Archive for April 25th, 2014

Should white authors write POC characters?

In short? Yes. White authors should definitely write POC characters if their vision and story calls for it.

There are two posts I’d like to point to that discuss this question, here and here.

I’m with Malinda on the question of Chinese names: if I’m introducing myself nowadays, I’m going to go by “Katje”. I usually don’t try with my Chinese name because of all of the reasons she’s listed and one more — people seem incapable of picking up “Ting” first time around. I’ve been greeted with almost all plausible consonants than T. At this point I just say “T as in tango, Ting” and even then people will get it wrong if they weren’t paying attention. Which is more often than you might think. Apparently people’s brains don’t really kick in when listening to other people’s names until something springs up to surprise them. 

However, moving away from Malinda’s post and my own personal weirdness of being a first-generation, fresh off the boat, immigrant from Taiwan…

I would like to point out that there are many, many, many POCs who identify as staunchly American. Or British. Or fill in the blank predominantly white country.

To automatically assume that someone of another skin color than white is not American is as much a disservice as anything else.

If you’re writing contemporary or science fiction or whatever — I don’t feel like it’s a long leap to just say “this is a person of X culture who was born in Y country and shares a similar enough worldview to anyone else of X culture born in Y country”.  Yes. There are still things to be careful of. But then, there always are. As a writer, we presumably have characters of all stripes, sizes, and shades. If your characters are diverse in socio-economic status, in religion, in region of the world — then I don’t see you going wrong if you put as much thought and shading as you put into describing those other things that make up a person into considering how it’s different to be someone of another skin color.

Laura Florand does it beautifully in The Chocolate Temptation. Sarah is, for all her own purposes, American. She has hidden pain and her mother’s background and past does come into play, but that is not the entirety of who she is and I think that’s key to doing it right.

– people of color are still predominantly people. They’re not more or less special and certainly not exotic just because they have more pigmentation.

If an author puts effort into knowing their character, into describing who they are, without being sucked into othering and exoticising, I think that it’s likely that they won’t go wrong. At least not terribly wrong.

Overall, I feel I have to think of it like an author writing any other sort of character. Stopping people from writing things that they aren’t themselves is illogical because that would mean we shouldn’t write werewolves, vampires, fae, or cyborgs either. I think, if enough people tackle the topic, then we would start to see a spread of quality much like that for any other given specific and readers would gravitate toward what works for them.

Right now there simply isn’t enough of it, so it’s easier to be excessively picky. If I only encounter two Asian characters in any given year out of the >400 books I read a year — I’m going to hold them to a higher standard because I’m more likely to automatically slot myself in their place.

So I suppose we’re essentially looking for desensitization of sorts. I remember back when finding female characters in fantasy was rare. Oddly enough, it didn’t make me more likely to read books that had female characters in them because I would often get frustrated by how I couldn’t resonate with those characters. It was easier to just keep reading books with male characters because then that question of identifying with them on a physical level was bypassed entirely.

TL:DR — Yes, authors should do so and let readers do what they always do anyways — which is to say engage in choice of what strokes their fancy. It’s ridiculous to think that a POC character will resonate will all POCs of that type anyway. ridiculous and insulting, in fact. You can’t make everyone happy, even if you’re doing things to the best of your ability and that holds true here as well.