Diversity Readers: A Writer’s New Censor Police?

Oct 14, 2020 | Reading, Writing

Diversity readers. What are they? Are they the same as sensitivity readers? Should writers use them? And do they really censor authors like some people believe? In today’s post, we’re going to talk about all of that and more.

What is a diversity reader? 

So let’s start with the first basic question: What are diversity readers?

Diversity readers, also known as sensitivity readers, are readers who identify with a marginalized group and can offer feedback to the writer about inaccuracies and harmful representation of their characters who share that same cultural identification. For example, if a white, straight author has a black gay character in their novel, then it would be a good idea for them to get a reader who is also black and gay and can help point out any stereotypes they may have overlooked or anything inaccurate to that character.  

Are diversity (sensitivity) readers a bad thing?

Now sensitivity readers have had a negative connotation in the past, which is why I probably prefer the term diversity readers. Even though it’s the same thing, I don’t think it has as negative a connotation as “sensitivity” readers.

But let’s talk about why it has had that negative connotation and why some writers are resistant to the idea. Some people see diversity/sensitivity readers as the “censor police.” It’s censorship. They’re going to control and dictate what a writer can and cannot write. This is not true and to say so, gives way too much power to the diversity reader.

Diversity readers are not here to tell authors, “you can’t say this or you can’t write that.” Rather, they’re here to say, “have you considered this perspective?” “Are you aware of this bias?” Diversity readers will give a writer feedback on what works well and what could be perceived as a problem, and may offer suggestions on how to fix it. But that’s it. At the end of the day, it’s still up to the writer to decide whether or not they want to take that feedback and make changes.

Diversity readers are not going to hold writers in literary prison for not incorporating their feedback. Diversity readers exist for the same reason any editor or beta reader exists, to help make the author’s story into the best version it can be. Their job is to come alongside the writer and help them make the characters as dynamic, authentic, and well-rounded as possible. So can we please stop trying to make them the enemy?


Important note for authors

Now on the flip side of this, to the writers who use diversity readers, please understand, you’ll never be able to please every single person. Just because you have a diversity reader for your disabled character or your Muslim character doesn’t mean that your story will become fool-proof and you’ll never offend someone in that group.

We are all individual people and even within a marginalized group, we still have individual thoughts and opinions. Not every black person will agree on a topic, not every disabled person will agree either. Just because you have a transgender person read your book and they’re ok with it doesn’t mean it won’t offend another transgendered person. You can’t please everyone.

Why should we use diversity readers?

So now you might be thinking, “well if I’ll end up offending someone either way, and I can’t please everyone, then what’s the point of even having diversity readers?” The point isn’t to never offend anyone, the point is to portray your characters accurately and authentically, and that’s where diversity readers help. Especially because we all have unconscious biases that we may not be aware of.

In one of my FB groups, I was talking to someone about the movie Me Before You, and why it caused such a backlash within the disability community. And the person I was talking to said, she didn’t see the movie the same way. She saw it as the story of a guy who went through a tragic accident and couldn’t adjust to his new life and decided to end his life, and she said that she thought that was ok and people should be able to do that if they want, it’s their choice.

But then my question was, would she still feel that way if it was an able-body person who went through something tragic and couldn’t cope and wanted to kill themselves? Would she still encourage them to commit suicide and say it’s their choice, or would she try to stop them and get them help and tell them all they have to live for?

These are the unconscious biases some people don’t realize they have, because if it’s the latter, then essentially the message you’re giving is that disabled lives are not worth living, they’re to be pitied, and if they want to die, then they should. Do you see why this would be harmful? So can you see why diversity readers are needed? If you can’t, then I don’t know what to tell you, except good luck with your books.

New Diversity Reading Service

So that’s why I think diversity readers are an essential part of the writing process, and that’s why I want to connect writers with diversity readers, especially those who are writing about disabled characters. Which is why I am now offering a diversity reading service.

If you’re writing about a disabled character who uses a wheelchair, a black female character, or a neurodiverse (ADHD) character, then I’d love to chat with you and see if I’d be a good fit to help you with your story.

Click on the link for more information and to schedule your free initial consultation. If I’m not the right fit, that’s ok, because I’ve also created a directory with a list of diversity readers you can connect with. Click on the link to view the directory list.

If you’d like to become a part of my diversity readers directory, fill out the contact form and send me a message with the subject line: diversity reader. If you have any questions, leave them in a comment below or send me a message using the contact form.

Also, let me know in the comments below have you used diversity readers before? Or would you want to use them in your writing process, why or why not?


Until next time,

Happy Reading & Writing!