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View Full Version : Race in YA Lit: Wake Up & Smell the Coffee-Colored Skin, White Authors!



Tasha&Kamali
05-06-2012, 09:15 AM
http://www.sfwa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/ockler_sfwa.jpg

by Sarah Ockler
In a new series entitled Y.A. for Grownups, The Atlantic Wire posted an article exploring The Ongoing Problem of Race in YA. (http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2012/04/ongoing-problem-race-y/51574/) Like the title states, race in YA isn’t a new problem, nor is it going away. When I scan the YA bookshelves—whether my own or the extensive store displays—the issue is clear:
I spy with my little eye something… white.
http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3533/3842472527_e761c39c0f.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/34281632@N03/3842472527/)
White authors, white characters, white faces, white girls. The scenario isn’t entirely unlike my high school graduation, but it’s no longer the world I see (or want to see) when I look out the window. So why the disconnect?
Plenty of YA authors of color are writing about diverse characters, often struggling to get those books out into the world and into the hands of readers. Discussions about the issue focus on a trifecta of economic challenges doused in racial politics: consumers aren’t demanding and buying diverse fiction. So booksellers aren’t stocking and promoting it. So the publishing industry isn’t actively seeking, acquiring, and publishing it (with covers and flap copy that appropriately reflect the characters and story). So consumers aren’t demanding and buying it…
Which came first—the chicken, the egg, or the egg white omelet—I don’t know. But the discussion glosses over an obvious gap: white authors.


Rest of the article is below. Thoughts?



http://www.sfwa.org/2012/05/guest-post-race-in-ya-lit-wake-up-smell-the-coffee-colored-skin-white-authors/



(http://www.sfwa.org/2012/05/guest-post-race-in-ya-lit-wake-up-smell-the-coffee-colored-skin-white-authors/)

Tasha&Kamali
05-06-2012, 09:23 AM
Interesting analogy.


Saying that a white writer is not qualified to write a black or a Mexican or Indian or Philippino character is like saying Stephenie Meyer can’t write about falling in love with vampires because she’s married to a human, or that I can’t write a male POV because I don’t have, um… a beard. And by that logic, we wouldn’t have stories about dogs, either.Though it's these kind of analogies that make many people of color weary of authors attempting to tell 'their' story. Maybe the intention is admirable, but the presentation, wording, and shortsighted thinking leaves much to be desired.

I agree with a lot of her points. I just want good stories, above all else. But I was also reminded of The Help, and some of the backlash from black men and women while reading her points.

Kitty27
05-13-2012, 11:17 PM
Interesting analogy.

Though it's these kind of analogies that make many people of color weary of authors attempting to tell 'their' story. Maybe the intention is admirable, but the presentation, wording, and shortsighted thinking leaves much to be desired.

I agree with a lot of her points. I just want good stories, above all else. But I was also reminded of The Help, and some of the backlash from black men and women while reading her points.


Thank you. I couldn't have said it better. Comparing writing POC characters to a woman writing about a MYTHICAL creature is nothing but pure foolishness. POC are not in the mythical creature category.

We are real people with culture,history and many stories to tell.

What this article ignores is that the Black audience is dying for positive fiction and if it is marketed towards them,it will sell. All she talks about is White audiences.

It also speaks to a serious issue that bugs many writers of color. A white author can write about characters of color and get published easily. See James Patterson and others.

It is entirely different for a writer of color doing the same thing. It's as if our voices about our history/culture aren't given the same consideration.

The Help was and still is hated because we've seen this story a thousand times before,written better and told by Black authors who actually lived in that time frame who didn't Disney-ify what went down. Yet they didn't receive the accolades and movie deal KS did.

Saronai
05-21-2012, 02:29 PM
This article you posted, and the comments so far in response, directly addresses something I've been contemplating lately.

I agree that the vampire analogy is bad and that we must tred carefully and with much research and consideration when writing about people from a race other than our own.

She got me with the set-up scene though about wanting to see an ideal world, or even the diverse world outside our window in our fiction. I want that very much.

I think it's truly sad that stories from PoC are turned down. I confess, despite trying to find as many non-white perspectives as possible in my quest to diversify my fiction, I remained ignorant that the colour of the author had more effect than the colour of the characters.

It really shouldn't be that way, and as much as I love to tell stories, it makes me wish I was a publisher and editor more than an author. I could be doing more to rectify the situation than merely writing those books "for them"

Fantasy is my favourite genre, if you know of any AoC (authors of colour if I'm not crafting an acronym too liberally) I can buy, both self-pubbed on Kindle or available at brick and mortar, I would definitely appreciate a list, or link to some lists.

I think the subject matter of this article and the counter about POC authors' troubles getting published at all being part of the problem would deem such links/lists an appropriate shared response. I would even appreciate some blog links. I already follow several blogs/websites by various PoCs, but only one of them addresses the questions on my mind in a way that clearly depicts any cultural differences beyond skin colour.

I'm definitely now rethinking the character idea for a black girl studying runic magics (inspired by nordic rune lore). I want more diversity and to fight against white washing leads, not participate in a cultural white washing instead. *shivers*

Looking forward to reading the other takes on this article and the situation it addresses.

Oh, also, addressing Kitty directly, you mention that the
Black audience is dying for positive fiction and if it is marketed towards them I remember having that feeling in elementary school when all the stories I was handed and read to as a young girl were all about boys (with girls relegated to token side characters like, the mom, the love interest admired a few times in text, etc.). I am not saying the two are comparable, only that I experienced it enough to know that black audiences are probably more starved since, despite all the white boys, they were all white like me, and I did stumble upon more than a few stories to kindle my love of reading that were about white girls.

Despite looking, I have only stumbled on a few stories about PoCs that are within my preferred genre and I think they're all white authors. Most "black stories" I've encountered are anything but "positive" outside of the few fantasy stories that involve them. I'm writing buddies with a Chinese writer too. She writes about Chinese people. It makes me very sad to learn that I might be published first because I'm white even if her talent surpasses mine.

I find this all so very frustrating and wish we could all just write about people being people and publish without discrimination. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions of books/authors who are PoCs, indie or traditional publishing, I'd love to hear them, give them a looksee, and put my money where my mouth is as I can afford to do so.

I don't want to usurp characters and experiences from more authentic, lived it, points of view but...I don't want to be part of the crowd furthering their invisibility either. So many different PoCs have been a big part of my life at different points over the years that I wouldn't feel right not including them in my stories. Kinda feels like darned if I do, darned if I don't XD

I guess it's all good if I write them like real people and don't whitewash their cultures AND I don't make it big with their story and thus take that opportunity away from an AoC? I guess to an extent I knew an author's obviously identifiable as non-white name could effect sales and marketability, I just didn't realize how bad it really was. I've had lengthy talks about it with my writing buddy, especially considering that "Saronai" sounds no more white than "Ting."

In a battle of writing cultures only within your own racial bracket though...where does that leave those of us who always felt like an outsider to our own culture? No one will question me if I write white, fair enough, but sometimes I understand wholly different cultures better than my own =_= (which is probably at the heart of why I get along so well with exchange students and immigrants despite having never left the US).

I'm confused, so sorry if my ramblings show it all too well.

Mac H.
05-21-2012, 03:01 PM
The Help was and still is hated because we've seen this story a thousand times before,written better and told by Black authors who actually lived in that time frame who didn't Disney-ify what went down. Yet they didn't receive the accolades and movie deal KS did.This is a serious question:

Do you think that 'The Help' was so much more successful because the author wasn't a POC who lived in that time frame ... or because the author Disneyified the story?

I suspect that the market for 'Disney-ified' stories of real events is much bigger than the market of real stories of real events.

As humans we seem to crave the simple stories. When we think about popular stories about events we think of 'The Sound of Music' & 'The Kings Speech' which totally Disney-ified every human interaction (but made it 'feel' right to people who didn't know the facts). Yet accounts written by people who were there are largely ignored. Even when get *real* stories we have to Disney-ify the heck out of them to give them a wide reach.

I think a major problem is that the Disney-ification of stories is mainly done by outsiders .. because insiders want to be true to their culture (and reality) and so resist changing this for the mass market. Outsiders have no such limitation.

When someone Disney-ifies a story from their culture to make it palatable for the mass-market, other members of their culture often accuse them of being a sellout. Yet if someone outside the culture does it then they are safe from that accusation.

And we wonder why popular stories about a culture are always told by outsiders !? It doesn't seem to be a mystery.

Mac

A. M. Howard
07-25-2012, 03:27 AM
This is a serious question:

Do you think that 'The Help' was so much more successful because the author wasn't a POC who lived in that time frame ... or because the author Disneyified the story?

I suspect that the market for 'Disney-ified' stories of real events is much bigger than the market of real stories of real events.

As humans we seem to crave the simple stories. When we think about popular stories about events we think of 'The Sound of Music' & 'The Kings Speech' which totally Disney-ified every human interaction (but made it 'feel' right to people who didn't know the facts). Yet accounts written by people who were there are largely ignored. Even when get *real* stories we have to Disney-ify the heck out of them to give them a wide reach.

I think a major problem is that the Disney-ification of stories is mainly done by outsiders .. because insiders want to be true to their culture (and reality) and so resist changing this for the mass market. Outsiders have no such limitation.

When someone Disney-ifies a story from their culture to make it palatable for the mass-market, other members of their culture often accuse them of being a sellout. Yet if someone outside the culture does it then they are safe from that accusation.

And we wonder why popular stories about a culture are always told by outsiders !? It doesn't seem to be a mystery.

Mac


I think that we like to 'Disney-ify' stories such as these because no one wants to come out of the theater feeling ashamed, guilty, angry, etc. All emotions that you feel when you face the actual TRUTH.

You go to the movies to hear a story (simple or not) and to escape reality. Why would the general masses want to go and learn about their awful history? What's the point of that if they can't say at the end, "Boy, that was horrible, but at least they came out all right."

Throwing up blinders is much easier than confronting all those icky thoughts and emotions.

thebloodfiend
07-28-2012, 05:44 PM
I wrote this post (http://www.thebooklantern.com/2012/07/minority-warriors.html) last year, but I've just now added it to my blog. I think it's somewhat relevant to this topic.

crunchyblanket
07-28-2012, 06:17 PM
Do you think that 'The Help' was so much more successful because the author wasn't a POC who lived in that time frame ... or because the author Disneyified the story?



There's a part of me that thinks The Help was so successful because it addresses white guilt in a way that dissuades white guilt...a white person pointing out that white people behaved abominably is easier to swallow than a POC pointing out the same because we (white people) give ourselves a pat on the back for having 'owned up' to the sins of our fathers. We shake our collective heads and tut at how awful it all is and by the end of it, we're nicely absolved and we're right with "the black folk".

I don't know if any of that makes sense. I'm hopped up on painkillers. Anyway, the point is, if The Help had been written by a black woman, it would have made us white folk feel all crawly and guilty and confronted with our history in an unpleasant, visceral way, and instantly you'd get a bunch of people on the defensive. So it wouldn't have had the same critical acclaim because we'd all be too busy trying to deflect our guilt and whining about how strident the book/film was.