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SkyeScribble
04-19-2014, 12:14 AM
My name is Sky and I am a mixed-race person born in America. My mother was adopted from a foreign country at a young age to a Dutch family, meaning we were both effectively "raised white" with basically no cultural connection to our ethnicity. We have no accent, no particular foods or traditions (or at least not Asian ones), our race is virtually irrelevant to our lives.

I'm writing a book about an ethnically half-Filipino man. I live in a very liberal and diverse part of the United States, and my book is set there.

My character's race is not mentioned until halfway through the book, and it doesn't factor into his worldview except to make it match my own more closely. I'm not making him a token minority, I'm simply portraying him as I imagine him.

But I'm worried that people will accuse me of making him Filipino for the sake of having a poc narrator, and then not putting in the effort to study his culture and portray it appropriately. I'm worried people will think I'm simply projecting the "white culture" or whatever buzz word people are using.

I feel I'm writing the world as I see it, but I know many people won't believe that. Would it be ultimately better to just make the character white and avoid the whole issue, as I'm not adding anything to the "poc" conversation other than that some people are not affected by their race?

kuwisdelu
04-19-2014, 12:19 AM
My character's race is not mentioned until halfway through the book, and it doesn't factor into his worldview except to make it match my own more closely. I'm not making him a token minority, I'm simply portraying him as I imagine him.

I would suggest finding a way to mention it earlier on. If you don't, for better or worse, many readers will imagine him as white, and be jarred when they discover he isn't.


I feel I'm writing the world as I see it, but I know many people won't believe that. Would it be ultimately better to just make the character white and avoid the whole issue, as I'm not adding anything to the "poc" conversation other than that some people are not affected by their race?

Don't compromise the validity of your experience. Yes, people may criticize it, but it is not their place. You are who you are, and your character is who he is. That's all that matters.

AshleyEpidemic
04-19-2014, 12:42 AM
I agree with what Kuwi said. Either make it clear early on or leave it out entirely. If him being filipino really means nothing to the character, then why does it matter to mention it?

kuwisdelu
04-19-2014, 01:08 AM
If him being filipino really means nothing to the character, then why does it matter to mention it?

Because somewhere out there is a half-Filipino reader to whom it will matter.

AshleyEpidemic
04-19-2014, 01:25 AM
Because somewhere out there is a half-Filipino reader to whom it will matter.

In that case then, it would be important to the character on some level wouldn't it? As in, wouldn't it be important that to the character that being half filipino is a non-issue to them. By it not being an issue, it becomes part of the character in some way. In which case, then mentioning it early is good.

When I check off a box as to what race I am, I check black (or whatever term they are associating with that), but it was a non-issue to the way I grew up in most ways. As a result, it did affect me, but differently than if I defined myself by my ethnicity first.

ETA: But I think I get where you are coming from. I am black, but I have yet to find a book that encompasses my experience. So it would make a difference to see a character that does, but I'd damn well want to know that early on. It would give me something else to connect to the character with. To say hey, this is a character of my ethnicity that lives their live not bound by the topic of race and they are like me. I can't make that connection though when it happens too late.

kuwisdelu
04-19-2014, 01:31 AM
Something can be important even when it doesn't affect you 99.9% of the time.

You don't have to define yourself by something for it to be a part of you.

AshleyEpidemic
04-19-2014, 01:42 AM
Exactly. No disagreement here.

I think it comes down to what the author thinks is best for the character. Do they want it to be clear the character is half filipino or not? I just think mentioning it halfway through is not a good plan.

Polenth
04-19-2014, 05:46 AM
There's a difference between no cultural connection and race not having an impact. My family is very white British in a cultural sense. I don't look white British. So though race doesn't mean a lot when I'm at home drinking tea and complaining about the weather, it matters a whole lot when I leave the house. I'm constantly asked where I'm from. I get compliments on how good I am at English. People shout abuse sometimes.

I haven't found America to be different in this respect. I get pulled over for a lot of extra searches at airports, and it's not because of my British passport. I get additional friendliness from Americans who aren't white, because there's some solidarity there.

I didn't see anyone like me in books when I was growing up. Or since really. I've only seen one on TV (Doctor Bashir in Deep Space Nine). And that character gets a lot of criticism for not being culturally connected enough, which in turn impacted me - that people were saying this character like me wasn't good enough. The very concern that made you start the thread is one that impacts people who aren't white, but aren't culturally connected. Am I non-white enough? Do my experiences matter? Those concerns in themselves are an issue that might come up for a character.

There's also the weird stuff. I have difficulty getting appropriate hair-care products, as my hair isn't particularly European (and my hair routine is different from white friends). I don't sunburn, so that impacts how I view sunblock and sun exposure. And if I were someone who wears makeup (which I'm not) it's really hard to get yellow-based light brown makeup at regular shops. White people tan makeup would turn me orange. Another recent one (as in last few days) is I bought a spot treatment, and only afterwards realised it contained a substance known to lighten skin... it didn't mention it on the box, as this side-effect is a non-issue for a white person.

My general point is that the experiences of being mixed race in a culturally white family are obviously going to have some differences. That's totally valid. But it seems a bit unlikely that it makes no difference at all to any aspects of life. If it was a non-issue to you, you wouldn't have written a book with someone who shares your identity. You wouldn't feel a need to state that you don't have a certain accent, because that wouldn't be relevant. It probably wouldn't have come up in the book at all, whether it was halfway through or not. So rather than thinking about it as being a non-issue, you might be better served by considering why it is an issue. If you had been born white, how would your life have been different? Don't dismiss the small things an unimportant, because they all add up.

Lillith1991
04-19-2014, 06:17 AM
I agree with Polenth and Kuwis. Find out why it's relevant to the story. How it affects your character.

SkyeScribble
04-19-2014, 09:34 AM
Thank you very much for these responses. This helps me imagine my character (and also my own life) with more complexity.



If it was a non-issue to you, you wouldn't have written a book with someone who shares your identity.

This is a very good and important point for me. I don't often think about the fact that I look different from literally 95% of the kids in my school, but they probably do, which affects my life in ways I'm so used to I hardly notice. And the little things do add up.

I think I should mention it outright earlier. There are certain points when I allude to it, like when others note that he looks different from his (white) adopted daughter.
It dilutes the experience of the book to leave this detail out.

Again, thank you so much for your responses.

KarmaPolice
04-19-2014, 10:37 AM
Not much to add here. One thing I would say is that yes, if your book is in the USA, the vast majority of readers will assume the MC is white until shown/mentioned otherwise - they're the majority group. It can't be helped, really. It's like with my family; my parents are from southern Ireland, so people naturally assume we're Catholic - while we're actually one of the few groups of Protestants who hung on through Partition, Independence and all the shit from the Troubles. (Remembering the Father Ted episode 'The Mainland' when Ted learns the Police Sergent is a Protestant; quite funny).

GeekTells
04-19-2014, 11:21 AM
White male here—project accordingly.

Be true to your story—write the story you want to write about the characters that you want to write about. As noted above, you will be criticized in some corners and embraced in others, but this will be true no matter what you write.

Be true to your story and accept the consequences accordingly.

All that said, I would mention your MC's ethnicity earlier in the book or not at all.

RhodaD'Ettore
04-19-2014, 11:37 AM
I work in the USPS (and i actually discuss the Filipino culture in my book) here is what you need to know: The national language is Tagalog--- but there are hundreds of different dialogues. They all speak english also. Many celebrate chinese new year, most have spanish names: hector, hernande, gayo, martinez etc. if a native filipino has a tattoo, it is usually because he was a convict-- (americanied ones do have tatts) many joined the US Navy for 7 years to gain US citizenship. They are usually Catholic, devout catholics. Rice for EVERY meal-- rice paper, rice ice cream (seriously... ice rice and fruits in a blender... with corn) my one friend buys a 25 pound bag of rice every MONTH! fish.. and any fruits

IF you are truly interested in making him filipino-- even half.. the above things you could work into your book somehow... it doesnt take much, just a line here or there. Good luck.. hope this helps

kuwisdelu
04-19-2014, 11:55 AM
IF you are truly interested in making him filipino-- even half.. the above things you could work into your book somehow... it doesnt take much, just a line here or there. Good luck.. hope this helps

I believe the OP is basing the main character's experience in his own, and that is perfectly legitimate, even if it doesn't jive with the experience of every other half-Filipino person.

Tailcoat
04-20-2014, 06:41 AM
it doesnt take much, just a line here or there.
Is it okay to do this or would it be considered superficial? I'm scared about my own MC-- I'm not looking to write about race and culture differences, but I'm afraid that it's bad if I don't have it permeating his personality or experience.

Roxxsmom
04-20-2014, 09:43 AM
Hmm, I'm no expert, but I'm assuming he would be aware of his own racial background at some level, even if it's simply to note that, because of his family circumstances, race has not been a major issue in his life.

I had a roommate in college who was of Filipino ancestry, but she'd been adopted by a white American couple as a baby. She spoke only English and had a West-coast American accent and was very "White American" in terms of her interests and her way of expressing herself, and most of her closest friends were white--very different from a classmate of mine who was of Filipino ancestry whose family had immigrated here. But still, my roommate had interesting tales about things that happened to her because of the assumptions people made about her based on her appearance.

Would it be possible to sneak a couple of those kinds of things into his experiences and to have him react to them?

KarmaPolice
04-20-2014, 10:11 AM
Yeah, like at one point the MC is pelted with Spanish (or whatever is the main language there) or something...

patskywriter
04-20-2014, 03:33 PM
Yeah, like at one point the MC is pelted with Spanish (or whatever is the main language there) or something...

LOL, that happened to my brother, too. But interestingly enough, not to me. We're both black but we don't look the same.

Our likes, our looks, and things that we can't see, such as our observations and viewpoints, make us what we are. If I were to base a character on my paternal grandmother, I wouldn't hesitate to mention her race just because whites thought she was one of them and treated her accordingly. Even though she had red hair and blue eyes, she was fiercely proud of her African heritage.

So don't forget thoughts and feelings when it comes to exploring race and ethnicity. There's more to it than just appearance and stereotypical cultural traits.

Smeasking
05-05-2014, 08:49 AM
My character's race is not mentioned until halfway through the book, and it doesn't factor into his worldview except to make it match my own more closely. I'm not making him a token minority, I'm simply portraying him as I imagine him.

But I'm worried that people will accuse me of making him Filipino for the sake of having a poc narrator, and then not putting in the effort to study his culture and portray it appropriately. I'm worried people will think I'm simply projecting the "white culture" or whatever buzz word people are using.

I feel I'm writing the world as I see it, but I know many people won't believe that. Would it be ultimately better to just make the character white and avoid the whole issue, as I'm not adding anything to the "poc" conversation other than that some people are not affected by their race?


Hiya Sky!

Personally, I don't see how it would really matter. If your character's ethnicity doesn't effect how he views things, then I'd imagine a reader may be momentarily surprised at finding out he's half Filipino (because of your reveal halfway through), but if that doesn't affect the story, itself, in any way, then it should be no big deal. I'd focus more on just the telling of your story and less about the implications of race, simply because it's 'your story' that matters most. :)

BTW - nifty name. Wish mine was that neat. Unfortunately, even in my culture (Cambodian/Thai) my first name isn't common. In fact, I've never come across a duplicate of it, ever, lol. That's why I go by "Sox" for short--around here--and in real life. :)

Wilde_at_heart
05-05-2014, 06:28 PM
I've got a WIP where the MC is half-Indian (Goan), ethnically, and if it's not on the first page, it's pretty close to that. It doesn't really affect her view on things beyond a little eye-rolling on her part when someone tells her she 'looks exotic'.

julietk
05-05-2014, 08:47 PM
I think at least suggesting it early on is a good idea, so readers don't get jarred by a change in their image of the character halfway through. (And while possibly this *should* not be the case, I think the majority of US/UK readers will assume a character is white unless suggested otherwise.) In the books I can think of with non-white MCs or important secondary characters, but where the race of the character is not a big issue, it's mentioned in some offhand way in the first chapter or two, when you're still building your view of the character.

Someone I know very well is half-Chinese but grew up in the UK, in a very white area, without any real connections to Chinese culture. They don't consider themself "white" exactly although they consider themself "culturally white" in some senses, but neither do they consider themself "Chinese". In a diverse area like the one they now live in, they pass as white; where they grew up (where there was no one else like them) they got a certain amount of racial "teasing" (I quote). Although race isn't a big deal in one sense, their experience has absolutely shaped how they view the world. It's a complicated business, and showing characters like that in fiction is great if complicated too!

LocalWriter
05-08-2014, 06:15 AM
White male hereŚproject accordingly.

Be true to your storyŚwrite the story you want to write about the characters that you want to write about. As noted above, you will be criticized in some corners and embraced in others, but this will be true no matter what you write.

Be true to your story and accept the consequences accordingly.

All that said, I would mention your MC's ethnicity earlier in the book or not at all.

solid advice and applies to my situation as well.