Photo by Jon Bunting
A Rural UpbringingIn my writing, I tend to include people of different cultures and skin colors. This is important to some people. Others don't see the value in it. I will explain, based on my experiences, why I do this. I'll admit this was kind of a hard post to write.
Just before third grade, my family moved to a white, rural community with a lot of people whose families had lived in the same area for generations. I don't remember much from before that other than a few friends and experiences. My true memory of childhood is from age seven onward in this rural community.
Photo by Rafael Sato
Being DifferentThe other kids at elementary school taught me something: Different is Weird and Weird is Bad. Perhaps "showed" is more accurate because this was never anything that needed to be said aloud.
Different could mean any number of things. For example:
- Poverty - the poorest kid smelled funny and had bad clothes and was teased. A lot.
- Outsiders - I was new to the school and liked weird things like books. I was pretty quiet and never fully accepted at my elementary school. (By junior high when the schools merged, it was just my awkwardness that held me back.)
- Religion - there was small, religious minority in my area (none of the ones that immediately come to mind). They dressed differently, had weird hair, and were vegetarian. My family was friends with one of these families, and when I was a kid, I was embarrassed to be seen with them.
- Skin color - this one's harder because I don't remember meeting a single kid with a skin color different from mine until junior high. When I saw this kid in the hall, I remember trying not to stare. I only had stereotypes and movies to tell me who this kid was, where he came from. By this point, I knew he wasn't likely to come from some inner city or whip a gun out in the middle of junior high. I wasn't completely out of touch. But there was an underlying sense of wariness that felt instinctive.
Photo by Daniel X. O'Neil
That wariness came from a complete lack of exposure to people who didn't look like me. I was raised in a monolith, so there was a whole lot in this world that was weird to me.
My goal in writing diverse characters is to help kids feel like people who are different from them are their friends (or maybe enemies, depending on the character). But that these are real people who could be the person right next to them. I think that's important.