If you’ve known me long enough, you’ll know that “me dad’s a Muggle; Mam’s a witch,” wait that’s not right. If we were talking about the taste in the weird, it’d be my dad I get it from, Mom’s just had to adapt, but J.K. Rowling is talking about race in a way that makes us all go, well that makes sense. Rowling’s 4 types (Pureblood, Half-blood, muggle-born, and squib) are a very easy way of thinking about race. Purebloods are people born of those with magic from a long line of wizards, half-bloods are a mix between pureblood and muggle-born, muggle-born children are born with magic without pureblood or half-blood lines, and squibs are born from families of magic but have no magic themselves.
But what if we took this not as a background of magical people but of people of different ethnicity backgrounds?
If these people were characters, we’d have a lot of racially diverse characters. Rowling made race simple among magical people, our real world is much more complex and they’re both huge and subtle differences between cultures, ethnicities, and religions within a specific country. A country like Canada is such a mosaic of people who immigrated from countries all around the world (whether a long time ago or recently) that reflecting this diversity is important. Most countries are multicultural and diverse in our modern world. Representing characters from these backgrounds is extremely important.
Why? Well, remember when I mentioned that my parents weren’t the same? Well, my Dad is mixed (his mother was black from Barbados and his father was from Scotland/Ireland), and my mother is caucasian. This makes me even more mixed because even though my mother is caucasian, we’ve been able to identify at least 2 different countries her ancestors came from (British and French). My father does all the cooking so I was brought up on more Caribbean style food but also listened to Calypso, some Jazz, and Blues, but on the other hand, we traveled down to Nova Scotia (where Mom is from) several times in my childhood. So, my own culture is as mixed as I am.
But let’s be honest, it took me a whole paragraph to explain my own background (sort of), having a character that racially complicated is hard to showcase when you, the writer, and the characters have enough things to worry about. I do believe we need to ensure our characters are racially diverse for our readers because if we can find a character that we can relate to culturally, it’s an amazing feeling. I still remember as a young girl reading Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series and loving the character Briar because despite the cultures being not of our world, it was obvious that his character was mixed of at least two different ethnicities. He’s described as having curly black hair and brown skin, typical of those in his birthland, but with a western nose and grey-green eyes.
So how many others have read a book and found someone they can identify with just because of that one thing that makes them different? The colour of their skin? Their culture? Their hair type?
Yes, we should write what we know but shouldn’t we also branch out? Have characters that are as different ethnically as our friends, co-workers, and family? So that our friends can relate to those characters in a different way?
But what about the setting? Yes, a setting may dictate what country or background your characters may be from. If you’re writing a historical fiction set in France during the Middle Ages, it’s not likely you are going to have a Japanese character. Time periods and locations will tell you what you need to know. This is to be understandable as you have to be historically accurate. But if you are working with the modern world, diversity is important.
As a writer, we need to make sure when creating a character cast as diverse as our world and friends that we are not stereotyping or making those characters into a trope or cliche. You also want to avoid the idea of the token character such as having an almost entire cast of one ethnicity and one character that is another.
So I say, do your research. Research. Research and then research some more. When you’ve exhausted online histories and library books, I love picking the brain of friends (no I’m not a zombie) as they might see a character in a different light and can offer constructive feedback. Feedback will help you maybe think of a character in a different way whether it is his/her background, sexuality, personality, etc. As the creator, we don’t always see everything (we’ve missed words when editing so it’s not uncommon).
If sci-fi authors and fantasy writers can create entirely new species and races, it should become second nature to have a diverse cast of characters to populate the worlds we create. We have to take it one character at a time.