PDA

View Full Version : Confession of PoC Writers



Rachel Udin
10-08-2012, 06:35 AM
Even from PoC writers I sometimes see the refrain of "What if I get it wrong."

So I thought I would confess my horrendous mistakes so that others could learn from them. Anyone want to follow suit? Go ahead.

Internalized racism
Something about watching a lifetime of televisions shows, movies and reading books, despite my efforts ended up with me with one East Asian dude that was slippery like the buck-teethed Chinese merchant that's secretly swindling you. This lead me to go WTH is wrong with me, whack myself upside the head and try to separate what was him from the stereotype. Not quite sure I succeeded....

Too on the nose (must prove this person is other.)
Writing about India, Kushan empire, did a ton of research, and then instantly latched onto an elephant. As I was writing it, I was going, WTH am I doing? Why am I exactly putting in an elephant. Has nothing to do with the core plot.

After realizing this, I stripped back the entire thing and I'm going to rework it.

I figure if the person doesn't know what a sari is, and can't figure it out from simple things, they can go and live in their all white world. I'm not here to rescue them I'm here to write a good story that happens to include PoCs.

TV was wrong. AKA The great purge.
What does American TV show of India? Of course when Britain conquered it. What's American Indian food? Of course it's really British American food. What's shown on TV of an Indian person? Turban spouting something like Magical Asian dude stuff. Despite thousands of years of history, which era gets talked about? Mughal. You know, when the whites arrived. (Check out Amazon.)

I only found this out after I started researching. I admit I started thinking I knew a fair deal. I mean, I took Hinduism class, I'd watched and read a fair amount about India--watched a ton of documentaries. I knew a few basics here and there, probably better than the average, but I think compared to now, I was cocky. I realize the breath of my own ignorance. (and mind you I'm happier for it)

It was a stupid mistake to think I knew anything at all based on American culture and one class. That was really ignorant of me. But I'll confess it because I really didn't know. From now on I'm going to force myself to have an open mind and assume what I know and think is true is wrong, especially when getting it from the Western Hemisphere.

...And the most important thing about them is...

I've skated very close to this before I realized I was really getting too close to the edge and turned around. Believe me, it doesn't work to make one label the sole identifier of who that character is.

Wrote an ajumma (Korean middle aged woman)... was going with the stereotype and then I realized she wasn't fleshed out at all. She's just a flat turd on the page with that label. So I gave her a few quirks. (She likes laser guns, and especially the quirky laser guns) and tried to round her out outside of the stereotype. =P Also inserted some Korean (people, not language) in-jokes about stereotypes. And note I am of Korean heritage, so there should be even less excuses.

But in making these mistakes, I hope I make them less the next time and think it through. An upside to this, is now I'm thinking through all of my characters a lot more carefully and I've learned more about the world around me. That won't go away no matter what I do with my projects.

Anyone want to share anecdotes? Maybe writing PoC wouldn't be so frightening if one knows that making the mistake isn't the problem. It's not correcting it either through your own work and a straight, fast apology that is.

Medievalist
10-08-2012, 07:20 AM
What you're talking about has less to do with PoC per se than ethnocentrism writ large.

aruna
10-08-2012, 08:37 AM
Rachel, I don't know much about the Kushan empire specifically and certainly haven't researched it, but I don't think it's a cliche to put in an elephant. Quite likely, elephants were a common form of transport, at least for the upper classes, and nothing cliched at all, and so to leave them out might be like to leave out, well, cars, when writing about our own era.

I once wrote a Mughal Empire novel -- well, started one, but didn't finishe it. Not a white perosn in sight: it was from the point of view of Jodhaa, the Hindu wife of Akbar. It had LOTS of elephants! I do agree with you, though, that the depiction of India in today's Britain and America is extremely cliched. What gets on my nerve the most is this: in any novel or non-fiction book written by a non-Indian or Hollywood movie there HAS to be some long-bearded "guru" spouting "wisdoms" and white people sitting cross-legged, chanting OM, and channeling their chakras or aura or whatever (case in point: Eat Love Pray). It's very easy to get India, and especially Hinduism, very wrong: Liz Gilbert did, and that's because she went to an American ashram and hung out mostly (allmost entirely) with Americans .

What am I guilty of? I don't know. I'm sure if and when my WIP comes out people will throw accsations of this and that at me, particularly because in the first chapter the "white" MC thinks in racist cliches. But then, it's a historical novel so she would have. The question is, does she change, and how? I'm hoping readers will bear with me! :)

Rachel Udin
10-08-2012, 08:40 PM
Rachel, I don't know much about the Kushan empire specifically and certainly haven't researched it, but I don't think it's a cliche to put in an elephant. Quite likely, elephants were a common form of transport, at least for the upper classes, and nothing cliched at all, and so to leave them out might be like to leave out, well, cars, when writing about our own era.

I once wrote a Mughal Empire novel -- well, started one, but didn't finishe it. Not a white perosn in sight: it was from the point of view of Jodhaa, the Hindu wife of Akbar. It had LOTS of elephants! I do agree with you, though, that the depiction of India in today's Britain and America is extremely cliched. What gets on my nerve the most is this: in any novel or non-fiction book written by a non-Indian or Hollywood movie there HAS to be some long-bearded "guru" spouting "wisdoms" and white people sitting cross-legged, chanting OM, and channeling their chakras or aura or whatever (case in point: Eat Love Pray). It's very easy to get India, and especially Hinduism, very wrong: Liz Gilbert did, and that's because she went to an American ashram and hung out mostly (allmost entirely) with Americans .

What am I guilty of? I don't know. I'm sure if and when my WIP comes out people will throw accsations of this and that at me, particularly because in the first chapter the "white" MC thinks in racist cliches. But then, it's a historical novel so she would have. The question is, does she change, and how? I'm hoping readers will bear with me! :)
True about the elephants. I was writing about mahoot, but then, I realized that I was only inserting the elephant to prove the character *was Indian.* Had nothing to do with the plot, didn't move anything forward and it had no other function besides proving that it was India. Which is kinda veering close to ethnic fail. Still trying to strike the balance.

Besides, the leading character is female... belongs in the palace the majority of the time, and I found a better way to communicate the same problem that's not all out LOOK SHE'S INDIAN. GET IT YET???!!

It's not the inclusion of the elephant I found problematic, it was inclusion of the elephant to prove a point about her ethnicity and that was the only thing it was there for. Seems like you found a plot/setting reason that was concrete. =P I didn't have one.

At least I'm glad I'm catching it before sending it out. Especially the stereotypes of my own ethnicity/race. =P

LJD
10-09-2012, 05:19 PM
You might find this review of Stormdancer (http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/d-plain-reviews/review-stormdancer-by-jay-kristoff/) (Jay Kristoff) interesting...
(a what-if-you-get-it-wrong example)

Kitty Pryde
10-10-2012, 04:32 AM
You might find this review of Stormdancer (http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/d-plain-reviews/review-stormdancer-by-jay-kristoff/) (Jay Kristoff) interesting...
(a what-if-you-get-it-wrong example)

I coulda predicted this from the cover. And weren't we just talking in another thread about YA books with poor portrayals of Asian culture where the girl on the front is holding the sword in a hazardous but sexy manner? Did I imagine that? This chick looks about .3 seconds away from slicing her thumb off. She should spend more time practicing her iaido and less time practice thrusting her various bits out awkwardly.

Amadan
10-11-2012, 04:28 PM
I coulda predicted this from the cover. And weren't we just talking in another thread about YA books with poor portrayals of Asian culture where the girl on the front is holding the sword in a hazardous but sexy manner? Did I imagine that? This chick looks about .3 seconds away from slicing her thumb off. She should spend more time practicing her iaido and less time practice thrusting her various bits out awkwardly.

Actually, the sword-drawing motion doesn't look wrong to me, but when I first saw that picture I was like, "WTF? Why isn't she wearing anything under her hakama?" Plus, tattoos were a yakuza/outcast thing, not for samurai, especially women.

Then I read that he did all his research on Wikipedia. :Headbang::Headbang::Headbang::Headbang::Headbang:

fadeaccompli
10-11-2012, 05:37 PM
I coulda predicted this from the cover. And weren't we just talking in another thread about YA books with poor portrayals of Asian culture where the girl on the front is holding the sword in a hazardous but sexy manner? Did I imagine that? This chick looks about .3 seconds away from slicing her thumb off. She should spend more time practicing her iaido and less time practice thrusting her various bits out awkwardly.

See, I would give it a pass on cover, because the cover is outside the writer's control. A writer can create a beautifully-researched piece of historical fiction, and end up with a cover that plays entirely to stereotypes. Happens to the best.

However, the "I researched it on Wikipedia!" thing is a killer. You don't need to do in-depth research on every aspect of a book, but the primary culture it's being based on? YES. Especially if it's not your own culture. Augh!

Rachel Udin
10-13-2012, 08:32 PM
You might find this review of Stormdancer (http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/d-plain-reviews/review-stormdancer-by-jay-kristoff/) (Jay Kristoff) interesting...
(a what-if-you-get-it-wrong example)
Did he ever reply to the reviews leaning towards that direction? Just curious.

And even I know not to do that level of fail. But then I've been studying Japan, as a whole, not off of anime for longer. Met and talked to Japanese people (which does not auto-qualify me), went to Japan (also does not auto-qualify me), read Japanese lit, read Japanese folktales, took a history class on Japan, took Japanese language class, consumed a variety of media, etc. Anime is not where you go for info on Japan.

Wrote a story based on Japanese folklore. I set it in Kyoto, because I've been to Kyoto. I made it about an old woman tofu shop owner. I have a kitsune. It's in modern to contemporary Japan. There are no Geisha, Samurai, samurai swords, mecha, or large bits of science fiction. It's slice of life with a kitsune. I also borrowed some Japanese storytelling conventions too. (May be showing off) Story still needs basic vetting, but I figure it'll stand out for not being about all the Minority Pathological Porn stuff. If I can shave it by 200 words... otherwise I have to find other magazines to submit to.

Still, failure isn't so bad as long as you're willing to apologize fast and learn from it (and other people's failures)

Kitty27
10-14-2012, 03:15 AM
Whenever I write about a culture outside of the AA culture I come from,I put my super critical editorial glasses on.

I don't fuck around because I remember how upset I get when a writer writes about my culture with no respect or sense whatsoever. I remember that readers of other cultures/ethnic groups have their what the fuck is this& has this writer lost their damned mind sensors at red alert,too.


I research like a fiend. I ask questions. I send it to beta readers of the culture/ethnic group I am writing about. I go over it like an obsessive loon.


I tend to be very careful when writing about Native Americans. I don't ever want to come near the Stoic or Magical Indian tropes. I do my level best not to come with fuckery that will offend. If I am writing an Asian character,I am also super careful. There will be none of the trope landmines from me. I still worry because I know how crazed I can be about Black tropes.

It always is in the best interest of a writer to ask questions and research. Even with POC writers,we must remember that writing about cultures other than the one we come from must be treated with respect and sense.

kuwisdelu
10-15-2012, 05:15 AM
Actually, the sword-drawing motion doesn't look wrong to me, but when I first saw that picture I was like, "WTF? Why isn't she wearing anything under her hakama?"

One of my sempai doesn't wear anything under his hakama.

Kitty Pryde
10-15-2012, 05:17 AM
One of my sempai doesn't wear anything under his hakama.

:e2brows:

kuwisdelu
10-15-2012, 05:34 AM
:e2brows:

He says it's more comfortable. Maybe I'll try it out next keiko.

In any case, that's clearly not a conventional gi and tattoos are for yakuza.

That's why I'm worried whether I'll be let into an onsen if I go to Japan.

yttar
10-15-2012, 04:23 PM
He says it's more comfortable. Maybe I'll try it out next keiko.

In any case, that's clearly not a conventional gi and tattoos are for yakuza.

That's why I'm worried whether I'll be let into an onsen if I go to Japan.

If your tattoos are in a visible place, no you won't be able to go to a public onsen. Unless its a yakuza run one. But, there are some ryokan that offer private onsen that I'm sure if it's just you, no one will be there to see your tattoos.

Yttar

JS Emuakpor
10-17-2012, 12:31 AM
Even with POC writers,we must remember that writing about cultures other than the one we come from must be treated with respect and sense.Hear hear!

And I want to add that it also applies within country/regional borders, irrespective of whether all involved are of the same race. I wrote an historical fantasy based on a culture that is similar to mine (as in: within the same West African country), but the actual setting and characters are from a culture that is very far removed from the one I was born into. Needless to say, I researched my ass off.

kuwisdelu
10-17-2012, 02:26 AM
I'm still nervous to write about my own culture.

Anna L.
10-17-2012, 09:52 AM
That's why I'm worried whether I'll be let into an onsen if I go to Japan.

When we went to Japan, we visited a public onsen. My sister has tattoos (small one on the ankle, another one in her back) but nobody said anything. Maybe they don't care when you're clearly a tourist?

That said, I don't really recommend the experience. Everybody else there was elderly and we felt completely out of place. I mean, more out of place than you normally feel when you're a blindingly white person wandering round Japan.

LJD
10-17-2012, 05:57 PM
I'm still nervous to write about my own culture.

I have this problem too.