Let’s Talk About: My Problem With The Word ‘Diverse’

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I don’t think it needs to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: I’m pro-diversity, and there’s no buts about it. Heck, do you remember when I talked about why I needed representation as a child and need it now as an adult? That still stands; nothing has changed. I still need representation.

However, the more I hear it, the more ‘off’ the word ‘diverse’ feels to me. I keep hearing how people want more ‘diverse’ characters, and how this book had a ‘diverse’ character which made the book awesome. I don’t doubt those opinions (on the contrary, I am confident they are pure in intention) but it is strange seeing characters – representations of people – described as ‘diverse’.

Before I delve into my qualms with the word ‘diverse’ and how it is used to describe characters, I would like to briefly talk about the Other and Othering.

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The Other and Othering

For those who are not familiar with the term, when we talk about the ‘Other’, it is essentially the opposite of the self, opposite of ‘us’, or opposite of sameness.

In Sociology, we talk about the ‘Other’ quite often because it plays a big part in how we talk about social identities. So, it’s not about how you, as an individual, personally identify; it’s about how groups of people establish social identities through agreement, disagreement, and negotiation. Think about a community that you belong to, or even your national identity: what does it mean to be part of that group? Therefore, when we talk about the Other, it is often described as what we are not.

Ever heard of the phrase, ‘we are not like them‘? Regardless of who them is, this is a form of Othering – more of than just a word, the Other is an idea that creates division and separation, an idea that defines an identity by what something is not. For example, in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Oceania is perpetually engaged in a war with two other superstates. As seen in the book, the Party utilizes othering to fuel the hate, fear, and subsequently war to further the Party’s propaganda and ideology. In other words, we don’t know anything about the people of the other superstates, but what people do know is that they are not us, are apart from us, we should fear them and hate them, and they are thus the enemy.

On a wider scale, othering has been used historically – and even in more recent times – to create political and cultural divisions, and othering helped make cultural imperialism and colonialism so successful. (For further reading, I highly recommend Edward Said’s Orientalism.)

The takeaway message: othering perpetuates division and dehumanizes the people who are ‘othered’.

So how does this relate to ‘being diverse’?

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Who is ‘diverse’ anyway?

Who are ‘diverse’ people? When someone says, ‘this book was good, it had a diverse character!’ I think what they are actually saying is, ‘this book was good, it had a character that was non-white/non-heterosexual’ – and so on.

On a very personal level, it sounds very weird to hear the phrase ‘diverse character’ being thrown around. As a woman of colour, does that make me a ‘diverse’ person? If going by its popular definition, yes it does, but I argue that it shouldn’t. To call me, or anyone, a ‘diverse’ individual is a form of Othering. It preserves the division and difference between me, a ‘diverse’ person, and the person who is ‘non-diverse’ (i.e. white, heterosexual, etc.). It upholds that I am the ‘different’ one, that I am the ‘Other’ to an in-group or normal or default. To go further, it upholds the institutions of power that make me an outsider and an Other. Think about it: Who decides what is ‘diverse’? What position are you in when you are calling something ‘diverse’? Why is it ‘diverse’?

I am not a ‘diverse’ person. I am a person with social identities that may be different to you, you are a person with social identities different to me, but I am not an Other.

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Bringing it back: Why diversity matters

We promote, advocate, and fight for diversity so that we have more and better representation of individuals of all backgrounds, all sexualities, and all social identities. Using the phrase ‘diverse’ characters still maintains an (not necessarily malicious) us-versus-them and is ultimately counter-productive. After all, the purpose of diversity is to be inclusive and to normalize less-represented groups so that it leads to more inclusion and more representation.

After all, as Ava Duvernay, director of Selma, very eloquently stated, representation of a variety of groups – especially your own – is a very emotional issue. Representation and seeing yourself being represented in the media is a very emotional thing. People advocate for diversity and better representation because it is meaningful to them. We need to make the emotional connection between representation and the ‘diversity’ movement to why ‘diversity’ is important to people personally. We need to deeply reflect on why, beyond that it is just ‘important’, diversity matters.

My suggestion: don’t tiptoe around it, don’t call a person or character ‘diverse’, and just say it for what it isMore Happy Than Not was a story about a gay teenage boy of colour living in poverty and For Today I am a Boy was a story about a Chinese trans woman. Simons vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda was about a gay teenage boy, and The Joy Luck Club was about Asian-American women. Some books have diverse narratives – multiple stories to be told, and ‘diverse’ used in this instance is fine by me. Some books have important stories to tell, and sincerity in what they tell and represent is necessary and highlights the potential impact of their narratives.

And I think that’s what it comes down to: having our stories being told, having stories not often told to be told so that people can understand us. So we can see ourselves and others in the media. So we can pave a way towards more acceptance and understanding of people different from us. So we can celebrate those differences.

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Let’s talk about it!

These are thoughts that have been stewing in my mind for a long time now. To reiterate, I am pro-diversity – I want to see more narratives, more stories, more dialogue about people of colour, people who are LGBTQA+, people with disabilities, and people from all walks of life. What I do have a problem with is how the word ‘diverse’ is used to describe people, and the implications the word can have. In saying that though, I recognize my opinion is imperfect; this isn’t a concrete opinion piece – it is fluid and I am working on developing my ideas better.

So, friends:

  • What do you think about the word ‘diverse’ being used to describe a person or a group of people?
  • If we don’t use ‘diverse’, what other words could we use?
  • Do you feel anything when ‘diverse’ is being used to describe you/people like you?

Share with me your thoughts below; thank you all for reading.


UPDATE 16/08: Thank you to everyone for your support, for sharing your thoughts, and for just being generally awesome people. If you have the time, Naz from Read Diverse Books shared with me a post, and I think all of you should read it. It’s called, ‘What does the term ‘diverse’ mean to you?’

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93 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About: My Problem With The Word ‘Diverse’

  1. I think this is a brilliant take on something I’ve never actually thought of before. I don’t think I’ve ever seen just one character described as diverse, but I have seen a story itself being called that, and now I think on it, that’s a strange way to describe it. A cast overall can be diverse, but I think it’s a word used a lot for basically the reason you said.

    I think I like your take on it as well. Just call them for what they are. Or maybe we could say “this character is representative of…” I don’t know. It’s something I’d have to think more about. But I do think that when the word diverse is used for everything it takes some of that power away from what representation is and how valuable it can be. We risk making it a general thing, that something is diverse, rather than pointing out what it offers specifically for certain people.

    From my own experiences I’ve sometimes felt a little uncomfortable when people like me are included in stories because I feel like it’s done only to get that label, rather than because it fits or because it can be written accurately. Like they’re just shoehorned in there so it’s not exactly the same as every other book or story or whatever. Like I’m the token somethingorother, which goes to what you said about being the Other. But that’s why I’m glad for posts like this and others that explain how to include such things respectfully and make it work.

    • Thank you for your very thoughtful response, Kay!
      Generally, I am fine with ‘diverse’ being used to describe something that isn’t monolithic, but when you’re using ‘diverse’ being used to describe one character… then it’s weird to me. I usually see this in casual discussion like on Twitter rather than in a book.

      I agree with you. As well as losing power, it loses meaning too. Which narratives are we talking about? Who are we talking about? ‘Diverse’ doesn’t adequately answer those questions though I see how it’s convenient.

      I share the same feelings! But more often than not, I’m happy seeing representations of Asian characters purely because I feel deprived and will happily cling to anyone similar to me.

      Again, thank you for leaving a comment. I appreciate it!

  2. I both agree and disagree with you. Like, I don’t like the term ‘diverse character’ but also it’s just like you said, we don’t have constant representation, so I think it’s important to point out books with characters that share our identities. And because we don’t have that representation when there is a non-majority character I think it surprises people sometimes ya know? I think people need to get used to the fact that the world is full of many different people and at the end of the day people in the majority need to get used to characters not always looking like them. Maybe that’s a bit harsh but its the reality

    • Oh absolutely. I agree with you there. My point is that we shouldn’t use ‘diverse’ to describe singular characters. And as I pointed out, saying e.g. ‘this book explores a diverse number of issues and characters’ is fine by me because it would be an appropriate umbrella term.

      I don’t think that’s harsh at all! In fact I agree with you completely and we should not ask for anything less!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. ❤

  3. I love this post and agree that the word “diverse” can often bring about more feelings of segregation. Although it’s important to promote such books and characters, more important is to have an accurate representation of all types of characters and not highlight them with the word “diverse”.

  4. You know I already love the way you discuss these things, CW. Thank you for this post; you always amaze me with how eloquent and detailed you are in your discussions.
    Specifically for Western culture, aside from how calling someone else/another story “diverse” by virtue of it not being “the norm” (of being white, heterosexual, etc.), it lumps everyone who isn’t of that norm together as well and blends their identities together. This makes your solution works too, where we actually identify what others’ identities are.

    This is a bit off tangent, but the matter of making things more diverse has never been terribly prevalent in Eastern countries from what I’ve seen; there is acceptance, sure, but never quite much of a push for it. Discrimination still happens, and it seeps into your bones, but people are concerned with the norm.
    I think this discussion has rooms to grow and expand especially with the huge activism movement in the West, but I find it interesting that it mostly just kinda stays in the West. Perhaps the reason why it’s talked more about amongst English-speaking people is because those people have the tools to discuss these things and care enough about it because of the nature of things being less homogenous. Only when we’re aware of the problems and care enough about it do we really push for change.

    • LINH!! Thank you, your words mean so much to me, SERIOUSLY.

      Yes, you make such an excellent point and that’s almost like a double-whammy. I don’t think it’s enough to talk about books and describe them as only ‘diverse’ – what does that even mean? Everyone’s experiences are so different and this word doesn’t do it justice. And plus, we should celebrate people’s identities by being open and straightforward about it.

      I think you make a good point about West vs East. I think the biggest difference is whether a country has a history of colonialism. I feel the difference when I go overseas and visit my family. Race dynamics and representation have a different feel and approach – neither better or worse, but just different I guess.

      It definitely does, and this is a discussion that needs to be had in more spaces with different perspectives. And of course, because I was born and raised in a Western country, it’s not for me to talk about how this happens or can happen in non-Western countries.

  5. Ahhhhh, I’m in love with this post!! It drives me crazy when people say hey, added bonus points to this book for having a gay character or when people write reviews about a book saying hey, this book has a trans and gay character! talking as if the author just ticked off boxes to include diverse characters.
    And I think it’s also harmful because just because you are inclusive does not mean you’re doing the character justice. Like for example, I read It Ends With Us and it has a gay character but I think she wrote a very harmful and stereotypical representation of a gay character where he just serves to be the “gay best friend” essentially.
    But to your point where you talk about the fact that diversity depends on the person, I think it has more to do with the groups (no matter who you are) that have been largely underrepresented in books. So even if you are Asian or whathaveyou and don’t consider yourself the “Other” it still remains a fact that Asian Americans are still underrepresented.

    • Hi Carolyn! I won’t lie, even though they don’t mean any harm when they say that, it irks me a little bit. As you said, we should be thoughtfully engaging with a variety of narratives meaningfully. When we don’t do that, I think it becomes a missed opportunity to really engage with a story and what the author may be trying to say.

      AH YES, you’ve touched on something so important… I want to write a discussion post on this (maybe later when I don’t sound like a broken record about diversity, lmao) but YES not all representations are perfect and some are very harmful! And we shouldn’t put everything on the pedestal because it has a unique narrative. I haven’t read It Ends With Us, but that’s a shame. :/

      I agree. No book or story or whatever can ever represent a common narrative. Everyone is different, so yes, groups are fine. Tbh I identify with any sort of SE Asian, even if they don’t share the same ethnic identity as me. And I am okay with that.

  6. I think they say diverse because it’s different from what we usually see, heterosexual white cis men and women. Diverse means to show variety, so I think by diverse we mean to show a variety of people, people who aren’t hetersosexual, white, cisgendered, or abled.
    – Yasmin

    • Hi Yasmin! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      I think when the term ‘diverse’ is used to describe more than one narrative, that is fine. Such as, ‘this book had a diverse narrative’ (meaning this book had more than one narrative that showed a variety of perspectives), or ‘our community is diverse’. In those instances, I think that’s fine.

      However, when ‘diverse’ is used to describe one character, such as ‘this book had a diverse character’ when that they really mean is ‘this book had a Chinese, gay character’, then I think that usage of the word isn’t right.

  7. You have literally rendered me speechless. I NEVER thought about it this way and now I’ve read your piece, I absolutely understand what you’re saying. This has inspired me to NOT use the word diverse anymore, because it could be considered hurtful to people who fall under that category, for me at least. I always talk about books with people of colour in them or books with LGBTQIA+ characters in them, but I’ll definitely avoid the word diverse, because you’re so right. Definitely going to make a video about this!

    • Hello Charlie! Oh gosh, thank you for your kind kind words.

      I am glad that my discussion was thought-provoking to you. To clarify, I think the word ‘diverse’ is fine in some instances, such as ‘we have a diverse community’ or ‘this book had diverse narratives’. I think when it is used to describe ONE character, that’s where it get a bit fuzzy.

      Oh goodness, if you ever make a video, please share it with me. I’d love to see it! ❤

  8. Wow! I’ve never ever thought of it this way, but now I feel so enlightened! So, just to be sure that I understand what you’re saying, is that saying if you’re non-white, you’re diverse, is just creating division among human -beings? It confused me at first, but I think I understand. The way I saw it before, diversity just referred to someone who is not usually represented in books. But I see now, it’s more than that really. When I really reflect on my life, I realize tha I’ve actually despised my half-white side (I’m half-Indian) just because it made me less diverse. I mean, really! That’s kind of a problem, and I have so many more thoughts on the matter now. Thank you!!

    • Hi Becca, and thank you! I appreciate your kind words.

      What I mean is that the word ‘diverse’ is spoken from a particular perspective, so ‘diverse’ can sometimes mean ‘anyone that is non-diverse/like me’. Sometimes, ‘diverse’ to me implies ‘someone different to me’. When the word is used that way, it implies that there are two groups: people who are ‘non-diverse’ and people who are ‘diverse’. Does that make sense?

      Of course, this is something that is specific to Western countries, and this discussion may not work well in countries with different politics.

      I never thought of seeing ‘diversity’ being defined that way, but that’s a very good point, and I can agree with that definition.

      I do not think you should despise any part of you. You are you, made up of different parts and mixed together, and that is a beautiful thing that you should be proud of. Being part-white or ‘non-diverse’ does not make you lesser in ANY way. And if anyone thinks so, I’ll fight them for you, girl.

  9. I have never considered the implications of using the word “diverse”. Admittedly probably because it has never nor will it ever be applied to me. I love how your post explored how this can perpetuate otherness and cause unintentional separation. I’ve never given it much thought because generally diversity allows for good representation but I endeavour to pay more attention when discussing these issues.

    • Hello Eliana!

      Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, and I am glad that it was thought-provoking.

      I think diversity does allow for good representation nonetheless, and the word ‘diverse’ does not diminish its importance in stories and narratives. It’s just how people use the word is what I am particular(?) about.

  10. I am so, so glad for this post – I agree so much with the “othering” implied in the word “diverse”, but it’s one that I don’t think I have a clear solution to yet.

    My feelings on this subject are a bit complicated. I was never one to really need representation – I mean, I like seeing “people like me” on screen and such but I don’t particularly care if a book/movie doesn’t have Asians (just to speak very candidly). I suspect this was because growing up, I did live in Indo and I see “people like me” all the time in the media… so I didn’t feel underrepresented in my own media? If that makes sense?

    I gotta ask… is saying “this book stars a non-white, non-straight protagonist” (for example) better than saying “this book stars a diverse protagonist” for you? I do use the word “diverse” to describe characters and books, but to me it’s just a very quick way of describing certain things people might be looking for. Expanding it to describe the ‘diverse-ness’ in more detail is important too, though, and I like to think that I do so in my reviews.

    But I don’t think I would enjoy being called ‘diverse’ as a person, haha. To me that was more of a descriptor for media (i.e. characters, books, movies), and describing an actual person with that word could very easily dismiss the nuances of who they actually are and reduces them to one simple word.

    BUT I am totally word-vomiting here! It’s such a complicated issue and obviously I’m still struggling to articulate my feelings.

    PS: The Joy Luck Club, though. <3

    • I agree, it’s a precarious subject and it’s hard to draw a line. But of course, that’s why we have these discussions, so that we can figure out something together as a diverse community.

      I completely understand your feelings towards the subject, and that is not wrong at all imo. Your lived experiences have shaped your perspective, and I think that only makes your contribution to the discussion more unique and necessary. There’s no one size fits all, and that’s the beauty of it.

      For me, I am not sure yet. As I said, I am still trying to develop my thoughts. At this point, I see the convenience of the word ‘diverse’ and how it just means something we ought to celebrate, but I prefer it to be explicit. We go move beyond ‘non-white, non-het’ (and of course they aren’t the only social identities that are worth mentioning), we can just say Asian, bi character. I prefer that, because the words and labels reach out to people more effectively. ‘Diverse’ or ‘non-whatever’ are very vague.
      I think ‘diverse’ used to describe a variety of narratives is fine, because the word is thus true to its definition. I don’t like ‘diverse’ being used to describe ONE individual. That’s just plain weird to me.

      Agreed, it does dismiss the nuances and it overlooks it. If we want to show the diversity of our narratives, we should honour the social identities themselves. But, that’s just me.

      HAHA I word-vomited too! But thank you so much for the thoughtful comment – you have given me much to think about and I appreciate that. ❤

      • Yeah, I think by and large I agree with you – using “diverse” to describe a character dismisses who the character actually is.

        I think especially on Twitter where you have limited character space, saying “this book has diverse characters” is more convenient than “this book has gay Asians”, though… on the other hand, I can see where we’re being vague and perhaps oversimplistic when we say things like that. :P

        Thank you for writing this discussion! You’re always so articulate and I aspire to do more meaningful discussions the way you do. <3

        • That is true – the Twitter character limit is an understandable limitation, but yes, I think it’s something that we, as a community, need to find a way to work around. c:

          My pleasure!! Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments. (AHHH girl, you’re too kind.) <3

  11. This post is fabulous! I’ve seen a bit on this topic before, but never so thoroughly and thoughtfully laid out. Bravo! I agree 100%. I think people started using the word diverse for individuals to highlight that it is a good thing that the book has such-and-such a character. But they don’t realize that using the word in that way is simply perpetuating Otherness. They mean well, it just shows we still have a long way to go. This is a really important distinction. Such a great post!!

    • Again, thank you Emily!!

      I really appreciate your kind words. I definitely see the convenience of the word, and I think its usage is not malicious. It has, however, lost a part of its meaning with it being used so loosely – which happens, but I saw some ways it was used and it struck me as very weird.

      We do have a long way to go, and I think it’s necessary we have these discussions. People don’t have to agree with me, but we can work together to find ground that works well for everyone.

      Thank you! ❤

  12. This is such a fantastic post, and I really enjoyed reading all of your opinions. Moreover, all of your comparisons and explanations with sociology, well… it’s just crazy how grown and more aware I feel every time I read one of your discussion posts. I missed this a lot.
    I never thought about this before, despite seeing the word “diverse” thrown around everywhere -which, to be honest, kind of leads nowhere, it’s like when you use a word too often and it ends up meaning nothing anymore? Sometimes, I wonder about that. I see, I read diverse and I wonder, okay, but what does it MEAN NOW, really? You’re right, talking about characters this way kind of is a way to put them in a basket, and other in another basket. I just think everyone should be qualified for what they are, and not be differenciated, to be honest. After all, we are all the same – a.k.a human, I don’t know any alien yet ahah -, and we are ALL different, even if we’re talking about two white, heterosexual chararcter. Everyone has something different in their identities, their roots, their beliefs and their way to live.
    Anyway I am rambling ahah I will stop there but FANTASTIC post <3

    • Thank you so much Marie! Oh gosh, you’re too kind — but I am glad; I am glad that I can be of help in some way!

      I do agree. That word lost its meaning to me a long time ago, and also lost that emotional connection. Personally, I get more excited when I see someone promote a book that says, for example, a Chinese trans character, or a black gay character, as opposed to a ‘diverse’ character!

      I agree, Marie. But, I also want us to celebrate our differences! We are all different and that’s what makes this community (and the world) a magnificent place. Yes, we’re human, but we’re complex human beings with different identities. C:

      Hehehe it’s okay, I like rambling! Thank you so much for your comment Marie, and thank you for your unconditional support!! ❤ ❤ ❤

  13. I am very liberal with my use of the label ‘diverse’, so I found this post absolutely wonderful and enlightening. I can totally see where you come from with the idea that the label is ‘othering’, as though all of the spectrum of cultural, sexual, and gender identities can be group under one umbrella. I will definitely be mindful of my use of the word from now on.

    I also appreciate you for being so brave and posting this thoughtful discussion, I know it must have been scary to do so because this label is something used commonly by both bloggers and publishers alike. But you’re right, the terminology needs to change. Having books that represents all walks of life won’t become the norm if we continue to box it into a category and putting a label on it.

    Love this post and love your beautiful brain <3

    • Aenteeeeee! Thank you so, so much. I am glad that you found this enlightening. c:

      Yes, it has been something that has been on my mind and I’m relieved that I finally wrote about it.

      And oh gosh, thank you. That means a lot to me, truly. I was a ball of anxiety yesterday because I didn’t know how to react. BUT. The blogging community has never let me down in their support so far. I’m so thankful and relieved that people have been so receptive and thoughtful in their responses to this post too.

      Eeee thank you, you beautiful soul ❤ ❤

  14. I think in part it comes from a misunderstanding of what the word means. By it’s nature it’s describing a plural – a group of people, a range of narratives, weather patterns, data sets, or whatever. It doesn’t describe an individual person and shouldn’t be used as such from a language point of view, let alone the implications you’ve raised here regarding The Other.

    Many books contain diverse characters (in the proper sense) but it does at the moment seem to be a way of signposting books that deal with gender or racial/ethnic diversity and aren’t necessarily heteronormative.

    I apologise if I’ve used any problematic terms in this post. It’s been nearly 25 years since I studied sociology, so if I have, they’ve been used in ignorance and I’m open to correction.

    • Hello Nicole!

      I do agree with you. I think it’s attributed to misunderstanding of the word, but also the etymology of the word too. Whilst I love that people are celebrating and promoting books that have a variety of narratives, I think the word has someone caught on to mean something a little different to its conventional definition.

      And please, do not apologize. You have not used any problematic terms, and even if so, I know it would not be intentional.

  15. What an amazing blog post piece. Well done. I don’t have much to add because I think you’ve summed this up so perfectly. But as someone who is in the ‘stereotypical-middle-class-white-heavily-portrayed-category’ this has been bugging me for a while although I didn’t know how exactly how to put in into words. I also feel like putting ‘I liked it because it had diverse characters’ in a review is a way of skirting over a much bigger issue. It allows people to feel like they’ve ‘done their part’ without actually doing much or putting in any effort, if that makes sense?

    Anyway, thank you for helping me clarify my own thoughts and for writing such a thoughtful piece. I’ll be sharing it on my blog facebook page!

    • Hello Becky! c:

      Thank you so so much for your kind words!
      Oh believe me, I struggled so much with this post. I had these *feelings* but wasn’t sure how to put them for words.

      I agree completely. It strikes me as a little weird (as in, weird for me to say), because it diminishes what makes the narrative special and unique.

      AH, another good point! And yes, it makes perfect sense! Having diverse narratives isn’t a tick off the box – it’s something that’s very emotional, meaningful, and important to a lot of people. The problem is, more often than not, even if a Asian character is barely important but is mentioned in a book, I’ll cling onto them for dear life. I cannot describe how liberating it is to see someone like you in a story. But yes, we need more than passing mentions or poorly written characters.

      It is my absolute pleasure, and again, thank you for leaving such a sincere and thoughtful comment, and for your support. ❤

  16. I must say I’ve never heard diverse used in this way (but I am not a native English speaker, though the Dutch word is the same minus the e). When I read “this book has diverse characters” I would assume that the book contained characters who are very different from each other (which to me is a plus), but the phrase “a diverse charachter” just doesn’t make sense, does it? I’m also annoyed by the use of “ethnic” in this context, does that imply that there are people without an ethnicity?

    But I am also pro-diversity. I live in a very multicultural neighbourhood, people in my family are white and black and Asian and catholic and protestant and muslim and jewish so it’s always strange to me when you see only straight/white/male/non-disabled/young people somewhere, certainly if it doesn’t make sense for the setting.

    • Hello Karlien!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I see the word ‘diverse’ used to describe characters mostly on Twitter, and sometimes in blog posts, and how it is used to describe one character is the definition I am concerned with.

      The definition you describe sounds good to me. You’re right, it doesn’t make sense, but I think the word has evolved among the community. Which is fine; the fact that we develop as a group is very exciting and cool with me.

      I don’t like ‘ethnic’ being used in that term as well. It is similar to how ‘diverse’ is used – it creates a separation. To me, everyone has an ethnicity; there’s no one without one.

      I grew up in a multicultural neighbourhood too, and it was a great experience! I agree with you completely – the friends I grew up with were so different and complex. It doesn’t make sense to me as well – but I hope that one day we’ll read more books with more diversity.

  17. This is such a thought-provoking post, CW!
    I am guilty of overusing the word diverse myself, for example to describe books with LGBTQA+ lead, or books with POC lead, although I mostly use diverse to describe the cast instead of just a single person. As an Asian living in Asian country, I don’t feel myself as diverse. And tbh I think it might be insulting to many people to be called diverse because in a sense it is a discrimination or labeling them as strange. I think one of the problem here is that in general we still use Western perspective to evaluate anything, including diversity, even in non-Western countries. As you said, by emphasizing the difference between “us” and “them” it could lead instead to a sense of otherness instead of inclusion.

    Also clumping them all together as one category called “diverse books” is contradicting the meaning of the word diverse itself. I’m okay with using the term diverse when talking about concept, but as you mention it’ll be better to be specific.

    • Oh Windie, there’s nothing to be guilty about! I said this in many other comments (I probably sound like a broken record at this point), but I think ‘diverse’ has taken on a specific meaning in book/publishing industry. So no one is at fault and no one should feel bad. It’s part of our development as a community. c:

      I think it’s ok to use ‘diverse’ to describe many people! To describe one is problematic to me though, and not good enough to describe the complexity of an individual.

      You make SUCH a good point, and thank you so much for raising this. My perspective is definitely influenced by the fact that I’m a PoC living in a Western country. I do believe that because of our upbringing, how we perceive and understand diversity will be different. And that’s ok! It’s actually cool. There’s no one size fits all!

      I agree! I hope that one day, we’ll find a better word, or a better way to describe characters of different social identities.

      Thank you Windie!! And thank you for your lovely response! ❤

  18. You made a very good point and explained it perfectly! I actually never thought about this before, even though I studied Cultural Anthropology!

    I think the fact that more people want to read books with non-white and non-heterosexual characters is quite positive. But I do agree with you that the word “diverse” can be problematic. To me your suggestion seems the best solution. By saying “gay” or “Mexican” you also prevent that all non-white people are seen as one big group. “Diverse books” kind of made me think of “positive discrimination”. Of course it is not the same, but it is also about representation by emphasizing that there is a difference.

    • Hello Anouk! (You have a gorgeous name, by the way!)

      I agree, it is very positive, and it makes me happy that, the book community in general, is very supportive of a diverse range of stories.

      You make a good point! We’re all different and those differences should be highlighted and celebrated. And we should honour our social identities by saying them for what they are.

      I see your point! My hope that is, one day, we won’t need ‘diverse’ books anymore – we’ll just have a variety of books about a variety of meaningful stories about characters and people from all walks of life. We have a long way to go, but I have hope. c:

  19. Wow. This is an amazing take on the diversity topic. It’s always a hot topic. And people seem to always define it as non-white, non-cisgender, non-heterosexual etc. And you bring up a valid argument. By saying that diversity is that, then we’re drawing a line in the sand. “Books with THESE characters go here. No no, that’s the DIVERSITY side. Move on over to the other side please.” It feels strange to call it that, but that’s how it is.
    I’ve been tossing around this idea for a story about these superpower teens who are all unique and diverse. But covering the territory of diversity in its entirety is HARD. Maybe even impossible. It’s so BIG with so many things under it. There are racial diversities, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion. The list goes on.
    I do think we need a new word. Or maybe be more specific. As you said.
    I do use diverse characters sometimes because it feels strange telling people I read books about trans people. (The automatic thought for people who don’t know me well is ‘ARE YOU TRANS???’ Because, yes, I obviously read books that are only about me. Thanks, guys.) So I gotta figure this out. I think I might just say it as it is. “Hey, dudes (I call everyone a dude), I’m reading a book about a gay dude.” or “Hey, dudes, I’m reading a book about a trans girl.” I shouldn’t shy away from that. And I don’t think I will. Thanks.

    • Hello Wren!

      Yes I agree! As someone who would be called ‘diverse’, it feels weird to me. Almost a little wrong.

      I don’t think it’s impossible at all! I would definitely read such a story! I agree and understand that it’s a big task, but I think if you listen to a variety of voices and narratives, do research, and are sincere in your storytelling, you’ll be just fine!

      I don’t think it’s strange to say you are reading books about trans people at all! People may react to it, but if we skirt around it, it becomes counter-productive. SO yassss, don’t shy away from it! In any case, I support you.

      Thank you for sharing your story idea and your thoughts with me!

  20. Oh, I never thought about this and I LOVE that you have brought it to my attention. I will forever be mindful of my use of this word. As a middle class, white woman, I am part of the type of characters more commonly represented and I’ve always noticed… I want representation for every skin color, every sexuality, every gender to be a norm. And to put a constant label on it, even with good intentions, does stunt the growth a bit. I think maybe we shouldn’t use a word for it at all – if it’s an uncommon type of character, just mention the representation, how fantastic it is. I don’t know if any other word will make it better if we want to stop throwing it all under this umbrella. My school uses this term because of all the different ethnicities and foreign students – in this case, I think it fits better. Because in my mind, it encompasses EVERYONE on campus, not just the Others. But I can see how it can be misconstrued, now, and maybe some instances make more sense with this word than others. Maybe it shouldn’t be used for people at all.

    I recently (like, a year ago, hah) learned a little about the Other and Othering occurrence and I never thought about it for books and ‘diversity’. Thank you for posting about this.

    • Hello Aralyn!

      That’s wonderful – I want more representation too, and I hope that one day we have many, many stories that we’ll all have been understandings of each other.

      I do agree, it does stunt the growth. The term has become numb to me, and it has lost its meaning. As you say, it means well and I don’t doubt anyone’s intentions or enthusiasm for diversity, but it’s not an adequate term anymore, imo.

      I agree with you – I think ‘diverse’ used in that term is fine because it is wholly inclusive. The usage becomes a bit strange when we start using ‘diverse’ to describe a singular character or individual. I think the term has become almost a neologism in the book community – it has caught on to define a certain thing, and people use it. I don’t fault that, but it’s not good enough of a word anymore, esp to describe such a variety of stories.

      It is my pleasure, and thank you very much for your thoughtful response!!

  21. You already know I love all you discussions, CW. But I especially enjoyed reading this one because you basically summed up all me feelings about the word “diverse” in one post. It’s such a broad term and I don’t think I myself would ever want to be describe as being “diverse”. Like you said before, call it for what it is. I think we should be more particular on WHAT TYPE of representation is in the book we’re reading. Also, if when it comes to demanding more “diversity” in literature, I think it’s better if we specify exactly what type of representation we want to see more of, that way we get a better idea of what readers are looking for.

    Great post as always girl! <3

    • Ariiiiii, thank you so much!!

      I am glad I’m not alone in my reluctance to use the word. Besides, you are more than just ‘diverse’! And I think we should celebrate everyone’s identities by being open with what they are (so long as they are comfie with sharing them, of course).

      Yes girl!! You make such an amazing point, and a very important one too, and I love that you mention that. Being specific gives the movement more momentum and more purpose too. So yes, absolutely agree!!

      Eeeeeep thank you again!! ❤❤

  22. I don’t know why you were nervous at all, this was such a powerful, true and inspired piece of writing! I am glad you discussed this and I can definitely see where you are coming from. But the second question you posed to us was very important – what other words could we use? All the while I was reading your discussion post, I was wondering how else to simply describe something in a post when I think of it as ‘diverse’, but I could not think of a simple term at all. Of course there are ways to describe whatever you want to say with more words, but nothing with just one. I get that it is a very broad term and therefore difficult to specify what it actually means, even though it should be specified. But well, I am just rambling now. This definitely gave me food for thought :D great discussion!

    • Hi Kat! Ah, thank you so much. And thank you for supporting me and listening to me whine the day before posting!

      Thank you so much; I appreciate it!
      Some bloggers have suggested alternative words, such as ‘marginalized’, and all have been great ideas.

      Personally, I think we should just be explicit and just say what they are — which, I know, can be a little inconvenient, but when I see, for example, ‘Chinese character’ as opposed to ‘diverse character’, I resonate with the former. It connects with me emotionally almost immediately. Though, if we’re talking about more than one, we could always use collective words that exist – PoC, LGBTQIA+, characters with disabilities, etc. Or, if more than one, maybe ‘a book with diverse narratives’ – which is true to its definition!

      Those are my ideas though, and it’s something that we have to figure out together as a community. c: But yes, it is hard! But I am confident and hopeful we can figure it out. We just have to keep talking about it.

      SORRY I rambled too! X’D But thank you very much, again! ❤

    • Thank you so much, Jeann! (And thank you for your lovely support the night before I posted it too!)

      I think so too! And I hope that, as a community, we can figure it out together and find vocabulary that is meaningful and inclusive.

  23. I am blown away by your insight and intellect. I knew that your discussion were going to be insightful but I’m amazed! I’ve never thought this far into that term but you’re totally right! It does single out the group of people we are actually trying to include. I can’t really say more because I’m still processing but this is so on point!! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻

  24. I just spent…I don’t know how long reading your post and the comments. Everything here is so thoughtful and smart. Thank you for starting this discussion and for linking my blog post as well!

    We make a few similar points, like not calling people “diverse”! Agh, that is so cringe-worthy and certainly don’t want anyone to describe the nuance of my identity in such a way. That is definitely “othering” and we should not be doing that.
    My post was also aimed to explain how I use the word and what it means in the context of my blog’s name. Using it to speak collectively of books/stories/characters that are eclectic and varied is the key, so I try to use diverse in its literal sense. I also try not to call an individual book “diverse” either because it doesn’t make much sense.

    The language around this conversation is currently limited, so I understand the impulse for people the use “diverse” in a general sense and for convenience. And certainly, these kinds of buzzwords are necessary currently because we’re experiencing a shift in reading culture and the publishing industry. This push for better representation and diversity in literature is driven forward by the ongoing conversations surrounding it and “diverse” is something we can immediately understand and push for. My hope is that the language will eventually evolve so that we don’t need to use such terms, but that may be a long way off.

    • Hello Naz! Oh gosh, thank you too for reaching out to me. I LOVED your post, and it’s just. really cool that we are like-minded in this discussion? And I absolutely had to share your post! I want to support other writers writing about something that’s so important to me, and many others!

      It is! It always struck me kind of weird when people said that. I never thought ill of the people saying it – it’s almost become a neologism in the book community to describe anything that is non-white, non-cis, non-het, etc. But yes, agreed, our identities are complex and we should honour them and celebrate them by being saying what they are, rather than use an umbrella term that is inadequate in conveying that complexity.

      Your post was incredibly insightful, and it gave me much to think about. What you do is so important, and I’ll definitely be consulting your blog soon next time I update my tbr. c:

      It is limited! And I absolutely agree with everything that you said. We don’t really have a developed vocabulary for this, but I think these discussions can help us find new words or new ideas to enhance our understanding of diversity. I like what you said about shifts in culture and community – I think that’s one of the really cool things in blogging, one that’s taken for granted but beautiful and incredible nonetheless.

      Me too, I hope that we’ll possess better words one day, but I have hope! With the number of responses I have received, which are overwhelming positive, the future is bright imo!

      Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comment, Naz. I look forward to reading more from you and your blog. ❤

  25. Hm… I agree with you, but I don’t. I don’t agree with you because I suppose I view ‘diverse’ and its use in a different manner than many people are using it. So, in that sense: yes. It’s incorrect. However, I see ‘diverse’ as a collective, a variety, a hodge-podge of variations within a group based upon a single characteristic. Following this, I don’t think one can call a book ‘diverse’ because of a single character. Nor can one really classify a book as ‘diverse’. The book has diverse characters, meaning the characters come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, heritages. However, the book, itself, is not ‘diverse’. The same issue of misusing words is all too common at the moment in literature and hopefully by bringing it to attention and discussing it, we can change that.

    When it comes down to the end of the day, books need to not be classified as ‘diverse’, but rather use the term as a way to describe the world/characters/plots within the book. A book can ‘have’ diversity, but it cannot ‘be’ diverse. As far as how we would classify it instead of ‘diverse’, I’m not sure you can. The race/religion/sexual orientation of the characters are not what should be used to ‘classify’ a book in the same manner as a genre. Honestly, many ‘diverse’ books nowadays have little to do with the supposed diverse characters diversity. It’s more like they threw in a diverse character to meet the status quo. It’s why I think it’s wrong to classify books as diverse. Though, this is just my opinion. Perhaps you disagree? If so, I’d love to hear! This is an interesting discussion. (I love single word use discussions. ^.^)

    • Hi Melanie! How are you? Long time no talk!!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Perhaps I didn’t state it well in my post, but I don’t agree with the definition of ‘diverse’ that I am discussing in this post. My discussion is based on an observation of how it has been used, particularly in Twitter. In other words, I have seen people use the word ‘diverse’ to describe a singular character, which is what my discussion wanted to address!

      The definition you describe is the right way to use that word, and I agree wholeheartedly.

      Again, I agree. I mentioned it somewhere in response to someone, but ‘diverse’ is too vague a word to describe something so vast and complex. So yes, we can have a book with ‘diverse’ narratives, but not a ‘diverse’ character.

      There was nothing we disagreed on! c: You have summed up my thoughts. Thank you again, Melanie. ❤

      • Hi! I’m doing well and sorry I’ve been so MIA lately. (Grad school just started. 0.0)

        Ah! I did miss that and in that sense I agree with you. A person or character cannot be defined as ‘diverse’. That’s a complete misuse of the word, especially since, as we both agree on, diverse cannot be used to refer to a single item. It’s a collection of items.
        Though, I’d like to point out how ironic it is for people who are supposed to be commanders of the written language (writers and lit agents) are the ones most commonly using this word. -.- Kind of sad really.

        And I’m happy you clarified and that we agree on this subject. ^.^ Sorry for my misunderstanding!

        • Oh gosh, don’t be sorry at all! How is grad school? o:

          Haha, no problem! And yes, that’s absolutely right. Yes! A collection of identities that are all complex. c:

          I think they use it because it’s become a buzzword for marketing, and it IS used often in public spaces like Twitter. But yes, I hope we can move past it and use something else in the future.

          Don’t apologize! That’s why we talk, to understand each other better! :)

  26. <3 I'm totally in awe of you having the patience to so thoughtfully articulate such an important opinion. Before I read your post, I didn't give much thought to this word.

    This part especially just nailed the topic: "Using the phrase ‘diverse’ characters still maintains an (not necessarily malicious) us-versus-them and is ultimately counter-productive. After all, the purpose of diversity is to be inclusive and to normalize less-represented groups so that it leads to more inclusion and more representation."

    Thanks so much for writing this post!

  27. Really, really loved this post, CW! While we do need ‘diverse’ books, as humans, we have to be conscious of our othering, and allow ourselves to identify people as what they are– people, without hiding behind the word diverse. Particularly, the part where you described characters in novels plainly, recognizing them for their identities and not just their ‘diversity.’ Seriously, great work on this discussion and I’m looking forward to more in the future!

    • Thank you so much Sydney! :’)

      Precisely! Everyone is complex and we have heritage and history that are part of our identities. More so, those identities are so important to us, and we cling onto them. I mean, even in Twitter profiles, people may list the identities they strongly associate themselves with, and that means a lot to them!

      So pretty much, yas to all you said!

      Hahaha, thank you! ((Between you and me I feel like it’s all downhill from here.)) X’D

  28. I love this!

    Like a lot of your commenters so far, this wasn’t something that had ever really occurred to me before. I had thought in the past that it felt sort of weird to refer to a single person as ‘diverse’ just from a descriptive point of view, but I had never considered the othering aspect of the thing.

    You always get me thinking!

    I wonder if it has anything to do with being uncomfortable pointing out our differences. Like, there’s this weird idea floating around that THE way to be unprejudiced is to somehow be blind to the differences between us. In using a totally inappropriate umbrella term perhaps its a way for people (let’s be honest – white, cis people) to avoid dealing with potentially more complicated labels? It’s like ‘diverse’ has become a bandwagon that people can jump on without having to take the time to think about what it actually means. It’s just another marketing buzzword that is actually damaging to the people its supposed to serve.

    I can’t believe I never considered this before. (Probably cause no one ever called me ‘diverse’. Privileges.)

    As for an alternative term, I certainly can’t think of one. The closest I can come up with is something along the lines of ‘all people’, but that sort of thing feels totally co-opted by the grossness of #alllivesmatter. It is a depressing situation when the word ‘all’ evokes the already advantaged group. What I always try to do – something my brother and his autistic buddies have taught me – is to just try and refer to a group using the terms they are comfortable with. Maybe the answer is to stop trying to refer to lots of different people as one thing.

    This was amazing. You had nothing to worry about :)

    • Thank you Lydia!! Hehehe, thank you for your support, as always!

      I think that is a big part about it. I do see people being uncomfortable pointing out that we ARE different and, as you said, is why people resort to colour-blindness. I think the book community is actually more socially aware than most, so sometimes I think it’s part-convenience, part-semi-neologism that exists within our community.

      But then again, I think we need to keep talking about these issues until it’s no longer weird to talk about it. Until we don’t need terms like ‘diverse’, and everyone is comfortable with recognizing and celebrating our differences.

      I like your suggestion to use terms that people of a group want us to use. I think these issues are partly collaborative, and we should seek to understand groups of people by listening to them and engaging in these sort of discussions with them. c:

  29. I completely agree with everything you said! I’ve been noticing how othering the diversity discourse can get sometimes. I feel like although ‘diverse’ isn’t a perfect term to use, it’s one that’s necessary right now and perhaps the best out of all problematic choices, rather like “PoC”. Like, people will say things like “this LGBTQ+ character,” and it’s like, “All in one character?” I feel like there’s a separation between what’s ‘diverse’ and what’s ‘representation’ in fiction, and what is diverse isn’t necessarily representation for a marginalised group (I’ve got a half-written post on this in my drafts…ha…ha…).

    It’s especially disgusting how diversity has been commercialised though, and seeing some writers either trying to jump onto the diversity bandwagon because they think it’s a shortcut to publication, or accusing people of policing their straight-white-cishet creativity.

    • Thank you Daisy!

      That’s really interesting – do you think ‘PoC’ is problematic? I’ve read analyses that argue that it is. For me, I see the term ‘PoC’ as a term that signifies solidarity. Personally, I prefer ‘PoC’ over ‘diverse’ because of the emotional part behind it.

      That’s a REALLY good point – can you please write this post? *U* I’d love to read it. I agree with you, particularly when the characterization is lazy or poorly-written or inaccurate.

      That’s something Linh (from Bookkeepinh) is writing about together, actually! About diversity has become a fad that IS commercialized and has very little substance.

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  31. This post is brilliant ! You’re voicing thoughts that always crossed my mind and that I didn’t really share fearing to be understood the wrong way. What I think is that we are ALL diverse and this include white/hetero/cis etc… We’re different = We’re diverse. It doesn’t get much more simple than that. I must admit that finding a PoC in a book brings me a peculiar kind of joy because we are seriously lacking in that field but I’ve been making sure lately to say PoC, gay man, trans woman, disabled person etc… and not “diverse character” because it just makes more sense to me. Though, I must admit that I used to say “diverse character” too but the more I thought about it the more it sounded wrong to me.
    I truly loved reading this post !

    • Hi Fadwa! I am so so sorry; I didn’t realize that I hadn’t replied to your comment!

      I am glad that I could give your thoughts some voice, though I hope you will write your own post some day! I’d love to read it and I would support what you had to say.

      Yes, we’re all very different and unique people, and those differences should be celebrated and understood. I understand that joy of finding a PoC in a book – I feel the same every time! It’s always so validating seeing a small part of yourself portrayed in the book – if done right, it feels like acceptance and being understood.

      I’ve been trying hard too. I used ‘diverse’ to describe an individual character in the past, but I am trying to be more conscious of the words I use. Particularly on Twitter, where you only have 140 characters per tweet, it can be hard!

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment, and I am glad you enjoyed my post! <3

      • Hi Cw ! No problem, it happens 😊
        I think I will definitely voice my thoughts on the matter some time soon in a proper blog post instead of comments here and there haha. Thank you ❤
        Exactly! They should be an occasion for celebration and not feuds, because it is so great to see a representation of the real world’s rich diversity translating in our readings. In the right way of course.
        Oh yes! You’re right, because 140 characters don’t give us enough liberty to explain what we mean properly.
        You’re welcome 😙

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  33. Great in-depth discussion post, CW! I can see your passion for the topic you’ve written about ;) I put my hands up in the air, I am guilty of saying a character is diverse in books lol only because that in the majority of books I’ve read, its always about a white caucasian character. A character of different colour and ethnicity just seems rare in books, particularly in YA. I don’t think anyone means to offend anyone by saying ‘diverse,’ its just they’re glad and pleased to see a main character who isn’t a straight caucasian because they are the ones are who represented pretty well. So its really interesting and nice to see a character of a different ethnicity appearing in books, its a nice change :)

    • Thank you so much Thuong!

      Oh of course, I don’t think anyone means any harm or offense when they use the term. And I agree – whenever I see an Asian character, I connect to them immediately and will hold onto them for dear life.

      My discussion was more on the implications of using the word, rather than the intent, which I have no qualms with! 😊

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  35. I feel “diverse” is too often a word that just gets doled out when a book meets a certain quota of female/POC/queer characters and nine out of ten times you can tell how forced it is. I don’t want to read about “diverse” characters, I want to read about characters who happen to be diverse. Does that make sense?

    I know I don’t like it when people give me special favors or talk about how glad they are I’m in a certain group because I’m a girl. I HATE it, in fact. My mother likes having characters of her ethnicity acknowledged positively and I think that goes back to the representation issue. Growing up, she got mocked by her cousins for being biracial, but I’ve never asked her how she feels about being “diverse.”

  36. Ohhhhhh you’re so right! I didn’t even think about it that way, and I’ve disagreed with people who’ve opted against the word “diverse” in the past, but this makes perfect sense. But you could still have a “diverse cast of characters”, if you had different sexualities/colors/ages etc., right?
    -Amy

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  45. I’m not sure what I can add to the conversation here that hasn’t been said, but for me, the term “diversity” isn’t used to reflect that there was one PoC in a novel (for example), but that the entire cast of characters was diverse – representing different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities, genders, etc.

    TBH, I’d never thought of how othering it must be to see a book be described as being “diverse” because there is one PoC, or one person who identifies as LGBT+ or one “other” person who might be “different” from a cis-gendered-Westernized-white POV.

    Your posts are always so thought-provoking and intelligent – thank you!

    • Hi Kelly!
      Using ‘diversity’ in that context is absolutely fine, since it can refer to one or more identities! So you’re all good.
      This post was written quite awhile ago, but I haven’t seen anyone lately who has referred to an individual as ‘diverse’. So, I think that’s a good sign! :D

      Ahh thank you for the kind words! And thank YOU for reading. <3

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