Mystical Negro Offensive Cliche - Follow Up Question in #15

mccardey

Back soon.
Self-Ban
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 10, 2010
Messages
17,957
Reaction score
12,681
Location
Australia.
*squints*

wall...stall...

I need new glasses
Well, see - Kit said he reads the graffiti on urinal stalls, but I'm not sure he didn't mean walls, because (I had to google images for this, but that's alright) the stalls seem to be very small indeed and would require quite a lot of bending and peering which might be something to avoid in a public lavatory. And also (and this was my first thought) the stalls might be the actual porcelain bit which would make writing very difficult as well.

Anyway, I thought since Kit has been rather tiresome today what with knowing everything and having all the opinions, rather than ask him (I'm hoping he's gone for a nice long sleep now anyway, and feels brighter tomorrow) I'd just take a quiet bet each way, to be on the safe side.

So you didn't necessarily get it wrong. I'm just being careful.

:granny:
 
Last edited:

CWNitz

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 22, 2021
Messages
1,176
Reaction score
1,856
Location
France
Website
cnitzbooks.com
I don't think you'll get yelled at for secondary characters as long as they're not written offensively, and I'm sure yours wouldn't be. But you can get a sensitivity reader if you're concerned about it.
On the contrary, I think you might get yelled at no matter what, but that doesn't mean you have to agree or obey to everyone. At least, I've seen negative comments about portrayal of race and sexuality on every single book of which I've checked the comments.

Just like with any criticism of your book, you should give it honest consideration, take time to understand where it comes from, and then decide if you agree or not.

Of course, it's easier to have an all-white, all-straight cast, and you might get less criticism, but it's also bland. And you might miss on readers who would have enjoyed your story more with some representation.

Plus, if someone criticizes the portrayal of one character, or points out issues, it doesn't mean they hate the book, or that they're representative of everyone of the same race/sexuality. For instance, I think the sex scenes in the movie version of Blue is the Warmest Color were fetishized, and it bothers me. I still love that movie. I'm also sure a lot of people don't find them to be fetishized.

White, straight people criticize white, straight characters all the time. We don't just go, "Oh, I can't write white characters anymore!" We assume they have a right to criticize the character and to have their own opinion. Minorities are not a hivemind.
 
Last edited:

Unimportant

Takes a firm stance on crit pro quo
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 8, 2005
Messages
13,359
Reaction score
12,644
Location
Aotearoa
Maybe everyone's collective personal experience, postgraduate degrees, and publishing wisdom should....dunno....bow to one person's superiority based on their life experiences of privilege?

Yeah pretty sure they can set us straight on everything.
 

mccardey

Back soon.
Self-Ban
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 10, 2010
Messages
17,957
Reaction score
12,681
Location
Australia.
Oh, I'll pee anywhere. Doesn't matter how many doctoral degrees I have. No class. No class at all.
Gender non-conformist, you are. (I'll bet your socks get damp, but.)
 

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
2,478
Reaction score
3,044
Location
Northern Ireland
Is this the moment to point out that many of us wouldn't even pee on a urinal wall? Or indeed, in a urinal stall?
Sounds like Dr. Seuss. I would not pee on a urinal wall, I would not pee in a urinal stall, I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam I am 😂
 

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
2,478
Reaction score
3,044
Location
Northern Ireland
On the contrary, I think you might get yelled at no matter what, but that doesn't mean you have to agree or obey to everyone. At least, I've seen negative comments about portrayal of race and sexuality on every single book of which I've checked the comments.

Just like with any criticism of your book, you should give it honest consideration, take time to understand where it comes from, and then decide if you agree or not.
Yep, fair enough. I just don't want to be like those white writers who 'disagree' with people from the actual culture they're writing about, and the white writer is just wrong. Sometimes they sound like they're shouting the dissenters down. I didn't stick to an all white cast in my book – I do have POC characters, but I don't always explain it explicitly. I figure people can figure it out from the names (I hope). Sometimes I wonder if some people just assume the characters are white.
Plus, if someone criticizes the portrayal of one character, or points out issues, it doesn't mean they hate the book, or that they're representative of everyone of the same race/sexuality. For instance, I think the sex scenes in the movie version of Blue is the Warmest Color were fetishized, and it bothered me. I still love that movie. I'm also sure a lot of people didn't find them to be fetishized.
Yeah, I haven't seen it, but I've heard both points of view on that one.
White, straight people criticize white, straight characters all the time. We don't just go, "Oh, I can't write white characters anymore!" We assume they have a right to criticize the character and to have they're own opinion. Minorities are not a hivemind.
Very true. It's pretty dismissive to assume that everyone from a certain culture is going to agree on how that culture should be portrayed in novels.
 

CWNitz

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 22, 2021
Messages
1,176
Reaction score
1,856
Location
France
Website
cnitzbooks.com
Yep, fair enough. I just don't want to be like those white writers who 'disagree' with people from the actual culture they're writing about, and the white writer is just wrong.
Yeah, some writers completely lack basic awareness. I think if you answer a critic, especially on a sensitive subject, it should be after serious research and introspection. And if several persons are bringing up the same issue, maybe an apology is in order.
I didn't stick to an all white cast in my book – I do have POC characters, but I don't always explain it explicitly. I figure people can figure it out from the names (I hope). Sometimes I wonder if some people just assume the characters are white.
I completely missed that, actually, but probably because English names aren't familiar to me.
 

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
12,306
Reaction score
15,054
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
Two things from my own experience as a white writer that may or may not be helpful to people in this context:

1) I have received negative comments from white (and cis, and hetero) readers for including non-white (and non-cis, and non-hetero) characters. The word "woke" may have been thrown around.

2) I have one MC in my series who is described very clearly as having dark skin. Readers still assume he's white.

I've followed many of the reported stories of writers pilloried for their representation of race. In some cases, the response seems valid to me; in some, not. But in my personal experience as a non-breakthrough published author, there are a lot more white (and cis, and hetero) readers out there willing to play keyboard warrior and tell you they're bothered by you bursting their bubble and letting them know they're not the Special Snowflakes of your fictional universe.

Personally, I believe there are some stories that are not mine to tell, and I stay away from those - I have enough ideas that I don't need to write out and polish and publish every single one. But beyond that?

Write the book. Strive to do it well. Question your own perspectives and limitations - personally, I find that one of the more interesting aspects of writing.
 

ElaineB

Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 4, 2022
Messages
324
Reaction score
674
Location
Three Pines
Website
elaineburnes.com
And since the vast majority of published writers are cishet, that means a lot of stories only have cishet characters. Or queer characters are "a very special episode"-type characters, where their entire deal is being queer, and they don't have normal problems or go on normal adventures.
And therein lies the problem of publishing (maybe also agents, dunno), and writers are made to feel guilty about something we can’t control. Who decides who gets published is out of our hands.

This discussion has made me think about a character in my WIP who I’ve decided is Black, for story reasons but also to diversify my cast. She asks the white main character for help, but I hope it’s not a simple “white savior” trope because she’s a leader in her own right, simply needs the means of transportation the white character can provide, and her arc isn’t about “being Black.”

I won’t write a BIPOC main character for many reasons. Mainly because like it or not race matters even if it technically doesn’t exist and that experience is not mine to tell. I’ll stick to my stories: white, cis-lesbians. Others can, and (more important) should be allowed to, write their own.

For awhile it seemed like every few weeks a Twitter war would break out about a book that got not only published, but a ginormous advance by a white writer of BIPOC characters. Whether the story felt true or not isn’t always the point. How many BIPOC writers could have been published for that advance? Or one lucky BIPOC author. Bidding wars among publishers are a weird beast and seem rather random, but I’m not sure any BIPOC authors have been on the winning end of one.

Of course, it’s not only BIPOC authors on the losing end of publishing. Jennifer Haigh (Baker Towers, Heat & Light), spoke at a conference years ago about how working-class fiction doesn’t get published. Think about it, she said, to work in publishing in NYC you pretty much have to be a trust fund baby.

Same goes for LGBTQ authors. We seem to be a thing now, with lots of the Big 5 publishing us, but how long will that last? How many are allowed in?

Back to Brigid’s question. Maine makes it tough, right? Could a white writer have written Hamilton? You are changing a historically white character to Black. Not something I can weigh in on, frankly. You could have a sensitivity reader look it over once written, but know that you’ll get the opinion of one person, which may or may not be helpful. (Do you also need a psychic reader?) My guess is you wouldn’t have obvious problems like writing in dialect or making her a “welfare queen.” More the nuance. Anyway, good luck!
 

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
2,478
Reaction score
3,044
Location
Northern Ireland
I completely missed that, actually, but probably because English names aren't familiar to me.
Ishir, Dr. Lu and Stefan aren't white. Ishir is Indian, Dr. Lu is Chinese-Larimari (fake country name). There are some other characters whose race is never mentioned but I know they're not white. But it sounds like from what lizmonster says, some readers will assume so. I say that Stefan's from Martinique and has dark skin. If people still don't notice that, I dunno what to do with them. In the draft you read, I said Ishir was Indian, but in the second draft I've done a bunch of cutting and lost that paragraph. I was hoping his name makes it clear enough. Maybe I should add it in again explicitly because I don't want people to just assume all the characters are white.
Two things from my own experience as a white writer that may or may not be helpful to people in this context:

1) I have received negative comments from white (and cis, and hetero) readers for including non-white (and non-cis, and non-hetero) characters. The word "woke" may have been thrown around.
I'm not disbelieving you at all, but do they literally just write to you to make clear their displeasure that you included POC characters and non-hetero characters at all? That's got to take some nerve. Talk about out of touch.
 

Brigid Barry

I am Batman.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
4,223
Reaction score
5,258
Location
Maine, USA
Thanks everyone for the weighing in on all of this. The same book that I changed a white woman to a Black woman (for diversity, it has zero bearing on the story whatsoever) also has a secondary character who is a lesbian (she is the best friend of the MC). Neither one of them has "issues", they're just people living their lives, doing their things, although the best friend and her partner are waiting to get married until they can do it in Maine rather than "sneaking off to Vermont like thieves in the night" because at the time it was set marriage equality wasn't a law yet.

I have, through reading this section of the boards and also spending some time on the Writing With Color site, realized some problematic things that I was doing, such as describing the skin color or hair texture of certain characters but not others. I think I've rectified this and the white people who only want to see white people will get their wish, and anyone else who is paying attention may or may not figure out that I do not have an all-white cast. Or an all cis cast, or an all straight cast. Which of course might raise it's own issues (why didn't I make it more obvious?!) but I think CWNitz is right and regardless I'll probably catch hell for something somewhere.

I'm not disbelieving you at all, but do they literally just write to you to make clear their displeasure that you included POC characters and non-hetero characters at all? That's got to take some nerve. Talk about out of touch.
How dare you ruin my reading experience by forcing me to acknowledge that other people exist?! ONE STAR.
 
  • Like
Reactions: cmhbob and SWest

CWNitz

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 22, 2021
Messages
1,176
Reaction score
1,856
Location
France
Website
cnitzbooks.com
Ishir, Dr. Lu and Stefan aren't white. Ishir is Indian, Dr. Lu is Chinese-Larimari (fake country name). There are some other characters whose race is never mentioned but I know they're not white. But it sounds like from what lizmonster says, some readers will assume so. I say that Stefan's from Martinique and has dark skin. If people still don't notice that, I dunno what to do with them. In the draft you read, I said Ishir was Indian, but in the second draft I've done a bunch of cutting and lost that paragraph. I was hoping his name makes it clear enough. Maybe I should add it in again explicitly because I don't want people to just assume all the characters are white.
Oh, okay! No, I did notice they weren't white. I just thought you meant one of the central characters.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Jazz Club

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
2,478
Reaction score
3,044
Location
Northern Ireland
I have, through reading this section of the boards and also spending some time on the Writing With Color site, realized some problematic things that I was doing, such as describing the skin color or hair texture of certain characters but not others. I think I've rectified this and the white people who only want to see white people will get their wish, and anyone else who is paying attention may or may not figure out that I do not have an all-white cast.
I don't think that you have to go that far. You can just start describng white people's skin too, rather than only describing Black people's skin (which would seem like you think it's 'other'). I don't want to talk for everyone on this thread, but I don't think the consensus here was that you should remove any reference to race or sexuality from your novel so that it's only noticeable if you squint.

I really don't think you'll catch much hell for having a Black secondary character and mentioning that they're Black. Nobody has yelled at me yet for having non-white characters, or saying that Stefan has dark skin and comes from Martinique. Maybe someone will yell one day, but the book has been read by at least a dozen people now and no-one has batted an eye yet (at least not outwardly. Maybe they ranted about me to their spouse/family/mates. I doubt it).
How dare you ruin my reading experience by forcing me to acknowledge that other people exist?! ONE STAR.
lol yeah that's probably what they mean! I don't have any reviews to worry about yet. I'd need to reach a certain level of success to worry about that.
 

Brigid Barry

I am Batman.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
4,223
Reaction score
5,258
Location
Maine, USA
I don't think that you have to go that far. You can just start describng white people's skin too, rather than only describing Black people's skin (which would seem like you think it's 'other'). I don't want to talk for everyone on this thread, but I don't think the consensus here was that you should remove any reference to race or sexuality from your novel so that it's only noticeable if you squint.
Also not what I did. My MC basically has three traits that she notices about pretty much everyone unless there are Other Circumstances. I forget what the term is for "white default" when people read things, but it's their own blindness, not because I didn't put things on the page.
I really don't think you'll catch much hell for having a Black secondary character and mentioning that they're Black. Nobody has yelled at me yet for having non-white characters, or saying that Stefan has dark skin and comes from Martinique. Maybe someone will yell one day, but the book has been read by at least a dozen people now and no-one has batted an eye yet (at least not outwardly. Maybe they ranted about me to their spouse/family/mates. I doubt it).
To me she's pretty obviously Black but I don't know (and can't control) how other people read it. I did a Beta read for someone who described a Black character as a "dark skinned black girl with frizzy hair" and I about fell out of my chair. I said something to her and she claimed to have had sensitivity readers from the Black community but you couldn't pay me enough to describe someone like that.
lol yeah that's probably what they mean! I don't have any reviews to worry about yet. I'd need to reach a certain level of success to worry about that.
I'd have to have any level of success to worry about any of this. I think I initially asked when I thought that there was a snowball's chance in hell at getting published. lol.
 

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
2,478
Reaction score
3,044
Location
Northern Ireland
Also not what I did. My MC basically has three traits that she notices about pretty much everyone unless there are Other Circumstances. I forget what the term is for "white default" when people read things, but it's their own blindness, not because I didn't put things on the page.
Ah, fair enough. Sorry, I misunderstood. It's hard to know what's meant without reading the book. Probably why it's hard to discuss, too, because people are talking at cross purposes.
 

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
12,306
Reaction score
15,054
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
I'm not disbelieving you at all, but do they literally just write to you to make clear their displeasure that you included POC characters and non-hetero characters at all? That's got to take some nerve. Talk about out of touch.

The two incidents I'm thinking of specifically, where people put things in writing, were:

1) a woman who commented on FB that she'd liked the book but was "disappointed" that I'd felt the need to be "woke" by including a nb character. (Honestly, I was pleased she noticed; I wasn't sure I'd been clear enough.)

2) the reader who once said he wanted my MC on one of the covers, and when I pointed out that Black guy on the cover of Book 2 was him, stopped writing to me at all (and he'd been a fairly frequent commenter).

(Also - I don't read reviews. There may be nothing about any of this in my reviews. I can't say one way or another.)

So that's one general public comment and one comment directly to me. There have been a few more that I've deleted and don't remember well (I moderate all comments on my blog, and I have a separate author email). Not a flood, by any means. :) And no, that's not a lot; but keep in mind I can count all the fan mail and comments I've had without supplementing my fingers and toes, so it's a pretty high percentage.

You can also look at the social media of any big-selling author (at least in SFF), and see far more white folx snarking about "political correctness" than PoCs and non-cis/non-hetero people pointing out inaccuracies and/or poor rep.

We white folx seem to feel uniquely entitled to tell people they're pandering if they make art about anyone who's not like us.
 

CWNitz

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 22, 2021
Messages
1,176
Reaction score
1,856
Location
France
Website
cnitzbooks.com
The big difference between white "anti-woke" critics and POC "bad representation" critics is that I don't actually care what the anti-woke white supremacists think. So I can just dismiss their comments as unimportant, whereas hurting the POC community is something I'd like to avoid.
 

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
12,306
Reaction score
15,054
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
The big difference between white "anti-woke" critics and POC "bad representation" critics is that I don't actually care what the anti-woke white supremacists think. So I can just dismiss their comments as unimportant, whereas hurting the POC community is something I'd like to avoid.

I have been known to buy books based on bad reviews from grumbly "anti-woke" folx.

But yeah, there's a whole different conversation to be had around reader reaction and critique. Sometimes the stumbles seem obvious, and you wonder where the author's (and editor's, and publisher's) friends were in this process. When I first heard about American Dirt, for example, I wondered how anyone could possibly have missed how clumsy and broad the stereotyping was.

But as ElaineB mentioned above, one huge problem that's not really being addressed with any success is access. Most of publishing, especially the entry-level work, involves poor salaries and locations that are expensive to live in. The publishing employment market favors young people with outside means, and in most cases, that means white folx. I can tell you, as a well-intentioned liberal white woman, there are no intentions good enough to make you as clear-eyed as someone who's lived a different experience than yours.

Publishing needs to diversify their acquisition channels, and FWIW most of the people I've spoken to in publishing are supportive of that. Making it happen, though, is a different thing, and involves taking on some corporate norms that are pretty ingrained (and making a few people an awful lot of money).
 

CWNitz

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 22, 2021
Messages
1,176
Reaction score
1,856
Location
France
Website
cnitzbooks.com
But as ElaineB mentioned above, one huge problem that's not really being addressed with any success is access. Most of publishing, especially the entry-level work, involves poor salaries and locations that are expensive to live in. The publishing employment market favors young people with outside means, and in most cases, that means white folx. I can tell you, as a well-intentioned liberal white woman, there are no intentions good enough to make you as clear-eyed as someone who's lived a different experience than yours.
I know access matters. I mean, if it didn't, I would write in French and stick to publishers who live in France. You have no idea how hard it is to learn another language well enough to write in it and speak it in my day job. But the majority of published books are in English, all the biggest best-sellers are in English, and even here, a big chunks of books in libraries are translated from English, especially in genre fiction. So it's not entirely a choice.

Yes, for a black person it would be on average harder to move to New York and work for a big publisher than for a white person; for me, it's impossible, or at least very difficult, without a visa. And I'm not complaining; I fully realize I have a lot of privilege to be able to take the time to write, to have had a full education, and to speak a language that's not that bad off in the publishing world instead. But my access is nowhere near yours.

So yes, everyone's experiences are different. But I don't think it's only a matter of skin color.
 

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
12,306
Reaction score
15,054
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
So yes, everyone's experiences are different. But I don't think it's only a matter of skin color.

Of course it's not. But the bias you find as an English-as-a-second-language writer is not the same thing as the inherent narrowness of decisions that naturally develops in a near-monocultural industry.

Racism is common in human societies, but despite some superficial similarities - in European and Western countries, it's largely darker-skinned people who are discriminated against - the reasons and roots of that racism vary widely. France's issues with racism come with an entirely different set of historical incidents than the issues in the US. I'll never understand the subtleties of the racism in, say, the UK, despite having some knowledge of the history of the British Empire. Similarly, I think it's hard for non-US residents to understand how dramatic and pervasive the legacy of legalized slavery is here.
 

Roxxsmom

Beastly Fido
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2011
Messages
21,846
Reaction score
7,628
Location
Where faults collide
Website
doggedlywriting.blogspot.com
Of course, it's easier to have an all-white, all-straight cast, and you might get less criticism, but it's also bland. And you might miss on readers who would have enjoyed your story more with some representation
That would get criticism too. I'm pretty shocked, actually, when I run across a book nowadays where everyone is White etc., unless there's a pretty clear reason for that. I'm also surprised that certain bloopers still make it past the editorial staff at some publishers, though many of the folks in this situation are well-established writers who are so famous their editors probably are reluctant to anger them? I also run across things that are pretty clearly not meant the way they are taken (as insults), but I understand why they are sensitive issues. And sometimes people get themselves in a lather over something that really isn't what they say it is, and an angry twitter storm descends on some new author where no one seems to know how to respond. A book that depicts a different form of slavery than what existed in the US is not necessarily dismissing or negating the experience of African American people, for instance.

I think we're in a place right now where norms and guidelines, not to mention sensibilities, are changing. People who write a character or situation who might have been considered very positive or progressive a few years back can get called out now. Sensitivity readers are a good idea, but even that isn't a panacea. One person can't speak for a whole community.

I know it's tempting to throw up one's hands and say, "No matter what you do, someone will be angry about it, so just write what you want." I don't think that's the answer either, though. Write authentic, well-rounded characters who have reasons for doing the things they do that make sense beyond simply advancing the plot or helping the protagonist. Do your best to avoid stereotypes. Research, because you might not even be aware of some of the stereotypes that are out there. Solicit feedback. And don't engage in tokenism. And if, in hindsight, you realize you did screw something up, learn from it and move on.
 
Last edited:

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
2,478
Reaction score
3,044
Location
Northern Ireland
You have no idea how hard it is to learn another language well enough to write in it and speak it in my day job.
I know how hard it is. I never got close to being able to write a novel in French or German, even when I was at uni. I never even thought of myself as fluent, to be honest, but it still took a ridiculous amount of work to get as good as I was. I'm in awe of what you can do.
Yes, for a black person it would be on average harder to move to New York and work for a big publisher than for a white person; for me, it's impossible, or at least very difficult, without a visa. And I'm not complaining; I fully realize I have a lot of privilege to be able to take the time to write, to have had a full education, and to speak a language that's not that bad off in the publishing world instead. But my access is nowhere near yours.

So yes, everyone's experiences are different. But I don't think it's only a matter of skin color.
Yeah I agree, it's really hard, no doubt. I'd probably need a visa to move to NY as well. I think it'd help open up the industry to different types of stories if more non-native English speakers had the chance to get hired as agents and at publishing houses. But then there are different obstacles for Black people. I can't help but notice as I research agents that most of the senior agents on any given website are white, with maybe one or two Black junior agents.