I regularly see variations on this quote on my social media:
“In a world where (Thor walks around / James Bond has a tuxedo under his wetsuit / people fly on broomsticks), why do you idiots find a (black James Bond / Asian waitress in 1940s America / female prime minister in 1880) unbelievable?”
This argument leaves me very conflicted.
Diverse representation in stories is an important goal. No reader should have to struggle to find a protagonist whom they can identify with; our local/current group in majority/power does not need to be the “default setting.” Stories influence our norms, and we should strive for norms that include everyone as actors (as opposed to setpieces) and represent everyone with depth and respect. Furthermore, underrepresented groups tend to be underrepresented for all the wrong reasons (undeserved opprobrium, lack of power, etc), which we authors should strive to undo. I could go on and on here.
There are innumerable good reasons to create diverse stories. But the quote above isn’t one of those reasons. It’s just a new deployment of the argument, “if it’s fantasy, you can do anything.”
This is the argument that totally dismisses the genres. The argument that says “once it’s science fiction/fantasy, it’s all equally unbelievable anyways.”
Our fictional alternate worlds have their own rules, but those rules must follow their own internal structure and logic. If Severus Snape conjured up a machine gun, we would throw the book across the room. If Indiana Jones’ archaeological relics turned out to be alien technology, that
would be was infuriating.
The speculative fiction writer builds a world different from our daily life, but the burdens of “believability” and “realism” do not just vanish once you introduce fantastic elements.
We need diverse books. But that doesn’t mean authors get to ignore worldbuilding. Rather, we need to do the hard good work of showing that a diverse world is a believable one.
[Edited Wed. 2/4 to clarify the opening quotation]