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LJ Hall
11-14-2012, 01:35 AM
I was reading an interesting selection of quotes from different PoC writers about this issue: are white writers co-opting the voices of PoCs when they choose to write stories about them, knowing that they statistically have a better likelihood of getting published than PoC writers do? Or is ANY good representation of PoC characters to be considered a good thing, no matter who writes it?

I'm wondering what people here think.

Sam Argent
11-14-2012, 02:50 AM
No. Writing about PoCs is not co-opting anyone's culture. I've never seen the logic in that argument because people steal language, music, religion, food, movies, clothes, etc. from each other all over the world. But, there is a legitimate problem with PoC authors getting shelved in back corners in book sections and that problem won't be solved by banning everyone else from touching those subjects.

veinglory
11-14-2012, 03:01 AM
I don't think sacrificing character diversity does anything to advance author diversity.

LJ Hall
11-14-2012, 04:11 AM
Sam - not co-opting their culture, co-opting their VOICE. I'm operating under the assumption that there's a finite amount of books about PoC characters that a publisher will put out or an agent will rep at any one time. How do writers of color feel about white authors taking up so much of that finite space?

Of course the problem is deeper than an author and a book - author diversity is an issue at the agent and publisher level. I just wonder if it's a source of resentment or if people tend to be glad that the books are being published no matter who's writing them.

I know there's no right or wrong answer here, I was just looking for opinions about it.

Polenth
11-14-2012, 04:33 AM
Most of the discussions on this assume the portrayals will be bad, because it's usually true. We don't really know how it'd impact things if all we had is good portrayals from white writers and portrayals from non-white/PoC.

But in the world we're in, white writers usually get it horribly wrong. That's a much bigger issue to me than worrying about those who get it right. I also think it ignores stuff like erasure, which can as bad or worse than a poor portrayal.

Kitty Pryde
11-14-2012, 05:52 AM
I was reading an interesting selection of quotes from different PoC writers about this issue: are white writers co-opting the voices of PoCs when they choose to write stories about them, knowing that they statistically have a better likelihood of getting published than PoC writers do? Or is ANY good representation of PoC characters to be considered a good thing, no matter who writes it?

I'm wondering what people here think.

It would be helpful if you could bring in some of those quotes for us to discuss more specifically!

It's my personal opinion that any increase in the amount of well-done PoC main characters (not sidekicks, BFFs, and magical helpers) moves us towards a world of literary equality (one in which it's not an issue whether a character is a PoC or not, because all groups of people have good and proportional representation).

But since even well-intentioned white authors frequently do a terrible job representing PoC in their work, it's a problem. I don't think anyone could make a rational argument that they should completely avoid writing PoC. But there's a heavy responsibility to get it right!

Sam Argent
11-14-2012, 05:54 AM
Sam - not co-opting their culture, co-opting their VOICE. I'm operating under the assumption that there's a finite amount of books about PoC characters that a publisher will put out or an agent will rep at any one time. How do writers of color feel about white authors taking up so much of that finite space?

Of course the problem is deeper than an author and a book - author diversity is an issue at the agent and publisher level. I just wonder if it's a source of resentment or if people tend to be glad that the books are being published no matter who's writing them.

I know there's no right or wrong answer here, I was just looking for opinions about it.

Ah. It's just as hard for me to understand stealing the voices of PoC because a lot of writers have different stories. Your examples about limited space for PoC stories show that there is a problem in the publishing industry and not with writers.

I did see a lot of that resentment when The Help became a box office hit. It was funny because I heard a lot of college-aged people tear that movie apart, but my grandmother and other people who spent most of their lives cleaning houses loved it. It wasn't an accurate portrayal and steered away from some of the grimmer aspects of that life, but my grandmother felt like it gave her a voice that reached millions of people.

LJ Hall
11-14-2012, 06:37 AM
It would be helpful if you could bring in some of those quotes for us to discuss more specifically!

Argh, I'm trying. I went link-surfing the other day and found a page that was basically authors of color being asked about the issue and splitting down the middle. As soon as I hunt it down again I'll put the link up here.

I started off my web-surfing at this Tumblr post (http://missturdle.tumblr.com/post/11759130989/gee-i-dont-know-how-to-research-writing-characters-of), which is an extraordinarily good collection of links to articles about problematic writing, writing the 'other' character, avoiding stereotypes, etc. I think this is a good page to send people to if they have general questions about writing groups that they themselves aren't a part of.

Kitty27
11-14-2012, 11:18 AM
I am of two minds about this.

One,it is always good to see more diversity and to see it done well. Most of the time,utter fail happens as seen with The Help,The Secret Life Of Bees and The Hunger Games and countless others.

Two,there MUST be writers of color in the mix and we must be given our seats at the table. It is nice that non POC writers want to bring diversity to the table. The danger comes when it becomes acceptable for ONLY them to do so and writers of color are drowned out or our POV viewed as not needed. Our voices are just as important and needed.

The reason why publishing gives so few writers of color the chance to write about our respective cultures and POC characters is due to racist assumptions that:
a)We don't read aka the book will be a financial loss. Or we only read in very narrow categories. This is especially true for Black readers concerning erotica and urban fiction. It translates into all we want is sex and violence.

b)Non POC readers won't give the book a chance because they can't relate or are uncomfortable with the subject matter. We,as writers of color tend to be blunt about issues our characters might encounter and don't sugar coat shit. That's why the The Help can become a hit movie but Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl will NEVER hit the big screen. Part of the reason for The Help backlash is because the story has been told a thousand times and done better by Black writers without the fairytale sheen and white savior trope. Bernice McFadden wrote a very good article about this.

In short,diversity in fiction is needed. But writers of color are especially needed. There is most definitely an issue as to who is writing the characters. My teen-age cousins and all of their friends have zero interest in the latest YA crazes. I mean,none. They were especially pissed at the depiction of Rue and blacks in The Hunger Games. So they don't read the books or see the movies because of how the author wrote the characters and yes,the race of the author comes into play just as it does in what I previously mentioned. They flat out told me the White lady doesn't know what she's talking about and if she writes Black characters like that,it is a reflection of how she feels about Black people in real life.

This probably isn't true,but words have power. How a non POC person writes characters of color will be judged and dissected thoroughly. This is why many writers who mean well and want to try stay completely away from diversity.

Sam,LJHall is completely right. If we cannot tell our own stories and see success,but someone else who has never lived the culture or truly understands it,can,it becomes a problem and that needs to change.

Satsya
11-14-2012, 03:35 PM
They were especially pissed at the depiction of Rue and blacks in The Hunger Games.

What do they find wrong with the depiction, if you don't mind my asking? I haven't read or watched Hunger Games, and the only color-related issue I'd heard of was racists complaining about the existence of black actors.

Your second to last statement is spot-on. That extra level of judgement often makes me feel I can't write explicitly non-white characters naturally. If I give them flaws, I feel pressure to research those flaws and make sure they aren't part of a stereotype. Too often, that ends up reducing the character to a level of bland I can't obtain otherwise.

I'm not sure what the solution to that is, except maybe with more character diversity overall it wouldn't be such an issue. The extra judgement might be in large part because there are just so few non-white characters to judge, so the personality of each one matters more. If that makes sense.

Undoubtedly more writers of color are needed.

Sam Argent
11-14-2012, 07:42 PM
I am of two minds about this.

One,it is always good to see more diversity and to see it done well. Most of the time,utter fail happens as seen with The Help,The Secret Life Of Bees and The Hunger Games and countless others.

Keep in mind that I haven't read/seen The Secret Life of Bees, and my knowledge about The Help and Hunger Games is only from the movies. The Help was flawed but it wasn't an utter failure. It succeeded in the one piece of advice I always hear: know your audience. In the US, the general audience is squeamish about realistic suffering and over the top violence like Tarantino goes down easier.

I think The Help could have escaped the controversy and still appealed to a wide audience if it had halved its characters(including Skeeter), and spent more time developing Abilieen, Minny, and Celia.


Two,there MUST be writers of color in the mix and we must be given our seats at the table. It is nice that non POC writers want to bring diversity to the table. The danger comes when it becomes acceptable for ONLY them to do so and writers of color are drowned out or our POV viewed as not needed. Our voices are just as important and needed.

The reason why publishing gives so few writers of color the chance to write about our respective cultures and POC characters is due to racist assumptions that:
a)We don't read aka the book will be a financial loss. Or we only read in very narrow categories. This is especially true for Black readers concerning erotica and urban fiction. It translates into all we want is sex and violence.

Yes, I do wish there were was more encouragement for PoC writers to branch out into different genres, and I hate that there are writers I know who are given advice to use pseudonyms if their name sounds ethnic.


b)Non POC readers won't give the book a chance because they can't relate or are uncomfortable with the subject matter. We,as writers of color tend to be blunt about issues our characters might encounter and don't sugar coat shit. That's why the The Help can become a hit movie but Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl will NEVER hit the big screen. Part of the reason for The Help backlash is because the story has been told a thousand times and done better by Black writers without the fairytale sheen and white savior trope. Bernice McFadden wrote a very good article about this.

I wouldn't hold my breath on that either. The first difference between the two movies is that The Help is fiction and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl isn't. Sugar-coated fiction whose darker elements was not letting a maid poop pales in comparison to a biography about real fear and dehumanization. The other difference is that there would be harsher backlash if someone screwed up Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The only movie production company I could trust to pull it off might be HBO.

I bring up HBO because this isn't a problem restricted to skin color. Movies depicting war and genocide that make it to the big screen water down the atrocities. I couldn't stand the first fifteen minutes of Hotel Rwanda, but I was sucked into Sometimes in April after five. There are always going to be better and and more accurate books/movies that get less press.


In short,diversity in fiction is needed. But writers of color are especially needed. There is most definitely an issue as to who is writing the characters. My teen-age cousins and all of their friends have zero interest in the latest YA crazes. I mean,none. They were especially pissed at the depiction of Rue and blacks in The Hunger Games. So they don't read the books or see the movies because of how the author wrote the characters and yes,the race of the author comes into play just as it does in what I previously mentioned. They flat out told me the White lady doesn't know what she's talking about and if she writes Black characters like that,it is a reflection of how she feels about Black people in real life.

I didn't see any problems with Rue, and if her character was exactly the same in the book, then it sounds like nitpicking. She wasn't a stereotype, and I prefer it if authors don't think that all black people sound/act the same. The other characters weren't developed enough for me to feel anything about them.


This probably isn't true,but words have power. How a non POC person writes characters of color will be judged and dissected thoroughly. This is why many writers who mean well and want to try stay completely away from diversity.

Sam,LJHall is completely right. If we cannot tell our own stories and see success,but someone else who has never lived the culture or truly understands it,can,it becomes a problem and that needs to change.

I don't know how to change it. I know one place to start is with publishing companies. From little things to big things, they influence future writers and one of their continuous mistakes is whitewashing covers. It doesn't send out a positive message to writers or readers.

Mr Flibble
11-14-2012, 09:13 PM
Deleted my message cos I couldn't get it go right and didn;t want to come across as an arse


This is why many writers who mean well and want to try stay completely away from diversity. I think that's very true, but it isn't really the answer. I wish I knew what the answer was.

Okay, let's try this:

As a white writer, what can I, personally, do to help the issue (other than buy POC writers in say SFF)? Or is that the point, I can't really? Suggestions welcome!

backslashbaby
11-15-2012, 01:16 AM
I feel awful about the publishing and movie industry on this issue. As a writer and just regarding writing, I find the situation easier. Of course I write PoC characters, if I know them. Why wouldn't I? They are a huge part of my life, and so it would be very weird to keep them out of my writing.

If I don't know them, I'm not likely to write about them until I do. I'm just more comfortable writing what I know.

If my work got picked over a PoC because I am white, I'd be pissed with the industry. I don't think I should stop telling the stories I tell, though. I think what a writer writes about is kind of a sacred thing, if that makes any sense. You can't stop me from writing the stories I am compelled to tell; I'm a writer! It's just what we do!

Now, there will always be people who criticize every work. I'd be afraid if I got no support from the PoC communities, but I'd also expect lots of different opinions. As long as the folks I know and trust don't think I'm clueless, I'm good, personally.

If you don't know any PoC, I can't speak to that. That's completely foreign to me. I'd have a really hard time writing about you, lol.

LJ Hall
11-15-2012, 03:42 AM
If we cannot tell our own stories and see success,but someone else who has never lived the culture or truly understands it,can,it becomes a problem and that needs to change.

Thanks, Kitty27, I was hoping you'd weigh in on this.

After reading everyone's words so far, I think I'm a little clearer on where I stand on the issue. (Full discretion, I'm of Arabic descent, which on a census is ticked under 'white' but in reality it ain't that easy.)

Anyway, I think this is where I'm landing on this issue: including Black characters in my work is great (provided I show proper respect and do research). But me telling the story of the Black experience with those character would be way less fine. Same with other characters of color from other ethnicities besides my own.

Am I close to the mark there? I mean, having characters of color filling the world of my YA urban fantasy novel is entirely different from writing a novel about the Black experience in Jim Crow-era Alabama.

Then again authors also run the risk of writing flat, tepid characters without any sense of a deeper culture or heritage, and then describing them as Black or Asian or olive-skinned or whatever just to try to give their work some flavor. Then you get PoCs who really aren't, like the author was just tying to fill up some Diversity Bingo card or something.

Mr Flibble
11-15-2012, 03:52 AM
Am I close to the mark there? I mean, having characters of color filling the world of my YA urban fantasy novel is entirely different from writing a novel about the Black experience in Jim Crow-era Alabama.



I was thinking something similar earlier, but wasn't sure how to express it, thanks!

Polenth
11-15-2012, 04:31 AM
After reading everyone's words so far, I think I'm a little clearer on where I stand on the issue. (Full discretion, I'm of Arabic descent, which on a census is ticked under 'white' but in reality it ain't that easy.)

Bear in mind some people want to classify Mexicans with indigenous heritage as white, so they'd no longer benefit from anti-discrimination laws. That pretty much sums up what legal whiteness means. Generally speaking, non-white/PoC communities are aware of that and aren't going to put a lot of weight in what the law declares to be whiteness.

In other words, though Middle Eastern, North African, South Asians and some mixed race people are all Caucasian, they're not what people mean when they say white. They're mainly talking about those of Northern European descent.

If you're in a situation where you're treated as non-white/PoC, you're already a step ahead, as you can use those experiences to understand the things other groups face. Though of course, that extra step isn't a guarantee of anything. We can all end up making a mess of it when we write about other groups, which is why it's important to get readers from that group if you can.

veinglory
11-15-2012, 05:07 AM
I am wondering what would be gained by forcing me to only write characters of my own race (gender, nationality, sex, orientation, religion, age?).

My stories would immediately become sterile and uninteresting.

Or would I be allowed, due to my 1/8 known non-white heritage to have 1/8th PoC characters. And could they be over any color or would they have to be Australian Aborigine due to my family background?

Honestly, I will write the characters my stories call for. If I do a bad job of it, I expect to be called on it. That's the bottom line.

LJ Hall
11-15-2012, 05:21 AM
If you're in a situation where you're treated as non-white/PoC, you're already a step ahead, as you can use those experiences to understand the things other groups face. Though of course, that extra step isn't a guarantee of anything. We can all end up making a mess of it when we write about other groups, which is why it's important to get readers from that group if you can.

I feel a little like I experienced some of both worlds. My life and the things that I noticed about people around me and my family entirely changed after 9/11. So I don't think I could write well (without research) about growing up with any sense of otherness, because I don't feel that it was a major issue when I was a child. But I can talk very much first person about, say, the humiliation of every portrayal of people like me on TV being cartoonish and negative and hateful. Or the nervousness of walking into a place and knowing that you're instantly on the radars of everyone around you.

Then again, from the viewpoint of someone from a different ethnic group those exact same situations might feel entirely different. I think there's way too much danger in complacency there, in missing the subtleties from group to group. Assuming that I know how anyone else feels is a mistake, but I know I have some things to draw from.

I think that complacent presumption is where writers go the most wrong. You get people like Victoria Foyt saying that because she had full lips as a (red-headed, pale-skinned) child, she understands the sorrow of racism and is fully allowed to be a spokesman for it. That's how you end up with a ridiculously racist book that features a white child of privilege who is supposedly a member of an underclass but who behaves and thinks like a white child of privilege.

veinglory
11-15-2012, 05:25 AM
And when she did that the publisher refused the book, she self-published it and the reading publisher called her on the bizarre handling of race.

On the other hand many authors write diverse characters without any obvious fetishizing or other weirdness.

LJ Hall
11-15-2012, 05:29 AM
I am wondering what would be gained by forcing me to only write characters of my own race (gender, nationality, sex, orientation, religion, age?).

My stories would immediately become sterile and uninteresting.

Or would I be allowed, due to my 1/8 known non-white heritage to have 1/8th PoC characters. And could they be over any color or would they have to be Australian Aborigine due to my family background?

Honestly, I will write the characters my stories call for. If I do a bad job of it, I expect to be called on it. That's the bottom line.

I think that's the bottom line for me, too. There's nothing to stop anyone (and in fact there's a lot to be gained) from writing about characters of every ethnicity, class, sexual preference, etc. But people have to recognize that if they themselves aren't that particular race, etc, then they ought to do some research to make sure they're writing accurately.

I mean, you'd research taxidermy if your character did that for a living and you never did, right? So why would you think writing about someone from a completely different heritage is as easy as describing a skin color and then moving on without a thought? (That's hypothetical, BTW, I don't mean you specifically. :-))

And when it comes down to writing definitive stories about the experience of a culture or background that isn't yours...maybe then you step back and let someone from that group let their own voice be heard instead.

That's where I'm coming down on this, anyway.

LJ Hall
11-15-2012, 05:37 AM
And when she did that the publisher refused the book, she self-published it and the reading publisher called her on the bizarre handling of race.

On the other hand many authors write diverse characters without any obvious fetishizing or other weirdness.

Yeah, she was kind of an extreme example. You don't see that level of willful ignorance every day.

Then again there are many PoC on these threads saying that most non-PoCs who write PoC characters miss the mark noticeably. So even if there's no fetishizing going on, there's still something wrong.

Kitty27
11-15-2012, 09:40 AM
What do they find wrong with the depiction, if you don't mind my asking? I haven't read or watched Hunger Games, and the only color-related issue I'd heard of was racists complaining about the existence of black actors.


Rue was depicted as coming from a district where Blacks pick fruit from trees,faced violence and it was based off Atlanta,my hometown, which is majority Blacks. This was NOT received well by them. Unfortunate implications abound with this. Then came the casting. Rue is described as having dark brown skin. In the movie,she was played by a biracial actress. I could go for days about the colorism demons in the Black community.This made them even angrier.

Your second to last statement is spot-on. That extra level of judgement often makes me feel I can't write explicitly non-white characters naturally. If I give them flaws, I feel pressure to research those flaws and make sure they aren't part of a stereotype. Too often, that ends up reducing the character to a level of bland I can't obtain otherwise.

I'm not sure what the solution to that is, except maybe with more character diversity overall it wouldn't be such an issue. The extra judgement might be in large part because there are just so few non-white characters to judge, so the personality of each one matters more. If that makes sense.

Undoubtedly more writers of color are needed.

It makes sense. It's an issue that can be hard to approach and handle.


Keep in mind that I haven't read/seen The Secret Life of Bees, and my knowledge about The Help and Hunger Games is only from the movies. The Help was flawed but it wasn't an utter failure. It succeeded in the one piece of advice I always hear: know your audience. In the US, the general audience is squeamish about realistic suffering and over the top violence like Tarantino goes down easier.

I think The Help could have escaped the controversy and still appealed to a wide audience if it had halved its characters(including Skeeter), and spent more time developing Abilieen, Minny, and Celia.

Very true,Sam. I politely disagree about The Help's appeal being broadened because of focus on Abileen and Minny. These two were nothing but thinly disguised mammies,both in the book and the film. Minny also had a dash of Sassy Neck Rolling Negress to complete the fail.



Yes, I do wish there were was more encouragement for PoC writers to branch out into different genres, and I hate that there are writers I know who are given advice to use pseudonyms if their name sounds ethnic.

It seems as if self-publishing will be the way for authors of color. Mainstream publishing is clearly not ready to provide the marketing,acceptance and cultural understanding to writers of color and their characters. The persistent myth that we don't read also won't die. We know the audience exists for our books and will buy them. So,maybe it's time to hit the digital frontier. E. Lynn Harris became a HUGE author because he took his books directly to his audience. His blueprint might be what POC writers need to follow.



I wouldn't hold my breath on that either. The first difference between the two movies is that The Help is fiction and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl isn't. Sugar-coated fiction whose darker elements was not letting a maid poop pales in comparison to a biography about real fear and dehumanization. The other difference is that there would be harsher backlash if someone screwed up Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The only movie production company I could trust to pull it off might be HBO.

I bring up HBO because this isn't a problem restricted to skin color. Movies depicting war and genocide that make it to the big screen water down the atrocities. I couldn't stand the first fifteen minutes of Hotel Rwanda, but I was sucked into Sometimes in April after five. There are always going to be better and and more accurate books/movies that get less press.

True. But this continued portrayal of certain eras with a fantasy gloss and White saviors irks. From Dancing With Wolves to Samurai to The Help,this tired trope will NOT die. It also gets beyond annoying to see Blacks continuously portrayed in two of the worst time frames of our history and readers sop it up with a biscuit. We get a distinct feeling that people love these stories because we were in our "place."





I don't know how to change it. I know one place to start is with publishing companies. From little things to big things, they influence future writers and one of their continuous mistakes is whitewashing covers. It doesn't send out a positive message to writers or readers.

Exactly. They can do MUCH more,especially with the rapidly changing demographics of the USA. There is a huge audience of kids of color waiting to be represented. I have always said that it will take one book to hit Twilight or HP levels of success and show the purchasing power of this group for them to publishing to finally get with it. Like it or not,money talks. The fact that this audience of readers is continuously and repeatedly ignored and when they do show up in fiction-are often completely wrong in characterization- speaks to one factor and that is racism and laziness.


Deleted my message cos I couldn't get it go right and didn;t want to come across as an arse

I think that's very true, but it isn't really the answer. I wish I knew what the answer was.

Okay, let's try this:

As a white writer, what can I, personally, do to help the issue (other than buy POC writers in say SFF)? Or is that the point, I can't really? Suggestions welcome!

Research and respect. If you want to write characters of color,these two things go a long way. Too many writers don't and it shows.


Thanks, Kitty27, I was hoping you'd weigh in on this.

After reading everyone's words so far, I think I'm a little clearer on where I stand on the issue. (Full discretion, I'm of Arabic descent, which on a census is ticked under 'white' but in reality it ain't that easy.)

Anyway, I think this is where I'm landing on this issue: including Black characters in my work is great (provided I show proper respect and do research). But me telling the story of the Black experience with those character would be way less fine. Same with other characters of color from other ethnicities besides my own.

Am I close to the mark there? I mean, having characters of color filling the world of my YA urban fantasy novel is entirely different from writing a novel about the Black experience in Jim Crow-era Alabama.

Then again authors also run the risk of writing flat, tepid characters without any sense of a deeper culture or heritage, and then describing them as Black or Asian or olive-skinned or whatever just to try to give their work some flavor. Then you get PoCs who really aren't, like the author was just tying to fill up some Diversity Bingo card or something.

Thank you. You said it exactly.

If they are writing characters of color,they should remember that in the end,we are all human beings with many of the same wants and drama in common. When it becomes the dreaded issue book is when I get very annoyed. Yes,POC have problems,but that is NOT the sum of our experience as human beings. The same should go for characters.

kuwisdelu
11-15-2012, 10:03 AM
Yup.

There's a difference between writing PoC characters and writing about the PoC experience.

djrashn
11-16-2012, 01:02 AM
Yup.

There's a difference between writing PoC characters and writing about the PoC experience.

And just because the character is a PoC, that doesn't mean the story has to be about the PoC experience.

Satsya
11-16-2012, 02:29 AM
The PoC experience is a separate topic than what I was thinking. I see it as more of a writing issue rather than a racial issue. It’s the general rule that if one is going to write a culture, they need to know the culture. Whether that means being raised in the culture or doing extensive research, the writer needs to know their subject.

And following on what Kitty said, it isn’t just about the black experience compared to white experience, as that’d be too simple. I could write about a white (European-mutt-heritage), agnostic person growing up in southern California; I don’t know squat about writing a white (German-heritage), Evangelical person growing up in the Appalachians. There are certain worries and issues that are divided along racial lines, but they’re just one part of the experience equation.

kuwisdelu
11-16-2012, 03:22 AM
The PoC experience is a separate topic than what I was thinking. I see it as more of a writing issue rather than a racial issue. It’s the general rule that if one is going to write a culture, they need to know the culture. Whether that means being raised in the culture or doing extensive research, the writer needs to know their subject.

And following on what Kitty said, it isn’t just about the black experience compared to white experience, as that’d be too simple. I could write about a white (European-mutt-heritage), agnostic person growing up in southern California; I don’t know squat about writing a white (German-heritage), Evangelical person growing up in the Appalachians. There are certain worries and issues that are divided along racial lines, but they’re just one part of the experience equation.

My point was just that sometimes culture isn't all that important to the story.

And sometimes it is.

LJ Hall
11-16-2012, 03:59 AM
My point was just that sometimes culture isn't all that important to the story.

And sometimes it is.

I think I understood your point, anyway. Like that thread talking about Teen Wolf, and how the show creator said he didn't feature the Black character more because he doesn't want it to be an 'issues' show. Especially in a fantasy context it makes no sense to think that everyone else can have a plot except the Black character, because his only plot would have to be 'issue' driven.

Satsya
11-16-2012, 08:48 AM
My point was just that sometimes culture isn't all that important to the story.

And sometimes it is.

I wasn't trying to be contradictory, I was making a side note to try and help clarify the subject.

Cyia
11-16-2012, 05:07 PM
True. But this continued portrayal of certain eras with a fantasy gloss and White saviors irks. From Dancing With Wolves to Samurai to The Help,this tired trope will NOT die. It also gets beyond annoying to see Blacks continuously portrayed in two of the worst time frames of our history and readers sop it up with a biscuit. We get a distinct feeling that people love these stories because we were in our "place."



There's a consequence of the mainstream marketing standpoint that says a "relatable" story requires the presence of a narrator who looks like the person reading/telling it. There's this idea that if the narrator isn't Joe Average (white, 30's, middle class, etc.) then the audience as a whole won't be able to understand or root for him. Break with that, and on paper a story is suddenly to big a risk to invest in (from a monetary standpoint). It's all on paper with no quantification for quality or authenticity.

Because of this, those investing (monetarily) in stories rely on the moments of history where you had both POC and non-POC interacting, and for the most part those aren't going to be the greatest POV's for POC. (Good grief... too many acronyms.)

In America, anytime after the first landings, you're going to *have* to deal with slavery scenarios or Civil Rights scenarios. During colonization, you're going to *have* to deal with Native American conflict. And from a marketing standpoint, you *have* to do so from a Joe Average POV.

The weird thing of that perception is that the theory was busted - even from a marketing standpoint - in the 70's by Roots. When the miniseries was made, the studio was furious because they hadn't realized how many nights it would take up on the schedule. Marketing was *certain* it would be a disaster to have weeks' worth of time slots allotted for a *sure* failure. To minimize the damage, they played the whole thing in one week and ended up with the (still) highest grossing, most successful miniseries of all time.

People in general - even Joe Average - want good stories. They want stories that transcend the world they know and the voices they've heard a thousand times. And they'll buy those stories and watch those stories. Unfortunately, the people at the helm are more concerned with their perceptions of what people want rather than the reality.

Rachel Udin
11-17-2012, 11:52 PM
There's a consequence of the mainstream marketing standpoint that says a "relatable" story requires the presence of a narrator who looks like the person reading/telling it. There's this idea that if the narrator isn't Joe Average (white, 30's, middle class, etc.) then the audience as a whole won't be able to understand or root for him. Break with that, and on paper a story is suddenly to big a risk to invest in (from a monetary standpoint). It's all on paper with no quantification for quality or authenticity.

Because of this, those investing (monetarily) in stories rely on the moments of history where you had both POC and non-POC interacting, and for the most part those aren't going to be the greatest POV's for POC. (Good grief... too many acronyms.)

In America, anytime after the first landings, you're going to *have* to deal with slavery scenarios or Civil Rights scenarios. During colonization, you're going to *have* to deal with Native American conflict. And from a marketing standpoint, you *have* to do so from a Joe Average POV.

The weird thing of that perception is that the theory was busted - even from a marketing standpoint - in the 70's by Roots. When the miniseries was made, the studio was furious because they hadn't realized how many nights it would take up on the schedule. Marketing was *certain* it would be a disaster to have weeks' worth of time slots allotted for a *sure* failure. To minimize the damage, they played the whole thing in one week and ended up with the (still) highest grossing, most successful miniseries of all time.

People in general - even Joe Average - want good stories. They want stories that transcend the world they know and the voices they've heard a thousand times. And they'll buy those stories and watch those stories. Unfortunately, the people at the helm are more concerned with their perceptions of what people want rather than the reality.
Those marketers don't get one thing about the human experience as a whole: That though humans may look different and come from diverse backgrounds, that human conflicts are pretty much universally the same. There *are* specific human conflicts that are attached to culture, but most of those things are attached to a greater human conflict that's universal.

Culture is a product of *how* to deal with those conflicts and to separate the gray out from each other. It's the view on dealing with things such as marriage, government, etc that makes readers ultimately connect. So the problem isn't the book, I think the problem is the marketing strategy in the first place. It's the marketers that can't get their heads around the idea that it's not about say, the Korean Palace lady that's caught in the middle of two potential Korean Kings in a Korean Palace, it's the core conflict of loneliness, isolation, having to choose political sides that is part of the *way* the book can be pitched to the general public that's part of the problem. (Which is *not* to say that one needs to downplay the cultures the characters come from by a long shot, it's to say, look for the universal in the conflict and play to it rather than what makes it too on the nose from the marketing standpoint...). It can also be done with covers too...

Human suffering is universal. It's just in what degree and how one handles it that changes book to book. What labels the character carries doesn't change that universal, nor the appeal that the story may or may not have.

Cyia
11-18-2012, 12:34 AM
Exactly my point.

If all readers ever get is the same voice retelling the same stories, then it creates the illusion that those stories are the only ones that matter. But if you take the universal stories of struggle and triumph and choice, and let different voices tell their own truths, the reader will still cheer for the hero and despise the villain, but they'll get to do so through a lens they've never used before.

Stories don't need an "everyman" translator acting as middleman between character and reader. One because "everyman" is a myth - there is no baseline of a typical human existence. And two readers aren't stupid. They read to learn and entertain and find a way to take themselves out of their sphere. Denying them that opportunity by limiting their choices on the assumption that most (if not all) readers are too bigoted to care about the lives of someone who looks different or sounds different is an insult to them as much as the writer and the culture that writer is attempting to portray.

Tex_Maam
11-18-2012, 11:38 PM
In America, anytime after the first landings, you're going to *have* to deal with slavery scenarios or Civil Rights scenarios. During colonization, you're going to *have* to deal with Native American conflict.

I'd agree with that, as long as by "deal with" you mean "acknowledge" and not "tackle head-on". I don't believe for a minute that every piece of American historical fiction has to put the giant nasty cataclysms front and center. (In fact, maybe those stories are overrepresented and too much fetishized anyway.)

Still, it's true that if you're going to write from anything resembling American history, there's no saying, "oh, but in the magical parallel universe of Ameritopia, see, the cowboys and Indians all live in glorious harmony and team up to fight dinosaurs."

Well. You could, but it's basically insisting that the wife just ran into a door and everything's fine, officer.


Stories don't need an "everyman" translator acting as middleman between character and reader. One because "everyman" is a myth - there is no baseline of a typical human existence. And two readers aren't stupid. They read to learn and entertain and find a way to take themselves out of their sphere. Denying them that opportunity by limiting their choices on the assumption that most (if not all) readers are too bigoted to care about the lives of someone who looks different or sounds different is an insult to them as much as the writer and the culture that writer is attempting to portray.

See, this is what gets me. Of all the media out there, books are *the best* at putting you in the shotgun seat of somebody else's life. By the very act of picking up a fictional work, you are saying, "yes please, I would like to wear someone else's skin for awhile." (But, you know, not in a Buffalo Bill kind of way.)

And yet there's so many books where you feel like you've just been handed safety scissors and a paint-with-water book, like the author's saying "oh no honey, you don't want to play with those other ones - it might stain." WELL MAYBE I WANT TO GET STAINED, dammit. Maybe I want to draw all over my face and give myself a haircut while I'm at it - MAYBE that's the whole entire point!


I don't know. But I'm glad that we live in an age when increasingly more people are writing stories, with progressively less dependence on the publishing industry. Kind of excited to see where we go with that.

Corinne Duyvis
11-24-2012, 06:18 PM
Anyway, I think this is where I'm landing on this issue: including Black characters in my work is great (provided I show proper respect and do research). But me telling the story of the Black experience with those character would be way less fine. Same with other characters of color from other ethnicities besides my own.

Am I close to the mark there? I mean, having characters of color filling the world of my YA urban fantasy novel is entirely different from writing a novel about the Black experience in Jim Crow-era Alabama.

Then again authors also run the risk of writing flat, tepid characters without any sense of a deeper culture or heritage, and then describing them as Black or Asian or olive-skinned or whatever just to try to give their work some flavor. Then you get PoCs who really aren't, like the author was just tying to fill up some Diversity Bingo card or something.

This is exactly what I (being a white author) find myself struggling with a lot; thank you for putting it into words so brilliantly. I write a lot of characters of color, and I don't want to take the easy way out and slap "Latino" or "Korean" on a character and never go any deeper than that, At the same time, the more I try to incorporate what I've learned about racism and various cultures into the character, the more I feel like I'm being appropriative.

I'm not planning on writing any non-Euro or non-American real-world locations or historical situations like the ones mentioned up-thread simply because I know I won't be able to get it right; I don't want to add to the mass amounts of fail out there. Even when it comes to modern-day, US-based YA SF/F, though, things can get tricky. I don't feel like it's my place, as a privileged European white chick, to write about random details of Mexican-American home life, or about how deeply being seen as a dangerous black man has affected my teenage boy character. But glossing over those things also doesn't feel right.

I've caught myself giving straight authors or abled authors who write a lot of queer or disabled characters the side-eye--not trusting their motivations or how they execute it. Like they're asking for cookies, or like it's some sort of straight/abled savior thing--"Poor underrepresented souls! Let me help!" It may be true in some cases, but not all. Regardless, given how many PoC MCs I write (I haven't written a white MC in my novels since '08), I wonder if I'm falling into that same trap myself.

My next novel features a Jewish character whose experience growing up as Jewish, with many stories about his family during the Holocaust, strongly affects his sense of identity and motivation. Though I'm not Jewish, I did grow up with WWII--it's hard not to, living in the Netherlands. (Examples: My grandmother was in the Japanese internment camps in Indonesia; my great uncle and several other relatives were in the Resistance; my grandfather had to go into hiding; a street in my city is named after a relative who was executed in the dunes for spreading Resistance newspapers; my high school was used to hide people; the list goes on.)

I'm still not Jewish, though, and I'm struggling with how appropriate it is for me to use that experience and that history to motivate a character, you know?

Tl;dr, sorry! I have zero answers, and I know there's never One Right Way to do this that will make everyone happy. It's on my mind nonetheless, and I'm constantly striving to do better. Which means I really appreciate threads like this, with so many smart people giving various takes on the topic. Thank you. :)

names
11-24-2012, 08:47 PM
What I try to do is answer a character excercise first. Sociology concepts such as harsh experiences of social problems or emotions is the key idea sometimes that I take from newspapers or real life examples. If a intertreprative biography is what somone is doing then maybe they can ask a journalist for a questionnaire. The interviewer can ask the journalist what questions to ask. I am not jouranlist and resort to some other ways of finding some context that reflects something about people that is real. It may not be the motivation I find doing this since it that is always found by sometimes planned or by accident by getting biographical references of people. So people definetly have unique experiences, espcially if they are from a different background or are ethnic. It is found somehow by looking through many different literature of cultural heritage and diversity. That is how I find it, as for writing multiculturally maybe I could at some point but this is just a reply to a post.

Kim Fierce
01-01-2013, 04:42 AM
As a white person who has always tried to write about diverse characters, I have wondered if I would be considered bad for writing about a future where everyone would be considered multi-racial by our standards today. Or mainly just for attempting to write in the POV of a PoC. My MC has a pale father, dark mother, light brown skin curly dark brown hair and blue eyes. Most of the people have Hispanic or Asian last names, and it's a post-racial era. That's what kind of world I want, at least racially. (in my book it is a dystopia in other ways.) Having black/biracial people in my family means that sometimes I do still see that at least where I am racism and judging still happen all the time, even to little kids.

My first book has 4 white main characters and one black. So the cover reflects that. But then I thought "oh people are going to think I have a token black character" or something. But really he is not the only black character . . . he is just one of the main 5 characters. There is a foster parent who is black and she ends up having a very important role. And I don't even describe the gender or color of another foster parent couple. They could possibly be two guys, and I never say!

My short story has a white MC, her best friend is Native American, and she has a crush on a black girl. This takes places in early America and is steampunk so I decided in my alternate version of history that all theses cultures got along instead of fighting, and slavery was secretly abolished before the American Revolution. They do have to fight against an enemy that would like things to go the way they were before, though.

For me, using character diversity is a way to describe the world the way I wish it was, or maybe deal with the way things are in my own way. Maybe I won't always get it exactly right or be perfect, but to write about a world where there are only white characters (or any other character is just a sidekick) can't even happen for me.

I mentioned this earlier, but I was told covers with black characters on front don't "sell as well". I didn't like to hear that. If I had found a cover image that worked well I would have fought for it anyway, and plan to in the future. I was also told that symbolism works best for dystopia, so that is what I ended up doing (my other top choice was a fiery girl on a motorcycle whose color would look like the avatar I have now.)

I seem to be rambling in quite a bit of these threads... but I guess I'm just trying to work some of these questions out.

slhuang
01-02-2013, 12:22 AM
It does concern me immensely that more authors of color be invited to the table.

But I do (unscientifically) think that white writers writing (good, nonstereotyped!) characters of color is helpful to that. Particularly as protagonists. Because the more audiences and publishers and marketing departments think of it as normal to see books with protagonists of color as books rather than issue books, the better off we'll all be in terms of diversity being accepted and invited. And I think that will be good for authors of color.

And having characters POC (especially children) can identify with in books is also a concern to me. Again, as long as it's done well, I think it's still a positive thing when those characters of color are penned by white creators. Look at Avatar: The Last Airbender -- if you read the quotes of little girls who were so delighted to see someone who looked like them on screen, it's heartbreaking (and even more heartbreaking in the context of a live action movie that then told them, "PSYCH! Cool characters have to be white!"). Media has a huge impact on society, and it's important that people see characters of color with agency in stories as much as possible.

But, like others have said, research! and non-stereotypical portrayals, please. The Internet makes it easier to do this than ever. People of color are all over the place talking about everyday experiences and expressing opinions and writing about what race means to them in their daily lives (hint: it's not a monolithic opinion; POC are people first).

And another thing white authors (and authors of color who are writing characters of colors other than theirs, like myself) can realize, and something I have to remind myself, is this: We'll get things wrong. We should do all we can to make sure we don't before the book goes to press -- research, talking to people, educating ourselves -- but it will probably still happen. When it does, the proper response is to accept the criticism with respect and thoughtfulness, learn from it, and fail better the next time. And it doesn't mean we shouldn't write characters of color.

Finally, with regard to the points others have made about movies --

Sigh. I'm in two minds on this.

Because no matter how bad The Help was, it heaped star power on a couple of Black actresses. It's hard enough for actors of color to find roles, but it's even rarer you see actors of color get elevated to the Hollywood elite, and once those actors have more power, they can have a lot more clout to make projects they like happen, etc.. I'm not saying I don't wish a different movie had been made instead. But if I had to choose between The Help being made and not, I see the real-life POC who worked on it and benefited from it . . . and I can't wish it hadn't been done.

And Rue in The Hunger Games might have been played by a biracial actress, but Hollywood will always code her as Black. Always. If she continues as an actress, she will run into all sorts of trouble fighting to play not-specifically-black roles. So, is it bad that Hollywood doesn't want to pick darker-skinned people? Yes. But I can't begrudge her that role, because she's a Black actress trying to succeed with everything stacked against her, and this is a role Hollywood deigned to allow someone who looks like her to play.

Kim Fierce
01-03-2013, 08:31 AM
slhuang and others here,

I've been coming to AW for awhile, mostly to QUILTBAG and Young Adult, just because the size of this forum at first seemed so huge that I figured I would try to stick to just one or two things. But in my short time reading through here, I've learned I need to continue to open my mind.

For example, I really didn't think black actors in Hollywood was even a problem anymore. But this may be because in whatever movie genres they are discouraged from, I don't watch. . . like rom-com . . . that sounds like a genre that would still be having black friend sidekicks. I guess I'm just not even attracted to the movies like that. And in Tarantino movies, it is true that there are some things I don't like, but I decided maybe I should just forget it. As far as The Hunger Games goes, I didn't have a problem with Rue not being super dark, but I did think it was strange that all the black people seemed to come from only one district. (Rue's hair also remained enviably perfect during her weeks living in the forest fighting for her life...) And I never saw The Help . . . but even as I listened to white friends rave about it, I figured there would be parts I don't like. And back when I watched The Blind Side there were parts that made me cringe. Like really, the kid wants a truck because "he thinks he's a redneck?" Guess I'd better tell some of my black co-workers that who all drive pick-up trucks and big rigs . . .? The main point of the story was sweet, and I know it's based on a true story, but some parts were cringe-worthy even to this white girl.

And as far as needing more authors of color, obviously when you think of mainstream, there is a definite problem. Agents and big publishers have a lot of twisted ideas about marketing from what I've learned so far. I'm trying to think of a future project that could be considered "mainstream" so I can try to get an agent. But to me, that just means no QUILTBAG characters. . .the book I'm planning would still have two main characters, one white and one black, so maybe that won't even be good enough for an agent. But I do subscribe to the Guide to Literary Agents, and they do seem to be calling for more diversity in their preferences, at least the ones I have read!

I think the future of writing, movies, music, entertainment, politics, and life for all colors, will be to include and promote diversity. Because that is what this country, world, and life is all about, to me.

Corinne Duyvis
01-03-2013, 08:42 PM
I'm trying to think of a future project that could be considered "mainstream" so I can try to get an agent. But to me, that just means no QUILTBAG characters. . .the book I'm planning would still have two main characters, one white and one black, so maybe that won't even be good enough for an agent. But I do subscribe to the Guide to Literary Agents, and they do seem to be calling for more diversity in their preferences, at least the ones I have read!

Kim, don't write anything you don't want to write just because you think it's more likely to appeal to agents. The book in my signature received offers from two agents--good ones, belonging to the top YA dealmakers. And it was purchased by the first (and only!) publisher it was submitted to.

Protag the first? Disabled Mexican-American boy.
Protag the second? Disabled brown bisexual girl.
Romance? Between abovementioned girl and brown lesbian fat girl.

Yeah, books like ours will have a harder time in the marketplace, but plenty of agents are actively looking for them, too. Please don't give up. :)

Kim Fierce
01-04-2013, 10:26 AM
Thanks Corinne! I've had one person tell me (who bought several of my books) that just by writing gay characters makes him think I'm "limiting" myself . . . I told him I was thinking of writing a "straight" story . . . but it still won't be white-only! I'm still working on a sequel for my current publisher right now, and the project after that is completely up in the air. I'm very happy working with a small publisher but still want to try to get an agent one day to see what happens . . . but sometimes I'm not sure about their views on the market!

Corinne Duyvis
01-04-2013, 07:44 PM
Agents aren't a monolith--their views on the market vary person by person. Some avoid 'risks' like PoC or queer protags. Others don't give a damn. Others are actively looking for them. It's all just a matter of trying to find the right fit.

Authors who write minority protags might have fewer chances, but the chances still exist. :)

slhuang
01-05-2013, 01:45 AM
For example, I really didn't think black actors in Hollywood was even a problem anymore. But this may be because in whatever movie genres they are discouraged from, I don't watch. . . like rom-com . . . that sounds like a genre that would still be having black friend sidekicks.Oooooh don't even get me started on how marginalized POC are in Hollywood. (And Blacks and Hispanics are doing a lot better than Asians.) I work in Hollywood, and it's *abysmal.* The casting notices often read to me like we're living twenty years ago.

Okay, I said I didn't want to get started *g*, but just to name a few:

We have properties starring POC that get adapted into movies only to have everyone whitewashed. See The Last Airbender, Tales from Earthsea. (In general, Hollywood execs don't think actors of color can carry a movie.)

We have real life stories of people of color that are adapted into movies only to have the real-life people of color played by WHITE ACTORS. See 21, Desperate Measures, Argo. If that's not erasing the contributions of POC in the public consciousness, I don't know what is.

Can anyone name one Asian-American man who's a well-known romantic lead? We can name kung-fu stars, sure, but how surprised would you be if the romantic comedy of the week starred an Asian actor? (Or a Black actor of a Hispanic actor or a Native American actor, for that matter? But Asian men get particularly shafted when it comes to romantic leads.) Action movies get a little more leeway, but Hollywood has very clear rules about romantic comedies, high school comedies, etc. starring a white face.

When casting notices say, "All-American," that's shorthand for, "white." A lot of times roles that have no clear reason for it are listed as "Caucasian" -- usually the lead and the girlfriend of the lead will be specified as "Caucasian" for absolutely no in-story reason.

And incidentally, the roles for The Last Airbender were listed as "Caucasian or any other ethnicity." For ASIAN CHARACTERS. The role of Katniss, who is described as being multi-ethnic in appearance in the book, was given as "Caucasian" in the breakdown, ensuring that casting directors would almost certainly see no actresses of color for the role.

Aspiring actors of color (and I'm talking the working actors, with no name to speak of) are most likely ONLY going to be called in for roles that fit their ethnicity. Even the ones that say "any ethnicity" are probably going to get mostly white actors called in -- white actors have a lot more opportunities to be seen, to excel, and therefore usually end up with more credits and are seen as better bets and it turns into a whole mad vicious cycle where actors of color can't get a foot in the door. (Note: I'm not an actor, so this isn't a bitter actor thing, though I *am* bitter because I want society to change in this regard.)

A lot of people don't realize that there's this whole world of independent film where a lot of working actors make their bread and butter as they work up into TV and film. And when most indies that get funding and get made have a white lead with a white girlfriend, it gives actors of color precious few opportunities to show off that they can act. Every so often an indie gets made by POC starring POC, but it's hard for them to get funding in the first place, and also hard for them to market. Making a movie, let alone making a movie that will get seen, is a difficult and complicated process.

Because of the paucity of good opportunities and non-stereotypical roles, a lot of actors of color (speaking anecdotally, but I'm pretty sure I'm right) get out of the business. Hollywood has a ridiculously high turn over anyway; people are constantly getting out in favor of stable jobs and steady paychecks (and I can't say I blame them). I've talked to a number of POC who decided it wasn't worth it.

A lot of actors of color are preemptively barred from trying for a lot of adapted characters (like the superhero characters). Look how the Internets blew up when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall -- can you imagine what would've happened if a Black actor had tried for Thor? And yet, the studios can get away with turning Aang white in The Last Airbender.

Ditto for historical characters or historical fiction characters -- either because Hollywood wants to make movies about white historical figures, who won't be played by POC (despite movies like Argo doing the reverse), or because in historical fiction, a lot of eras and countries are PERCEIVED to be a lot whiter than they actually were, so Hollywood casts all white people so as not to upset that expectation (there were a lot more POC in history than people think there were, but Hollywood thinks people won't know that, so reinforces the false "historical accuracy" perception by casting white people).

Even when actors of color do get cast, it's far too often as stereotypes and sidekicks. To let an actor of color play a protagonist -- is that a bridge too far? Yet a lot of actors of color find themselves hitting that proverbial glass ceiling, even the ones with a lot of star power.

That's why it's so great when actors like Will Smith and Halle Berry get enough name recognition to be recognized as people rather than black people. When Will Smith stars in a movie, it's not a "black person" movie with a black lead, it's a Will Smith movie. And that's why I was so excited with the name recognition The Help gave to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. I need there to be more actors and actresses of color who get so much name recognition that Hollywood stops seen them as "Black actors" and starts seeing them as actors. (Incidentally, Star Trek managed to do this quite nicely for Zoe Saldana as well -- but just like with Davis and Spencer, the movie that rocketed her to success and gave her the star power to play not-specifically-black leads WAS a specifically black character that she probably wouldn't have gotten if Uhura didn't HAVE to be black.) But their success hasn't changed the overwhelming systemic prejudice in Hollywood, as much as it seems like it should, as much as it seems like their success should be taken as evidence that people of color can carry movies just fine.

Maybe someday though, if we get enough of them, it'll start to turn the tide.

Kim Fierce
01-05-2013, 06:20 AM
That's really an eye-opener, slhaung. I can't figure out how to explain that I guess I try to mold my own world based on what I want it to be, so I tend to gravitate towards more people, entertainment, etc. etc. that fits with the beliefs I have and the diversity I want to celebrate. And in our own way I'm sure lots of people do the same. So to realize that the same things I remember hearing about black actors (and other colors) when I was a teenager in the 90s are still going on today is pretty disappointing.

I still think tides are turning, but maybe slower than I previously thought. :/

slhuang
01-05-2013, 06:33 AM
That's really an eye-opener, slhaung. I can't figure out how to explain that I guess I try to mold my own world based on what I want it to be, so I tend to gravitate towards more people, entertainment, etc. etc. that fits with the beliefs I have and the diversity I want to celebrate.

I used to do that, too. I would just sort of ignore everything that wasn't what I wanted it to be. :( Sometimes I wish I still could. But it's hard to stop seeing it once you start . . .

One of the worst things, for me, is that media is such a big influence on us, in ways we probably can't even quantify. Movies impact the way we see the world, even fluffy fictional ones. I'm not sure I'd go so far as saying Hollywood has some sort of social responsibility to have good portrayals that boost social justice instead of working against it, but I sure wish they would at least think about it more.

Fantasmac
01-05-2013, 09:11 AM
I'll be honest -- I read The Help and then immediately googled the author's name. I let out a pretty heavy sigh when I saw her picture.

It isn't so much that I think people should be restricted in how they express themselves. I would never try to tell someone what they should or shouldn't write. BUT the cultural imbalance in this country is very real and I do think it's a little insensitive for someone in a privileged position to tell the story of someone in a marginalized group, especially when they're painting people like themselves as some sort of savior.

It is much harder for PoC to find mainstream success in publishing. Just look at that kerfuffle with NPR's list of the 100 best YA book featuring almost no non-white authors. I do think that non-PoC writers have a moral responsibility to evaluate their actions and understand the potential consequences when they write PoC characters.

I also really wish that I could find more books featuring PoC in which their ethnicity wasn't the primary source of conflict. I know it's hard to be black, I don't need to read fiction about it. Culture and ethnicity can inform a character without defining them.

And it still bothers me, over a decade later, that the only black doll American Girl ever released was a slave, because obviously we've done pretty much nothing else in the course of American history.

Pretty much sums it up:




Research and respect.

Rachel Udin
01-06-2013, 12:09 AM
I'll be honest -- I read The Help and then immediately googled the author's name. I let out a pretty heavy sigh when I saw her picture.

It isn't so much that I think people should be restricted in how they express themselves. I would never try to tell someone what they should or shouldn't write. BUT the cultural imbalance in this country is very real and I do think it's a little insensitive for someone in a privileged position to tell the story of someone in a marginalized group, especially when they're painting people like themselves as some sort of savior.

It is much harder for PoC to find mainstream success in publishing. Just look at that kerfuffle with NPR's list of the 100 best YA book featuring almost no non-white authors. I do think that non-PoC writers have a moral responsibility to evaluate their actions and understand the potential consequences when they write PoC characters.

I also really wish that I could find more books featuring PoC in which their ethnicity wasn't the primary source of conflict. I know it's hard to be black, I don't need to read fiction about it. Culture and ethnicity can inform a character without defining them.

And it still bothers me, over a decade later, that the only black doll American Girl ever released was a slave, because obviously we've done pretty much nothing else in the course of American history.

Pretty much sums it up:
When we did a sci-fi/Fantasy list on Absolute Write, there were mostly white men on the list. Until there was a concentrated effort to the opposite, which was ironic since the list was made in reply to the NPR list. Makes me really wonder.... (Outside observation also made me realize that the majority of the listed men on the list mostly listed men rather than women while women listed both men and women. Until it was pointed out that the list was short on women and PoCs. (Also gay authors/characters))

Kim Fierce
01-08-2013, 04:37 AM
I was looking at the small selection of books at a grocery store the other day and really decided to step back and pay attention to the books they offered, what was on the covers, and who wrote the books. Now, this was just a Pay Less, and I usually look at these shelves when I'm grocery shopping and never find anything I like, but by taking it all in as a whole and really paying attention . . . yeah there was no apparent diversity at all.

I definitely live in my own little world a lot, and so does my wife. We moved this weekend and had no cable and she picked out the movies we watched. Besides kid DVDs we watched Made in America (not Maid with JLo but Made with Whoopi) and Beauty Shop. Normally I wouldn't pay attention to things like this but I guess the conversations here made me just keep an observing eye to my own life. The place we just moved into was cautioned to be in a "bad neighborhood" by some people . . . we ignored those people with alarm. I think being white means some things I will never experience, but having black and biracial family means I see more of other things than some, and being gay means I know what it is like to not be the perceived norm . . . and being another sexuality and another color, while both being things I don't think a person can help, at the same time I don't think you should say is the same experience or anything like that, either.

So I think opening my eyes as much as I can will not only make my worldview more appropriate, but could help my writing too. I like to write diversity without making the diversity itself an issue. (Well, in my latest book being gay is an issue, but color isn't.) I have read that many agents want diversity in books without necessarily having that be the plot, but I still want to be as educated as possible and write my stories without harming anyone.