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Thread: Should I write this?

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  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Thief's Avatar
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    Oct 2015
    The land of bad drivers (Massachusetts)

    Should I write this?

    ETA: Boy howdy this turned out to be a long post! Anyway, here goes.

    ETA x2: TL;DR version in #3

    I'll preface this by saying I'm a white writer. I also saw a thread that was similar to this one, but I feel my question is different enough that it warrants its own thread? I didn't want to derail the other one, anyway. I hope me posting this here is alright.

    So, when I first conceived this story years ago, all the cast (two MCs, two secondary chars, one tertiary) but one character was white. As I became more socially aware over time, I realized I wanted a more diverse cast, so I started to change their races. This includes the two MCs (who are both narrators in first-person perspective). The FMC I made mixed: English on her father's side, Mexican on her mother's side. The MMC I'm still uncertain on, but he comes with some other writing issues that I'll get to in a moment.

    I was reading some discourse related to #ownvoices, the question being whether or not white writers should write PoC characters at all, even when they "get it right" regarding representation. A writer of color in the comments said that while a white writer can have an ethnically diverse supporting cast, they shouldn't write nonwhite main characters, full stop. The commenter said it takes away opportunities from writers of color; if a white person writes about the perspective of a PoC (which they're bound to lose some nuances of), they're talking over a PoC writing a PoC and taking away that person's seat at the publishing table.

    Obviously that's not something I want to do. So should I just...make my FMC white again? Part of that feels a little icky, as though I'd be whitewashing her, in a sense. But since she was white to begin with, maybe that doesn't count? I don't know...

    And then there's the issue with the MMC. He's part-human, part-fantasy race. I realized while writing him that some of the struggles he faces (namely with regard to identity/culture) could be seen to parallel struggles faced by mixed-race people irl. It's not as though I directly point that out in the narrative or call attention to it, but you certainly could view it through that lens, and I'm sure many potential readers would. As such, I felt making him white would ring rather...hollow. Like he would experience real-world seeming issues that real PoC face, but with the benefit of being white.

    One of my friends suggested I just describe the MCs in vague terms and leave the readers to headcanon their races, but I don't feel that's right, either. It seems like 9 times out of 10, the readers are just going to view them as white anyway, because we have this very strong "white as default" mentality in our culture. Like, a character is white until proven otherwise. Which...doesn't help representation very much (I know Writing With Color advises very strongly against this, for that reason).

    It should be noted at this point that my story very much isn't about race--it's about kids with superpowers fighting a destructive magic cult. If I made my MCs nonwhite, their nonwhiteness would just happen to be aspects of their characters. It would be something that's part of their lives and informs their character/decisions, but is ultimately not what the story is "about." So, because the story isn't message fiction/an issue piece, would I still be talking over PoC if I made them PoC?

    I really do think diversity is important in books, and I don't want to add to the massive pile of white MCs in YA (I forgot to mention it, but that's the market I'm writing for) because...well, don't we have enough of those already? Also, the idea of only having ethnic diversity in the supporting cast and not in the MCs rubs me the wrong way. It seems like...idk, whenever I see it in a book, it comes off to me like the writer is trying to have their diversity cake and eat it too. But maybe I'm just cynical. Or outright incorrect.

    Anyway, back to the point. If writers of color think I shouldn't be writing MCs of color at all, and that doing so is harmful to them, I'll stop (even though, admittedly, the idea of writing nothing but white MCs forever just doesn't...feel right to me. Is that harmful, too, or no?). The last thing I want to do is cause any harm.
    Last edited by Thief; 08-03-2017 at 09:49 AM.
    Working On:
    Soulbonders - YA modern fantasy (Revising/Restructuring)
    Untitled slice of life story about a VRMMO about fairies

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