“Why is diversity important in speculative fiction?” There are a few different answers to this, because it is not only important, it’s becoming increasingly important every year.
1) Diversity really is good. I know this answer gets blown off, but it’s true. However, it’s also a fast and easy answer, and doesn’t really get to the heart of the “why.”
2) Because readers want to see characters who reflect themselves and their lives. This is the money answer, and readers vote with their entertainment dollars. Readers, more and more, really are showing increasing interest in seeing a more diverse reflection of life in genre fiction – they want to see MC’s who are the single mother, the black dragon slayer, the space waitress, the gay squire. The world, and the reading public, is not made up of straight white farm boys and princes, and they’re getting bored with reading about them. So why not add richness, depth, and realism to our fiction while attracting readers who are clamoring for just such diversity, because they want to see characters they can identify with?
3) Because these are the stories that don’t get told. And here is the social justice answer – to be honest, it’s our answer. Media has traditionally “white-washed” out most of the rest of society in favor of the perspective of the Straight White Male default. Things are getting better, slowly, as eyes open and we realize a more inclusive media is a good thing, but the fact that we still wrangle in discussions like this shows that we are, indeed, still far off from where we need to be as a genre as far as recognition of social issues goes. Within the umbrella terms of “diversity” and “equality” lie stories that until recently were only told in dark corners. We, as writers, have the opportunity to bring them into the light. Just think, we who so often bemoan the dearth of new stories, how many stories wait unheard? Dark stories, many of them, but also stories of hope, perseverance, and determination. And we don’t even need to make blatant social statements out of our plots or characters to tell them – in fact, it’s really better if we don’t. All we need is for our characters to say, “Here I am. I am a person, for better or worse.” I think this is especially true for those who write YA, when young readers are desperately searching for characters who look like them, struggle like them, hurt like them. They don’t need yet another heroic farm boy, they need an MC like them – be they awkward or brown or gay or gender-questioning.