Hey there! Haven’t posted one of these in months but hopefully there will be much more to come.
The inspiration for this article came from reading two separate posts about this topic, both written by white bloggers. The first was a white man who wanted to include diverse characters in his stories, not only because he wanted to provide that representation, but because he wanted to make sure that as an ally he was doing it right. I very much appreciated that post.
The second was from a white woman who basically said that POC (and other minoritized groups) were sometimes too sensitive about the things that authors said. So basically she believed that just because she personally didn’t find something offensive, then it wasn’t a big deal.
First, in my opinion, it is not a bad thing for white authors to write racially diverse characters. In fact, it’s a good thing because most authors are white and when they also write these characters there’s more representation for us.
However, I still believe that it has to be done right. Yes, there is a wrong way.
A good example of how this is done is in Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. This is one of my favorite books (you can check out my review here). This is her first book that captures what racism in America. She captures the raw truth of both subtle and blatant racism. I felt that the ending was pretty unrealistic, but I know that she was trying to put a positive spin on it and all. Something that I really appreciate about Jodi Picoult is that she does A LOT of research in order to accurately portray her characters. As a woman of color, I have never related to a character more than I relate to Ruth Jefferson. If you have not read this novel yet, I highly recommend it because she did a phenomenal job.
Now I’ve heard that a lot of people complain that when white authors write POC, it takes away from authors that belong to racially diverse groups, I disagree with this. Like I said before, we need allies. On top of that, there are always going to be more stories to be told. And with the intersections of multiple identities, it’s not like we could ever run out of stories to tell. Don’t get me wrong, it infuriates me that Small Great Things had to be written by a white woman in order for people to listen, but I am grateful for the fact that Picoult did it the right way.
By now, you’re probably wondering what the wrong way to write these characters is right? This is typically done by authors who either know nothing about diversity and don’t take the time to learn or they write minority characters with harmful portrayals that tokenize and stereotype them.
An example of making a person of color a token is casting them as the best friend/sidekick to the main character while mentioning their ethnic background 50 million times, but never giving them any real character development. It’s made very clear that this character is there solely for the sake of saying that there is some diversity when really the author would have been better off leaving them out of the story as a whole.
An example of stereotyping is listening to the bullshit assumptions that people have about a certain group of people that is harmful and then including those very stereotypes in the story. If you don’t know whether or not something is a stereotype, you need to do some research and find out the impact. From there you either decide to be respectful and not include it, or you basically admit that you don’t give a damn and do it anyway. The latter is a part of the reason that I no longer support Veronica Roth.
When POC are upset by the way that some white authors portray people of color, they have every right to be. No it’s not being “sensitive.” It’s not about censorship. It’s the fact that the author chose to write and publish something that was racist. If you’re a white person who thinks that something that POC are offended by isn’t racist, then I advise you to check your privilege. You don’t have the right to tell a group that you are not a part of what they can or can’t be offended by. And whether or not you “get” why it’s offensive doesn’t matter, because it isn’t about you. That goes for any other majority group as well.
So basically what I’m saying is that no it is not always bad for white authors to write characters of color. However, they need to actually know what they’re doing. Otherwise, there’s no point in trying.
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