I'm taking on the behemoth today: diversity in the written word. Why am I walking this tightrope? Partially because I'd like to share my thoughts on the subject and partially because I'd like to hear others' thoughts on specific questions.
I'm a month shy of seventeen years of age, have very pale skin, red hair, the majority of a beard, and both of my parents (still married to each other). I'm a fairly traditional Protestant who firmly believes in Matthew 5:28 (which basically boils down to "asexual until marriage").
In the world of SFF, I'm fairly standard. However, my hair color makes me a sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really minority. The amount of characters specifically described as having red hair is probably a tiny bit lower than the number of red-haired people in the world. Do I feel that that's a problem? No. Can I relate to Rand Al'Thor better because we share a hair color? Not at all. Then again, not many people are complaining about diversity of hair color.
Many are complaining about diversity of skin color. I have mixed opinions on this. I don't think, unless there's a story reason, the skin color of the characters matters. Most of the characters I write can be any color you want them to be. I almost never specify. Should there be more characters who specifically have skin tones reminiscent of Africans, Asians, South Americans, Aboriginals, etc? I'm going to ask you that question rather than trying to answer it myself.
Culture is a tough point. It's extremely easy to do it wrong, so my inclination is to tell people that if they are of a non-American culture, if they wish to read fiction of their culture they ought to read fiction written in their ancestral homeland. This, of course, may lead them to have to learn a completely new language. I hope that if those readers are fully interested in their ancestral culture that they would be okay with that, but I'm sure that's not always true. I write mostly northern European culture in my stories. Should I expand the cultures that I explore through my writing? A little bit wouldn't hurt, although I'd like to do a good bit of research if I'm going to try to "do it right." If you can't find any books featuring the culture that you feel most attached to or at home with, encourage others with similar feelings to write. My guess is that you'll enjoy those books more than the ones that I would end up writing after reading up on foreign cultures.
Now for gender diversity. As far as I can tell, women in SFF tend to write more YA than adult. While the number of SFF writers of either gender appears to me to be about the same, men write a decent majority of adult. However, male protagonists dominate across the board. My guess is that this is because men tend to write mostly males and women tend to write both males and females. My proceeding guess is that this is because women take offense to female characters who they feel are written poorly, whereas men don't mention it often. It would take a while for me to figure out what the exact percentage is, but I estimate that about 25% of my stories have a female protagonist. Do I feel compelled to write more female characters in light of recent discussion? A little bit. I would appreciate if when I write female characters "wrong" that females would then tell me, straight to me, so that I could improve them. Still, I encourage writers to write characters based upon their stories. If for some reason a character of a certain gender wouldn't allow you to write the story you want to right, don't feel bad.
Regarding all of this, please don't gut someone because you feel they misrepresented a culture, gender, etc. if they made a reasonable effort to not do so. If you tell them what you felt they did wrong, politely, I'm sure many of them would be happy to do better next time, especially if it meant a more happy reader-base.
As far as the real-world portion of this concept goes, I'm a little leery of it. Some magazines are giving priority to minorities. Should they not do this? They can publish whatever stories they want, I'm not going to argue with that at all. Will I ever play the "only 1-2% of the world's population has red hair" card. Personally, no, I don't feel that that's right. I want to be judged by the strength of my prose, not the color of my hair. However, hair color, as I mentioned, isn't a huge deal from the story side of things. Should affirmative action extend to authors being published? You tell me.