March 10, 2016

My Thoughts On White Authors Writing About Peple of Color.

 
A term to know: PoC means person/people of color

DISCLAIMER:

     A few things for you to keep in mind while you read this post:

     This post contains my opinion on a very sensitive and controversial topic, and I am aware that people get huffy about that stuff; but this post is not for the faint of heart. I have held my tongue on this topic long enough, and I am tired of sitting back and watching it all happen.
 

     In this post, I am defending the white authors who have been brave enough to feature a PoC in their books. I am in no way shape or form defending those who have incorrectly portrayed a diverse character (correct portrayal of a PoC to me is to portray them without stereotypes or myths), but I am defending the authors who have done their research and correctly represented diversity.

     This post is about how unfair it is to bash white authors who have written about PoC AND done it correctly. Therefore, whenever I mention white authors writing about PoC, remember that I am talking about the authors who have done their research if the characters call for it, and are correctly and accurately representing diversity.

     I know some of you are rolling your eyes or foaming at the mouth already because I am part of the majority that publishers cater to, which makes it seem like authors do as well. I am a white female and there are millions of books targeted towards me and my preferences. I get it. You think I don’t have a horse in this race because I am not a PoC, but as a writer who enjoys creative freedom, I sure as hell will not step down and allow fellow authors to be attacked because they wanted to include diverse characters in their books.

(Although this post is specifically about writing about PoC, I am also referring to all forms of diversity)

Without further ado, read on at your own risk.

WHY I AM WRITING THIS POST:

http://www.diversityinya.com/

     The book community has been through the ringer these past few years with many different tiffs and troubles, but one issue in particular really stuck with me… The issue of diverse representation from white authors.

     Now, this post is not targeted towards the people who cry out for diverse books. Oh no, I am with them 100% because I want equality for everyone. I want everyone to be represented in books. I understand PoC getting mad about not being represented correctly in books. I understand being angry about possible stereotypes, and I understand wanting to feel like every time you pick up a book that you will be able to relate to the character in some way. I really do. I am in no way shape or form saying that I am against diversity or those calling out for it. I AM against bashing white authors for writing accurately portrayed diverse books.

     I am against those who belittle and shame the authors who make an effort to add diversity into their books. I am talking to the people who go out of their way to make accusations saying that an author is just adding in diverse characters to “placate people” or “check it off of a diversity list”. Am I the only one who is floored by those accusation? I wasn’t aware that if I wanted to add a diverse character into my story that I was only doing it for everyone else, and not myself or the story. The fact that we are being so selfish about the books that authors write is one of the problems. Authors write their books for themselves and no one else. I am sure that authors want to make money, everyone does, but I highly doubt that they would add in an additional character for no reason but to make some people happy. Even if they did add a diverse character just to add a diverse character then why is that so bad? What is so wrong about an author writing what they want?

     I am all for equality, equal representation, and making those not in the majority of the population feel like they belong, because they do. I will strive for equality as hard as the next person, believe me. However, I am not a fan of how some of those who are hungry for diversity are handling the white authors who are trying to feature more PoC in their writing. I have heard/seen the statements listed below mentioned by so many people and I know some, if not all of you have seen them or statements similar.


“White people do not have the right to write about PoC.”


     “White people shouldn’t write about black people because they aren’t black.”

    
     Generalizing about these things will not help anyone. Instead of saying “white people shouldn’t write about PoC”, you should say “those who do not correctly research the topic or try as hard as they can to correctly portray that PoC should not be writing about that PoC.”

Another statement that I see so often that floors me is something similar to this:


“You killed that diverse character and no one else. You killed them because they were different/diverse and you can’t do that because that is racist (or other form of discrimination that applies).
 

     Here is what I have to say to that: Authors create books because they want readers to be able to escape into their book world and enjoy every minute of it. They write books with the intention of providing readers with a good and exciting time. I may not know every author on the face of this earth, but I can guarantee you that 99% of them do not single out characters to kill because of their skin color unless that is part of the plot (Ex: a book about slavery or prejudice). The idea of it is absurd.

     Many people on this bandwagon have targeted Sarah J. Maas because one of the characters killed in her book happened to be a PoC. If the character had been white, there wouldn’t have been an uproar, but that goes to show you that color has nothing to do with a character’s demise. I hate to spoil your fun, but authors kill white characters all the time because that is often how the plot goes. Their skin color has nothing to do with it. A character dies because that is what the story calls for and it propels the storyline forward. So many people have condemned Sarah for killing that character because they think that she targeted her because of her race and used her to further the story. I hate to break it to you, but EVERY character in every book ever created is used to further the story. That is kind of the point of additional characters. The fact that that character was killed had nothing to do with the fact that she was a PoC. It had to deal with the fact that because she was close to the main character, she was killed to propel the main character into action. In fact, the same thing happened earlier to another character in the Throne of Glass series. That death had to happen or else the main character wouldn’t have been hell bent on revenge, which is one of the major plot points of the series. That character was a white man, and no one else condemned SJM for killing him. SJM couldn’t have furthered the plot with any other characters and gotten the reaction that she needed from the main character that made sense because those characters were so close. The cause of the two character’s demise had to do with propelling the main character into action. One of them just happened to be a PoC, but she could have been white too. THE COLOR OF HER SKIN DIDN’T MATTER. However, people are so blinded by their own misconceptions that they project that awful intention onto SJM and tried to crucify her for something that never even crossed her mind.
 
http://www.diversityinya.com/

A FEW REASONS TO CHANGE YOUR TUNE:

•      It is NOT okay to dictate or bash an author for writing about a PoC just because they are white. As long as they do it correctly and accurately, I see no problem with it. People are telling white authors that they shouldn’t write something simply because they cannot relate to it. If that is the case then we would be without fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, urban fantasy, contemporary, and romance books, along with so many more genres. Why? Because I am pretty sure that most authors cannot relate to being a shapeshifter or crime fighting powerhouse with magic. You get what I am saying? Telling an author that they shouldn’t write about something that they cannot relate to is like telling an author they shouldn’t write. No one has the right to tell an author that they shouldn’t do something because of the color of their skin. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.

•      Having an author stay in their own little box and write what they know would hinder them from writing fantasy novels or any novels that would require creativity. To be an author, it is essential for you to be creative and think outside the box. Michael Chabon, when interviewed by Slate.com, stated my thoughts perfectly. He said,

“...if I can’t write from the point of view of a black woman nurse-midwife, then I can’t write from anybody’s point of view. That’s why I do this. I use my imagination to imagine myself living lives I don’t live and being people who I’m not.” (Read the full article here).

•      No one has the right to tell an author what they should or shouldn’t write about. No one has the right to shame an author for writing their book the way they want to because it is THEIR book and no one else’s. If they are doing something offensively then they should be reprimanded respectfully, but that is a different blog post.

     By telling a white author that they shouldn’t write about PoC, you are basically telling authors to isolate their writing because of their race. You are hindering their creativity by saying that white people should only write about white people, and on a larger scale that black people should only write about black people, Hispanic people should only write about Hispanic people, etc. By that logic, you could take it even further and say that those who belong to a certain religion should only write about those who belong to that same religion, or democrats should only write about democrats. You could check off every little category a person can put themselves into and say an author should only write about these things because that is what they relate too, and what do you have? A book that lacks imagination, creativity, life, and freedom.

     The bottom line is that an author has the right to write whatever they feel like writing as long as they are being respectful and not intentionally being offensive (some things can sound offensive without intending to be) because the books they write aren’t for us, they are for them. Sure, we get to enjoy the books, but authors write for themselves and no one else.

     I probably sound like I am all over the place, and that is because I am. I have so much that I want to say, but I cannot seem to pick what to say first. But know that I am tired of seeing people shaming authors for writing diverse characters into their books because they are white. Save that energy and channel it towards promoting authors of color who write about PoC if that makes you feel better. DO something about the lack of diversity in books that is actually helpful, and stop making authors feel bad for writing their books the way they are allowed to. There are so many issues in today’s society that another problem to argue about isn’t helping anyone. I know that people have the right to speak their mind, but when that opinion starts hurting others then it is time to put a stop to it.

HOW TO PUT DIVERSITY INTO THE SPOTLIGHT THE RIGHT WAY:

     There definitely needs to be more diversity in books and believe it or not, there are white writers chomping at the bit to feature diverse main characters that you all have been asking for. The reason they haven’t written about them is because they are scared about the backlash. Authors are terrified of hateful criticism and hearing opinions and phrases like I mentioned earlier. That isn’t what you want, is it? There are ways to bring the concept of diversity into the light the right way, without bashing the authors who are attempting to help. Here are my suggestions on bringing diversity into the forefront of everyone’s mind:

1)      Support ANY author who is writing about a PoC (as long as they are doing so correctly). If a white author publishes a book featuring a PoC then spread the word! Let everyone know that that author correctly portrayed a PoC or other diverse character and that will encourage the author and others to write more PoC into their books.

     - This is a list of books I’ve read by white authors who were brave enough to handle possible criticism and featured a PoC in their book, and they did it flawlessly:

1. Joyride by Anna Banks
2. Wildfire by Karsten White
3. Darkness Rising Trilogy by Kelly Armstrong
4. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

(This isn’t a complete list by any means, but they are the ones I thought of right off the top of my head.) 

     - On the flip side of this, do not bash an author who has mistakenly misrepresented a PoC or other diverse character. Privately tell them what is wrong with the representation and how they can fix it. Give them tips on how to research better. Beating down ignorance will not solve the problem; correcting said ignorance will.

2)      Nicely let publishers know that you want diverse books. Authors can write all day about whatever they want, but if the publishers do not see a market for that book then they won’t sell it. Publishing companies want to make money, like everyone else, and they want to sell something that the public is wanting/needing. Therefore, if there is a huge demand for diverse books, then publishers will definitely start putting diverse books onto the shelves. It is a simple supply and demand issue. If the supply of diverse books is high, but the demand is low and vice versa, then publishing companies do not want to spend the money to publish it only to lose it. However, when the supply AND demand are high then voila! We have diverse books. So let publishers know that you want more diverse books, start a campaign on you twitter or blog, make it your mission to get publishing companies to notice your cry for diverse books.

     - There is also a flip side to this too. Do not angrily demand diverse books or bash publishing companies calling them prejudice because they are not producing the diverse books that you want. We are so quick to suspect everyone of being sinister when in reality publishing companies just don’t see a high enough demand for diverse books; therefore, they don’t publish them. Most of the time, the fact that there aren’t more diverse books has nothing to do with the skin color of those that work at the publishing companies. Saying so without proof would make you sound ignorant.

3)      Lastly, support authors of color or diversity. Supporting these authors and their books about PoC and other diverse people will propel the book world into a time of diversity and equality. Showing support to the minority of authors who often get left behind will encourage them to keeping doing what they are doing and make a difference. As a community, we can make a difference, and all we have to do is nicely and respectfully voice or opinions and requests, and I can guarantee you that we will see a change.

     If you read this far then I should send you a cookie or a book because you are a trooper. I know this was a heavily opinionated blog post and I know I will get flack for it, but I was/am tired of keeping my mouth shut. I doubt this post will change anything, but I had to try. All I have left to say is be kind to each other and target your energy into making a difference, not crippling creativity.

Cheers.

P.S. A huge thanks to Taylor Tracy and Adriyanna Zimmermann for helping me edit this huge post! Check out their blogs by clicking on their names, you won’t regret it!