart

    Freedom speech matters. I think authors should be able to write about whatever they want. If you don’t like that there isn’t enough social justice or progressive values on display then go buy and read another story. Better yet, write on yourself. Just saying that nobody likes to read a story that is preachy. Whether it is progressive or conservative doesn’t matter. Weave your values into your story without trying to preach. Some people like it and buy it. Some people wont. Some people dont like progressive values on display and some don’t like conservative values on display.

    • Arix

      You assume that there are only two options – regressive or preachy. In reality, of course you can have social justice without being remotely preachy. There’s nothing preachy about having a main character who happens to be black, or gay, or neurodivergent, or whatever other trait (or traits!) you want to give them. You don’t need to shove social justice in people’s faces to include it.

      By the by, freedom of speech just means you can’t be arrested for the words you say. It doesn’t make your opinions immune to criticism.

      • Cay Reet

        True, there are many ways to create diversity and it doesn’t have to be in a preachy way. You don’t have to slap people in the face with your female, black, lesbian character and say ‘see? see? this is not a straight white male’.

        Indeed, freedom of speech means the government can’t punish you for your opinion – unless, say, in today’s North Korea or the Third Reich, where the wrong opinion could make you vanish from the face of earth. Everyone else also has the right to express their opinion, including any critique about yours.

    • SunlessNick

      I think authors should be able to write about whatever they want.

      Nothing in this article says they shouldn’t. Indeed most of its content is only relevent if you’re dealing with people who are arguing that social justice *shouldn’t* be in stories (funny how no one ever accuses *them* of being against free speech).

      • Prince Infidel

        Just here to thumbs up SunlessNick’s comment.

  17. Zhireve

    As someone who hasn’t seen all of the shows and movies the pictures come from (title picture, #3, and #5 in particular), does someone mind explaining the context behind them? Or are the stories not that important to the article? Thanks.

    • Cay Reet

      I don’t think the title picture is very important for the context of the article (above the fact that “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, the show the picture was taken from, was among the first action shows with a female lead).

      #3 is from the movie “Misery”, based on a Steven King novel in which a fan forces an author to continue a story the way she wants it to continue, so this does fit with the context of ‘you can’t force me to write my stories in a second way’ (unless you have them at your mercy).

      #5 is the portray of a Chinese mathematician (the name’s under the picture) and that person clearly was better at math than average, yet that probably had nothing to do with them being Asian. If you were to make a movie or write a story about him, he would fall into the stereotype, yet it would still be the historical truth. That is no argument for just using the stereotype in general, though.

      All of the pictures in articles here are to underline the context, but they’re not meant to be all the text is about, they’re just an example at best.

  18. H.M. Turnbull

    I’ve had to deal with so many right-wingers making exactly the sorts of fallacious non-arguments you’ve exposed in this article. A while ago I even had to disable all comments on my website after one too many comments from rape apologists accusing me of “censoring” their “freedom of speech” (which really just means that I criticized stories that glorified rape culture).

    I’ve had some particularly traumatizing experiences with far-right libertarians who relied on the Appeal to Realism in particular. After arguing back and forth for a few minutes, they always seemed to resort to defending the holocaust or something equally horrific.

    I’m glad Mythcreants is taking a stand against these reactionaries! Kudos.

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