Thought: Diversity Reader

In 1852, a decade before the American Civil War, Harriet Becher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published. Since then, the novel has become part of the literary canon, and while it is not an example of a well-written text, its influence on how people viewed slavery is undeniable. It has even been suggested that Stowe’s novel, in one way or another, sparked the Union-Confederacy war of 1862.

But is Uncle Tom’s Cabin really beyond dispute? The answer is no. It never was and never will be.

Stowe’s portrayal of people of color is riddled with many racist stereotypes and descriptions. This is true of both the character of Topsy and Uncle Tom himself. The author wrote her story based on her Christian beliefs. Still, her internalized biases and understandings of slavery and the people involved in the system often resembled those who fought against the abolition of slavery.

When Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, there were no Diversity Readers. Of course, there weren’t. At that time, American publishing was still in the process of becoming a regulated market, and people often craved sensationalist stories. It didn’t matter whether the content of the stories was true or untrue, offensive or misleading.

Why am I telling you this somewhat long-winded story? Because writers in 1852 had no choice but to rely on their worldview and moral standards. There were exceptions, of course. Charles Dickens, for example, deleted anti-Semitic descriptions after a Jewish critic had pointed them out to him. But in 2022, nearly two hundred years after Stowe’s story, I am surprised, to say the least, at the reactions of some writers who are offended by the recommendation, if not the very existence, of a Diversity Reader.

I’m putting the cart before the horse. So, what is a Diversity Reader? It is an additional (beta) reader or editor who focuses on the representation of marginalized groups and provides feedback when offensive content is included.

Yet in 2022 and after so many campaigns, civil rights movements, and educational efforts, after debates about the Me Too or Black Lives Matter movements (among others), writers are still arguing against a Diversity Reader because they see it as censorship. Really now? Haven’t we learned our lesson yet? All the werewolf and mafia stories where a woman must first go through the muck, emotionally and physically, to find the love of her life in her (male and muscular) tormentor, unfortunately, suggests we haven’t learned anything.

Of course, a novel can contain themes of racism, sexism, and discrimination. However, when a text turns into an author’s racist, sexist, and/or discriminatory bigotry, we’ve got a problem here, folks. In all seriousness.

It’s high time to step down from the white, heterosexual (Eurocentric) worldview throne and listen to people who, based on their experience and expertise, know more but, more importantly, know better. This benefits not only our writing but also us as human beings. Or do we want to stagnate in our social understanding? I hope not.

Personally, I want to evolve as a writer and a human being, and that includes absolutely not wanting to offend anyone just because I don’t know better.

Big words, yes. But rest assured that I want to live up to them.

Do I need a Diversity Reader for my writing? The answer is probably yes.

One thought on “Thought: Diversity Reader

  1. Complete agreement – and if I never see another female MC immediately attracted to an abusive-but-oh-so-handsome male, be he vampire or werewolf or construction worker…it’ll be too soon


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