The word “diversity” has come up on the radar a few times recently, talking about the lack of non-white characters in books and films. Our world, it seems, is predominantly Caucasian, especially when it comes to the main characters.
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Star Trek has done a better job than most in covering a few more bases than white male. The original series was very advanced for the nineteen seventies, where not only were there two women on the Enterprise's bridge, Uhura was black. Then we had Mr Sulu (Asian) and because we were still in the Cold War, the Russian Chekhov was a departure, too. But let's face it, the main roles were white males. And yes, I'm including Spock. This is pretty much token diversity. Throw a few people of colour into the mix to show willing.
That other franchise, Star Wars, was full of white males. There were no women on the Imperial Star Destroyer bridges – though we did get a couple of female controllers among the rebels (think Hoth). Mace Windu, the only black Jedi, was killed by the emperor. Sure, all the cloned storm troopers were based on a New Zealander who is part Maori – but they wore white armour and helmets. Even now, all these years later, Will Smith is pretty well the only black actor I can think of who has starred in SF movies. But then, I'm not a movie buff.
As it happens, most of the main characters in my SF Romance books are not white. You did ask why, didn't you?
I'm Caucasian. White, privileged with my only demerit being I'm female. Where I live, ninety percent of the population is white, so I'm not writing “what I know”, I'm writing what I think will happen.
The percentage of white people within the world population is shrinking. This article from the Guardian is worth reading. It's just one example, you'll find plenty of others online. Whites (ie European nations) have dominated much of the world for a millennium, but the Egyptians dominated the world for a lot longer than that. The Ottoman Empire came and went, the Chinese Empire was dominant in that part of the world. Times change, civilizations rise and fall. I think it's much more likely that the flag planted on Mars – or even the next one on the Moon – will be Indian or Chinese, not American or Russian.
That is why the hero in my Morgan Selwood series, Admiral Ashkar Ravindra, is Indian in appearance. Dark skin, black hair. So are the rest of his people, because the planets they inhabit were only seeded by people with that appearance. Their society is based on the Indian caste system.
By the way, I chose Indian, and not African or Chinese, because I studied Indian history at university and I have a few Indian friends, so I know a little of what I speak.
Morgan Selwood, on the other hand, comes from the kind of background we're used to in Western culture. I don't see her as white, but rather as the result of a mixture of races, such as the striking women you see in Brazil or Argentina or Latin America, with mocha skin and high cheekbones. As an example, Bianca Jagger comes to mind.
I'm not the only one who has taken this general approach. In Elizabeth Moon's Serrano books, the Serrano family is Latino, I believe for much the same reasons that my heroes are Indian. And Veronica Scott's heroine in Mission to Mahjundar owes more than a passing nod to Egypt, which is a passion of hers.
Certainly science fiction romance is full of strong female characters. I'll throw in Linnea Sinclair's Sass (Games of Command) and Rya (Hope's Folly). Anne McCaffrey's Lessa, Pauline Baird Jones's Sara Donovan. I'm sure you'll be able to suggest plenty of others. But how many of them are non-Caucasian? There's a few listed here.
PJ Dean, who is an African-American author, gives her POV on non-white characters.
As she so rightly says, don't throw in non-white characters for the sake of it. But if it's right for your story, and you know of what you speak, then why not? Variety, after all, is the spice of life.