- Whenever possible, avoid using white, male, handsome, athletic, heterosexual, native-born characters. Try to vary at least one of these characteristics. No more than one in five characters should meet all of these characteristics.
- Don’t include minorities solely to play the role stereotyped by their minority status. If you included a woman character, don’t have her just be the love interest, victim to be saved by the hero, or to look sexy in a skimpy outfit. If you include a Black character, don’t have him there just to be an uneducated, thuggish victim or underworld contact. If you include a gay male character, don’t have him be comic relief by being effeminate and cowardly. If you include a Muslim character, don’t have him be there just to be a terrorist. If you have a Native American character, don’t have him there just to give enigmatic and vague wisdom to the heroes. It is okay to sometimes have minority characters who live up to their stereotypes (e.g. a Muslim who is a terrorist) but those should be outweighed at least 5 to 1 by characters who don’t meet their stereotypes (e.g. a woman who is the hero in a non-skimpy outfit, a gay man who is competent and brave, a Muslim who is nice, a Black man who is law abiding and educated, etc.)
- Don’t use “he” or “his” when referring to a generic character, e.g. “the possessor of this sword has his strength increased ten-fold.” Instead, use both pronouns (e.g. “he or she” or “his or her”). This may seem awkward, but it is no more awkward than other approaches (alternating male and female pronouns or using only female pronouns and then having to explain why).
First, because having white males be the default characters and everyone else included solely for their “otherness” perpetuates unconscious stereotypes and prejudices about real life people. Specifically, it perpetuates the prejudice that white males are the default type of person and that everyone else is “different” and definable by their difference. To illustrate this, imagine you tell an artist to draw “a doctor” but don’t specify race or gender. In most cases, the artist will return a picture of a white male. For more examples, see here and here. Such prejudices negatively affect the way people are treated in real life. As creators, we are both the primary cause of, and the best chance for changing, these prejudices and stereotypes.
Second, it’s just lazy writing to go with these shallow stereotypes. A handsome, athletic, heterosexual, white, Christian, American male as the hero of a story is boring. A sneering Arabic Muslim terrorist as a villain is boring. Being aware of and avoiding stereotypes is an opportunity for we, as creators, to create more interesting, more unique and more memorable characters.
Please Note: Vajra Enterprises does not advocate censorship. We do, however, believe in the right of self-censorship, which is the right of individuals and companies to choose (rather than having that choice be imposed on them) not to say things that they find annoying, harmful or offensive. This policy is Vajra Enterprises’ exercising of that right.
These diversity standards are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License so you can use them (or parts of them) for your company.