Agent Seeks Diversity…But Without Diversity

A couple of weeks ago a bunch  of agents turned to Twitter to share their manuscript wish lists using the hashtag #MSWL.  Writers were encouraged to narrow their searches to have an easier time finding agents interested in their genres (e.g., #MSWLwomen’s fiction” or “#MSWL diversity”).

When I searched “#MSWL diversity,” I found several tweets seeking something like “diversity where diversity is NOT an issue.”  And now I have some thoughts.

First of all, I get what they are saying.  They want a story with diverse characters that doesn’t focus on discrimination, identity crises, or the general struggle of being black/gay/disabled/[INSERT DIVERSENESS HERE].   I get that.  I myself wish there were more books, movies, shows that reflected black life, which involves more than a march to Selma.

The movie “The Kids Are Alright” is a great example of the type of thing I’m looking for when it comes to diversity (not sure about the agents).  Basically, it shows a family w/ lesbian parents dealing with talking back teenagers and marital issues- it’s a movie relatable to everyone.  HOWEVER, the plot of that story could not have been told but for the fact that they were lesbians.  Those things together are why I think it’s great.

So my first question is, are the agents who request “diversity where diversity is not an issue” asking for a story like “The Kids Are Alright”?

If yes, then they are probably not getting them because anyone who writes a story like that would not describe it as one where the “diversity is not an issue.”  It’s the diversity issues informing that writing.

If no, then my next question is what do they mean by “diversity where diversity is not an issue”?

If they mean a story with a minority protagonist whose minority status doesn’t play a role, my response is that’s impossible.  Minority-ness doesn’t have to be central, but it’s impossible for it not to play a role.  Remember- white/male/majority privilege is the privilege to not have to think about those things in your daily life.  If a story is written from a minority’s point of view then he or she doesn’t have that privilege and it’s just unrealistic that it won’t come up.  (Especially in fiction, which is so introspective.)

If they mean a story with a white/straight/abled protagonist who has diverse friends and co-workers, then my response is this:  That’s fine, but please don’t pat yourself on the back for bringing diversity to publishing.

There’s nothing wrong with those books, but ultimately, they still reflect a white person’s world.  It’s just a more accurate reflection because they acknowledge that non-white people are in it.  What these agents aren’t doing is publishing diverse voices or portraying the world diverse people live in.  And that’s the perspective that is underrepresented.




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