Concerns about being a "White" writer

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CMBright

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There was a book where a fictional author said that everyone has bias. Even a black Latvian midget biker will write with a black Latvian midget biker bias. Funny enough to stick with me. That book also said that only albinos were white people since only albinos lack melanin.

I tend not to write about race, unless there is a reason it is important. Or a reason why it isn't important, it is just a trait like being a Van Daam fan or working in an office.

Another thing that stuck with me was a middle school kid talking in class while I was subbing. I asked/told him to stop and focus on his worksheet. To paraphrase his reply, he said he couldn't help it because he was black. I had no response for him other than to ask him again to stop talking and focus on his work.

The line with racism seems so fluid and that kid was a demonstration that in some ways, it is on both sides of some line in the sand I just can't see. The PC tide constantly moving that line does not help any.

I can't see it on a rational level or on an emotional level. On a physical level I do not experience any noticeable degree of color blindness. Mom and dark blues/browns/greens/grays in clothing? Yeah, wrong kind of color blindness, I know.

I don't want to have ethnic characters or PoC just because of some arbitrary political correct formula. I don't want to be seen as racist because most of the people I interact with are white and I default to what I know unless I have a reason to include variation. Whether there is a world building reason for a high percentage of asian individuals or the jerk in a lab just happens to be a PoC. Though that was more due to his parents never correcting the misspelling of his first name on his birth certificate so he got stuck with a weird name he hates than how dark his skin coloration happens to be.

Not sure where I am going with this. Not sure if I want guidelines or if I just plan to keep writing what I like and know. Or if I just want to vent a bit of frustration about how minorities are used in fiction from one "other side" vantage. I happen to be white. I am also female with mental health issues severe enough to fit the legal definition of disability. With a child who faces many of the same advantages and disadvantages I have faced in a different period of time.

To post or not to post? Oh, what the heck...
 

MacAllister

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I think one of the challenges of being an engaged human being is that cultural expectations DO change, and while no one can force us to keep up, at some point it's just a little pathetic if we refuse to even make an attempt to do so.

I grew up in the 70s, when "color-blindness" was what nice white parents told their kids to aspire to. Turns out there's a whole bunch of problems with that approach, and it's pretty condescending and the resulting erasure of someone else's lived experience is a horrible thing to do.

Lucky for me, I don't have to get stuck there, insisting that I shouldn't have to learn and do better just because I learned something different 45 years ago.

It's not that different than learning to wear a seatbelt or learning that it's NOT okay to let the kids jump around in the back of the station wagon while you're driving down the interstate.
 

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I think, with writing, particularly in an omniscient, it can be very difficult to write people of color, as the author can develop a kind of neurosis over essentializing the character, which leads far too many authors just not to include them whatsoever. All that anyone really has to do is to be mindful of not reifying stereotypes and to strike the delicate balance between imagining the character from their perspective and to treat them as if they were anyone else, which is how, despite what may seem daunting to some, it's not really all that different from any other character. There are plenty of women written by men in contemporary fiction. It's kind of absurd for the literary world to make spurious excuses over things like "virtual blackface" in lieu of writing people of color, who, even if they have mostly white friends, they must see and encounter on a daily basis. The world is not all white and it doesn't reflect well upon kind of a lot of authors to present one that is.
 

kinokonoronin

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Even a black Latvian midget biker will write with a black Latvian midget biker bias.
Yet such a person is unlikely to write a book populated only by black Latvian midget little person bikers.

"Everyone has a bias" =/= "It's difficult to write about people who don't look like you."

(Edited slur usage -- thanks, Maryn!)
 
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CMBright

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I think one of the challenges of being an engaged human being is that cultural expectations DO change, and while no one can force us to keep up, at some point it's just a little pathetic if we refuse to even make an attempt to do so.

I grew up in the 70s, when "color-blindness" was what nice white parents told their kids to aspire to. Turns out there's a whole bunch of problems with that approach, and it's pretty condescending and the resulting erasure of someone else's lived experience is a horrible thing to do.

Lucky for me, I don't have to get stuck there, insisting that I shouldn't have to learn and do better just because I learned something different 45 years ago.

It's not that different than learning to wear a seatbelt or learning that it's NOT okay to let the kids jump around in the back of the station wagon while you're driving down the interstate.

I think we might be from more or less the same era. I do attempt to deal with individuals rather than stereotypes as a result. In that much, it was a good thing.

On the other, it drives me up the wall when people talk about censoring two of Twain's famous books because they use a racial slur and discuss slavery.

As a society I believe we NEED to remember dark times to know just how far we have come, even if it takes an event like BLM to realize just how far we still have to go.
 

CMBright

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Yet such a person is unlikely to write a book populated only by black Latvian midget bikers.

"Everyone has a bias" =/= "It's difficult to write about people who don't look like you."

It was the humor in a book that dealt with race from a literally alien point of view. Like the alien priest sending a teen out with paint chips to find a "white" person, a "black" person, etc. Teen solved it by coming back with a half dozen or so, Mr. White, Ms. Amarillo, Mr. Rojo, etc. Even found a couple others such as Ms. Green.

There is a fine line between writing what I know and writing diversity.

I do not remember seeing an African-American until sixth grade. That followed a move. My child has had diverse friends since six months through Early Head Start, Head Start and Grade School, Kid is 10yo.

I'm not the most social butterfly out there. For example, where is the line between including diversity and cultural insensitivity/cultural appropriation?

It is a very complex issue. No matter where one is standing.
 

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I understand this is a complex and controversial subject. Should this be locked? Or should I take some other action?

I hesitated before posting because I am not a person of color of other than mix of northern Europeans blended in America. On the other hand, if all sides don't discuss these issues, nothing will change.
I'd have locked it had I deemed it necessary, but do read the stickie, and MacAllister's post.
 

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I reread the sticky posted above. I missed or forgot the color blindness analogy section.

I apologize for that lapse. I honestly did not intend any offense.
 
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lizmonster

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(Combining some bits of both versions of this post.)

So...whether or not you're seeing it, your attitude comes across as "white is default." That's an overtly political stance, although as a white woman I get why it's so pervasive. It's the water we all swim in.

And no, I don't think it's all that complicated, although execution within one's writing should always be closely examined.

There are two issues, really: whether to include people not of your race/sexuality in your stories, and whether to deal with issues of discrimination of which you have no first-hand knowledge in your stories.

The first feels like a no-brainer to me. We don't live on a white planet. We live on a wildly diverse planet, and it drives me absolutely nuts when I don't see that reflected in entertainment. I live in New England - not exactly known for its diversity - and when I see more diversity at my local grocery store than I encounter in a book I'm reading, you're damn right I'm going to side-eye that book. That's an author telling on themselves.

The second is a much more complicated issue, and one that should be approached with a lot of research, and some genuine questioning of whether or not you're the person to be writing that particular story.

I'm an Old White Lady, and so not particularly qualified to make declarations. But what seems reasonable to me are two things:

1) It's fine to include characters who are not of your background in stuff you write.
2) It's fine to include characters who are not of your background, and not subject them to racism and discrimination in your particular story.
3) If you're inclined to write about racism and discrimination involving people not of your background, think long and hard about whether that's a story you ought to be writing. And if you decide it is, do your research, get proper critiques, and listen to feedback with humility and receptiveness.
4) We are writers. Writing is hard. Deal with it, and make it work.

My opinions. We are all works in progress.
 
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cmhbob

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1) It's fine to include characters who are not of your background in stuff you write.
2) It's fine to include characters who are not of your background, and not subject them to racism and discrimination in your particular story.
3) If you're inclined to write about racism and discrimination involving people not of your background, think long and hard about whether that's a story you ought to be writing. And if you decide it is, do your research, get proper critiques, and listen to feedback with humility and receptiveness.
That's one of the best explanations/suggestions I've read. Puts it into a good perspective for me.
 

CMBright

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So...whether or not you're seeing it, your attitude comes across as "white is default." That's an overtly political stance, although as a white woman I get why it's so pervasive. It's the water we all swim in.

And no, I don't think it's all that complicated, although execution within one's writing should always be closely examined.

There are two issues, really: whether to include people not of your race/sexuality in your stories, and whether to deal with issues of discrimination of which you have no first-hand knowledge in your stories.

The first feels like a no-brainer to me. We don't live on a white planet. We live on a wildly diverse planet, and it drives me absolutely nuts when I don't see that reflected in entertainment. I live in New England - not exactly known for its diversity - and when I see more diversity at my local grocery store than I encounter in a book I'm reading, you're damn right I'm going to side-eye that book. That's an author telling on themselves.

The second is a much more complicated issue, and one that should be approached with a lot of research, and some genuine questioning of whether or not you're the person to be writing that particular story.

I'm an Old White Lady, and so not particularly qualified to make declarations. But what seems reasonable to me are two things:

1) It's fine to include characters who are not of your background in stuff you write.
2) It's fine to include characters who are not of your background, and not subject them to racism and discrimination in your particular story.
3) If you're inclined to write about racism and discrimination involving people not of your background, think long and hard about whether that's a story you ought to be writing. And if you decide it is, do your research, get proper critiques, and listen to feedback with humility and receptiveness.

My opinions. We are all works in progress.

Thank you.

I don't want to write white as default.

Us/them, no matter how it is defined seems to be a deeply ingrained part of humanity.

I'll keep thinking about how to use us/them in writing. I don't think I'll change from individual first, race/religion/ethnic origin/etc. second if at all.
 

lizmonster

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Thank you.

I don't want to write white as default.

Us/them, no matter how it is defined seems to be a deeply ingrained part of humanity.

I'll keep thinking about how to use us/them in writing. I don't think I'll change from individual first, race/religion/ethnic origin/etc. second if at all.

Writing The Other, by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. (Link is to Amazon US.)

One of the best, most concise books on the subject I've found.
 

Maryn

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I know you were using the words of someone else, but be mindful that midget is considered offensive by little people, regardless of the cause of their stature. It's the N-word of little people.

Maryn, who used to know a little couple
 

CMBright

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I know you were using the words of someone else, but be mindful that midget is considered offensive by little people, regardless of the cause of their stature. It's the N-word of little people.

Maryn, who used to know a little couple

I would never have used that particular word if it was not a quote. Unless referring to the fantasy race such as in Lord of the Rings, I would be unlikely to use dwarf either. Unless it was a dwarf lop rabbit or part of the diagnosis or some such exception.
 

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Thanks for clarifying that. Much appreciated.
 

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In non-visual media (so books and podcasts/radio plays), people are going to assume a character is white unless it's explicitly mentioned otherwise...and even then people can forget that. Like Rue from Hunger Games, she was mentioned in the text that she's black, but when she was cast as a black girl in the movie, people got upset. Because Rue's character is "pure and innocent" so they ignored everything about her being black and imagined her as white instead. Yikes!

As a queer person, I know what it feels like to have almost no representation in stories, or when it is there, it's about our suffering or our queerness is our entire character. It is very exhausting to hear people say that people like you existing is part of some agenda or has some ulterior motive. Especially in fantasy or sci-fi, where there's no reason for racism/homophobia/transphobia/etc to exist. I'm a trans guy and I've seen maybe 1 canonical trans guy in a fictional story, and he was such a minor character and the line mentioning he's trans was so easy to miss. But if people weren't so afraid to have diverse characters in their stories, this wouldn't be an issue.

Arthur is adding a Sikh character to their show, and him being Sikh has nothing to do with anything. He's just a kid in Buster's class. Arthur does a really good job with having diverse characters who are just regular people, with only some episodes focusing on their diversity. A girl who loves not-Harry Potter pre-orders the next book from Britain, but she ends up getting a Braille copy. She runs into a blind girl, who's excited to encounter such a rare book, and they become friends. In a later episode, the blind girl joins her and her mom in doing morning yoga and she's surprisingly good at it, so the conflict is "oh no what if my mom only wants to do yoga with my friend instead of me?" The mom has to do some extra steps to explain the yoga poses but otherwise the friend being blind has nothing to do with the story. The episode where the teacher gets gay married is a good example of everyone just treating diversity as a normal thing.

The thing that really gets me is when cis/het/white/able-bodied/culturally Christian folx say "well I'm not X, so it's not my place to write about X, I don't know anything about X," and they include that to mean any sort of character that isn't like them, even in the most minor of roles. It shouldn't be the duty of minorities to be the only people to create minority characters, especially because so much of the entertainment industry is biased and consider our voices/opinions lesser (not to mention disparities in wealth/education/etc that can affect how easily one can create stories). It's not a requirement to have this many diversity points to be published, but if you go into it thinking that including diverse characters is a chore and not, you know, accurately reflecting the real world and the people who live in it, you're going to have a bad time.
 

kinokonoronin

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It is very exhausting to hear people say that people like you existing is part of some agenda or has some ulterior motive.
This.

But if people weren't so afraid to have diverse characters in their stories, this wouldn't be an issue.
And this.

The thing that really gets me is when cis/het/white/able-bodied/culturally Christian folx say "well I'm not X, so it's not my place to write about X, I don't know anything about X," and they include that to mean any sort of character that isn't like them, even in the most minor of roles.
And this.

It shouldn't be the duty of minorities to be the only people to create minority characters
And this.

I miss rep points. Giving a thumbs up doesn't feel like enough for some posts.

-----

If you feel that there needs to be a reason for a character to be a POC, that implies that POC characters need their existences explained. You can't hold this view and not be operating on "white is default", no matter how well-meaning you are.

And if you feel you don't have the insight to write a character of color, why? If you truly write characters as individuals first, why exactly is it different from writing any other character? Probably worth some introspection.
 

mccardey

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I think one of the challenges of being an engaged human being is that cultural expectations DO change, and while no one can force us to keep up, at some point it's just a little pathetic if we refuse to even make an attempt to do so.

I grew up in the 70s, when "color-blindness" was what nice white parents told their kids to aspire to. Turns out there's a whole bunch of problems with that approach, and it's pretty condescending and the resulting erasure of someone else's lived experience is a horrible thing to do.
This is lovely. I remember colour-blind. I remember when we were encouraged each April to give our tuckshop-money to a religious program that took Language-speaking Aboriginal kids to stay at the beach, for a fortnight of stringently-English-speaking Christian evangelism. We glowed with goodness!

We spend a life-time, if we're lucky enough, living and growing and hopefully learning. It can be hard to let go of the kind of privilege that allows us to feel kind and non-racist, especially if we live in and benefit from a manifestly racist and unequal setting. But it's important to listen to the people we're being kind to when they say "That there - that's racist and harmful and who the hell do you think you are?"

Not listening - sticking to pre-conceptions or old learnings which keep the problem bubbling along while allowing us to feel that we're not part of it - that's how the damage is done.

That, and dragging children away from parents, community and Country for a fortnight of language-policing, story-destruction - and a photo-op for your own congregation.
 

CMBright

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In non-visual media (so books and podcasts/radio plays), people are going to assume a character is white unless it's explicitly mentioned otherwise...and even then people can forget that. Like Rue from Hunger Games, she was mentioned in the text that she's black, but when she was cast as a black girl in the movie, people got upset. Because Rue's character is "pure and innocent" so they ignored everything about her being black and imagined her as white instead. Yikes!

As a queer person, I know what it feels like to have almost no representation in stories, or when it is there, it's about our suffering or our queerness is our entire character. It is very exhausting to hear people say that people like you existing is part of some agenda or has some ulterior motive. Especially in fantasy or sci-fi, where there's no reason for racism/homophobia/transphobia/etc to exist. I'm a trans guy and I've seen maybe 1 canonical trans guy in a fictional story, and he was such a minor character and the line mentioning he's trans was so easy to miss. But if people weren't so afraid to have diverse characters in their stories, this wouldn't be an issue.

Arthur is adding a Sikh character to their show, and him being Sikh has nothing to do with anything. He's just a kid in Buster's class. Arthur does a really good job with having diverse characters who are just regular people, with only some episodes focusing on their diversity. A girl who loves not-Harry Potter pre-orders the next book from Britain, but she ends up getting a Braille copy. She runs into a blind girl, who's excited to encounter such a rare book, and they become friends. In a later episode, the blind girl joins her and her mom in doing morning yoga and she's surprisingly good at it, so the conflict is "oh no what if my mom only wants to do yoga with my friend instead of me?" The mom has to do some extra steps to explain the yoga poses but otherwise the friend being blind has nothing to do with the story. The episode where the teacher gets gay married is a good example of everyone just treating diversity as a normal thing.

The thing that really gets me is when cis/het/white/able-bodied/culturally Christian folx say "well I'm not X, so it's not my place to write about X, I don't know anything about X," and they include that to mean any sort of character that isn't like them, even in the most minor of roles. It shouldn't be the duty of minorities to be the only people to create minority characters, especially because so much of the entertainment industry is biased and consider our voices/opinions lesser (not to mention disparities in wealth/education/etc that can affect how easily one can create stories). It's not a requirement to have this many diversity points to be published, but if you go into it thinking that including diverse characters is a chore and not, you know, accurately reflecting the real world and the people who live in it, you're going to have a bad time.

Exactly. Either there is a problem or reason why someone is something or it is just another detail about their character. I love the "oh, wow, you've got a braille copy, I was wishing for one!" interaction. The kid worrying about the parent wanting to be with the friend instead was so typical of kid thinking.

Three out of five, huh? If I decide to write about X, I start reading about X. I don't use the fact that I'm not X as an excuse. Another mentioned beta readers. Could say I have a friend, factually accurate but might come across as flippant if not inappropriate.

I want the right characters, not the expected characters. Or avoid the right character because I'm concerned how it will look to others.

Or picking character race based on some weird trope like the black guy cast as the sacrificial lamb in horror movies. How many are the first victim? Enough it's a trope at any rate.
 
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CMBright

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This.


And this.


And this.


And this.

I miss rep points. Giving a thumbs up doesn't feel like enough for some posts.

-----

If you feel that there needs to be a reason for a character to be a POC, that implies that POC characters need their existences explained. You can't hold this view and not be operating on "white is default", no matter how well-meaning you are.

And if you feel you don't have the insight to write a character of color, why? If you truly write characters as individuals first, why exactly is it different from writing any other character? Probably worth some introspection.

To use my life experience, I honestly thought the worst of the behavior was firmly in the past. Water under the bridge. Then the Black Lives Matter movement began.

I was unaware of that struggle. If I did see a glimpse, it was subtle enough I could dismiss it, rationalize it. An outlier. Living in the past. Learned from parents.

Characters are their experience. I have to reevaluate characters. Does race affect them or not? Maybe they grew up in a mixed community and it didn't. Or they might have been bussed an hour or more to be a token minority to make a desegregation quota. Both would affect the adult character. How much or how little is the question.

Of course, that can apply to socio-economic status, religion, sexuality, you name it.
 
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The thing that really gets me is when cis/het/white/able-bodied/culturally Christian folx say "well I'm not X, so it's not my place to write about X, I don't know anything about X," and they include that to mean any sort of character that isn't like them, even in the most minor of roles. It shouldn't be the duty of minorities to be the only people to create minority characters, especially because so much of the entertainment industry is biased and consider our voices/opinions lesser (not to mention disparities in wealth/education/etc that can affect how easily one can create stories). It's not a requirement to have this many diversity points to be published, but if you go into it thinking that including diverse characters is a chore and not, you know, accurately reflecting the real world and the people who live in it, you're going to have a bad time.
This. Gosh, this X 1000.

Intersectionality is a useful tool for authors. Do I know what it's like to be a person of colour? No, I don't. I have not experienced it. But there is at least some overlap between the prejudices, barriers, biases, dangers, and struggles that a person of colour lives with every day and the prejudices, barriers, biases, dangers, and struggles that a gay person, or a woman, or a fat person, or a disabled person, or a poor person, or an disfigured person, or a religious minority person, or a super-left-wing-politics person, or a super-right-wing-politics person, or the prettiest-girl-in-the-school person faces. And how the author thinks and feels and reacts to those things they experience because of whatever attributes they possess can be used to extrapolate to how their character would think and feel and react.

I think the hardest one for me to write would be a male POV.
 

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I write primarily what I know and have learned about the human condition, and research everything else. It's what writers do. From what I see here and on other writing forums, there's a great deal of angst and trepidation about crossing cultural and other lines.

I tackle characters outside my gender or sexuality or history or country or whatever in exactly the same way, by trying to find out what makes them tick, researching their experiences and attempting to portray them accurately an honestly.

If writers confined themselves to their own tiny range of experiences and were timid when writing outside their life-bubble, we would have missed out on some wonderful stories.
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away