IWSG: On writing race

First Wednesday, and time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Last month I attended a conference on race in our schools, run by the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators. While there, I naturally gravitated toward the book sale display by Ashay by the Bay Books. Chatting there with the woman running the booth, it naturally came up that I write. And I had to admit I don't think  have persons of color in my books (I don't really describe characters much at all, so there is some wiggle-room there, but the reality is, no, I don't). And she asked me straight out why not.

I had to answer with equal honesty: I don't write about people of color because I'm afraid of getting it wrong. Which, she pointed out by implication, makes no more sense than refusing to write about historical periods or a place I haven't been. That is, the answer is research. Checking with people who know the experiences better. Of course, in a historical novel (which the Ninja Librarian is, sort of), it gets even more complex, given historical attitudes, where an author must negotiate tricky ground between realism and modern sensibilities. No wonder I, and many like me, dodge the question. But that's not good enough.

The end result of that discussion is that I'm recognizing something that Chuck Wendig has blogged about frequently: it's part of my job to write diversity. And I will have to learn to do it. Not just racial diversity, but also gender differences, and whatever other diversity occurs to me. So: I'm working on it. It's not an easy thing to consider with the Ninja Librarian series, but I'll be doing some re-reading of the first books to see if there's any proof that all the characters are white. I have some ideas about how race might fit in, but it may not work. Book Three, which I'm currently revising, had already found its own way to some gender questions, so there's that. 

And I promise that Pismawallops Island won't stay as white as the small town where I grew up, once I get back to that project. I'm not much of a writer if I can't write about someone who's not just like me, and I'm not much of a person it I can't move out of my comfort zone.

And the science fiction and fantasy I write? Absolutely no reason characters need to be white. Again, I have often failed to describe them, but that doesn't quite measure up. If I'm any kind of writer, I can write people who's experiences are truly unlike mine. 

How about you? Anyone else hesitate to write people of color or gender variations because of fear of giving offense out of ignorance?


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