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We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.
Whether or not you agree with their assertion that the types of people listed above are underrepresented, and whether or not you like their language for describing the issue, the group certainly has statistics on their side, at least when it comes to kidlit. And you don't have to look far in our world to see the problems created when various groups misunderstand and mistrust one another. Literature can be a bridge for building cross-cultural understanding and empathy.
Perhaps you don't write kidlit. But do you write nothing but characters who resemble you in most ways? If so, it might be time to rethink that.
It's true that some communities are fairly ethnically homogeneous. But even they will naturally contain some of the groups mentioned above. (I'd note WNDB doesn't discuss the ageist bias against elderly characters).
So how does one go about building fictional worlds that aren't Mayberry or Stepford?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Learn what the stereotypes areIt can be easy to think we're successfully diversifying our casts by including a brainy Asian best friend or a wise wheelchair-bound mentor. But both of these characterizations are based on standing stereotypes about these groups--that Asians are naturally top scholars and that disability brings magical powers of wisdom or observation. Stereotypes can be hard to identify in our own thinking because they are ingrained expectations and ways of interpreting situations that are constantly reinforced by majority culture. They are the "beam in your own eye" that prevent you from seeing correctly (to quote from Matt 7:3).
A good place to start educating yourself is the TV Tropes "Magical Minority Person" page, which describes numerous stereotyped depictions of diverse characters often shunted into supporting roles.
Read diverse booksYou very well may have to go outside your genre to find work by authors of other ethnicities, or at least to bookshops outside your neighborhood.
Listen to the cadence of books translated from other languages. Look for diverse thematic concerns. What values are rewarded and vices punished in communities unlike your own?
Expand your studyDo you find yourself drawn to particular cultures and subcultures? Read all you can about them, and seek out all their modes of creative expression. Learn all you can about historical shaping forces and how those play into a culture's self-concept and dreams for tomorrow.
Think about how what you learned could press against or defy certain stereotypes about that group. Consider what traits might marginalize a person even in that minority, and what traits would mark him/her a "winner" or leader.
Listen and askIf you're able to get to know individuals that belong to the minority group you'd like to depict, be genuine and vulnerable. Don't treat them like lab specimens. Ask them questions you would any friend you'd want to know more deeply and be equally willing to share your own stories.
Where did you grow up? What was that like?
What did you love and hate most about your childhood?
What do you like to do for fun as a kid?
What careers did you aspire to?
Who were your heroes?
How did you fit in or stand out in your family, school, neighborhood?
What "borders" have you had to cross in your life? What has that been like?
What bugs you about mainstream media portrayals of your neighborhood?
What do you wish outsiders knew about your community?
If you develop a character based on your friend's stories, let the friend beta read before you finalize your manuscript, to ensure your depiction isn't off base.
EncampIt's difficult to do another culture justice until you've inhabited it yourself. There's only so much that reading books, watching movies, listening to music, and even interviewing can provide. If you find you want to take the big leap and write a protagonist from a group to which you don't belong (versus a supporting character), it may be necessary to live for a time among that group. Actually walking through a neighborhood, learning its smells and flavors, feeling your heart thump at its dangers or soar at its delights--those experiences will give you the most realistic details to use in your work. Otherwise, you're likely to resort to stereotype and trope.
The people you meet and observe day after day will provide the best characterization details, the most accurate lingo for dialogue, and the most compelling backstories. Just be sure to create composites of several real people, or disguise them by changing key details (age, gender, appearance).
Have you written characters outside the cultural groups to which you belong? What tips would you add?