"You need diversity in your writing," says the internet, "or you're racist."
I glance over my book. I've got Irish people, Scottish people, Norse people. "I've got diversity," I say.
"That doesn't count. You need people of color."
Sighing, I set aside my Welsh character and turn to a little project I've started. A murder mystery set in 1876. "There's a black person in this one," I offer. "Her name is Miss Ellie. She's a receptionist and cleaning lady, and she's really nice to the main character."
"That's a stereotype. And don't make your black characters minor characters who work in the service industry. It means you're racist," says the internet. "And you can't just have one black person in your book. Throw in more blacks and some Hispanics."
I go to the government for answers. Specifically, to the U.S. Census Bureau archives. Skip down, skip down, there's Illinois, there's DeKalb County in 1870.
Total population: 23, 265.
White population: 23, 212.
Black population: 53.
Hispanic wasn't even a category. However, the census was kind enough to note that there were zero Chinese or Indian people in DeKalb County in 1870. Or in 1880, for that matter. I looked at the data for both years.
After some math, I concluded that, in 1876, DeKalb County, Illinois, had approximately three black people for every 1,000 white people. In other words, whites made up 99.7% of the population and I would be historically accurate if I whitewashed my entire cast. However, since I don't often get to work with this kind of diversity and I'm honestly excited for it, I'm keeping Miss Ellie and her family.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to offend anyone. I mean to be respectful in my portrayal of other cultures and races. But I almost feel that, in the writing community anyway, things have gotten out of hand. The only thing people care about is representation. You have to have black people and gay people and women in your story, even if it's not historically accurate. If you don't, you'll get burned at the stake.
Most of those issues, I don't feel qualified to discuss. I grew up in DeKalb county, and I honestly don't think the black population grew too much higher than 53. There were two African immigrants (maybe from Ghana, I forget the country) who went to our church, and my good friend across the street was Hispanic. And that was about it. So I'm definitely not going to write a book where the main theme--or even subplot--deals with issues of race. At least not at this point in my life. It's just not an issue I have experience with.
What's your advice for putting people of color in books? Let me know in the comments below! God bless y'all, dear readers, and don't forget to review us on Amazon!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.