Here is my disclaimer: I am about to address the INCLUSION of People of Color. NOT, I REPEAT, NOT the exclusion of white people. INCLUSION!
Okay. Valid argument. No one wants to offend people, most of the time. And yes there are portrayal of people of color out there, but I am terrified to think that Tyler Perry speaks for me and it makes me sick to my stomach to think that Kathryn Stockett speaks for my grandmothers. So what are we left with if not the stereotypes? Omission. Here's the problem with complete omission, when you leave characters of color out (the same can be said of gay and lesbian characters, characters of varying gender identities, etc.), they no longer exist in your world. When they don't exist in your world, they don't exist in the reader's world. This is dangerous, especially for people who are only exposed to diversity through books, film and television. Just as dangerous as the stereotypes and in cases, more harmful.
Now when the reader sees themselves on the page, there is an instant connection to that character. Other people see me. Other people acknowledge that I exist, that I have thoughts and feelings and value. I loved She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb because he wrote about an overweight girl in an honest, real way. BTW Wally Lamb has never been an overweight girl. He took the time to write how difficult it is to be overweight and how one may find themselves overweight in the first place. He nailed it.
The current standard is the brunette, doe eyed, young white female between the ages of 15 and 26 who seems to be the focus of EVERY book, movie and television show. I have nothing against this, but I am against every other girl being left out. I am against the only portrayal of African American youth in the last five years being the drug dealing kids of The Wire, the kind of portrayal that leads to deaths like Trayvon's. I'm against Amber Riley having to play the teenage version of the fat, sassy black woman.
I was raised in a very warm, two parent home in Southern New Hampshire. Both of my parents are well educated, community minded people. My father, in particular raised me, not to be color blind, but to be kind and respectful of all people. As a kid I watched as he spoke with strangers and neighbors, and you know what, my father treated everyone the same. Teenagers, children, the elderly, his peers, even people who annoyed the hell out of him (I know his "I'm pissed off" face though others don't) with the same respect. A lot, and I mean A LOT, of people love my father. The things I've heard said about him would bring most people to movie of the week tears. As a father to four black children in a white town he NEVER made race an issue. He taught us to behave as any parent should. He taught us the importance of studying hard and in a timely fashion, even though this message didn't really sink in for me until I hit college. He took us to James Taylor concerts.
Here's the thing, my father could have made race an issue. He grew up during the 50's and 60's. He lived through segregation. His parents and his grandmother who had a hand in raising him, lived through worse. But not once did I ever see any sort of angry black man chip on my father's shoulder. He's the same way to this day and I think, even better because age has just made him wiser and even more understanding of the world around him and yes, people continue to love him.
This was my spring board. When I hit elementary school, I went out into the world with this mentality: treat people the same. And I did. I bounced between different social groups right up to college and in that time, I dealt with racism from another kid exactly once. He dropped the N bomb and I let him know about himself, but that's another story. I had a friend ask me some silly things about my hair, but it was innocent ignorance and I love her dearly.
I did, however, face racism from adults. I've had adults and, yes they were white, pull my hair as they asked me what it felt like. And yes this is racist. Treating little black girl the way you would treat dog is racist. I have had a girl tell me her mother didn't think she should use our toilet because she would get AIDS. I'll let you marinate on that for a moment. There were countless other instances that don't need to be rehashed, but it was the adults in my life who exhibited the most ignorant, racist behavior. As I've gotten older, I've seen that racism is taught. It trickles down. I have seen it with my own eyes. How do we change this? We work from the bottom up. Now I'm not stupid enough to think that racism will ever disappear completely. It's a global issue. People thrive of superiority and separation. But things can be made better and we start with the images we show our children.
When I was a kid I was most often compared to Missy Elliot. She was big and black. I was big and black. Beyond that, I have no clue if I have anything in common with Missy Elliot. I don't know her, but at the time she was the only woman of color my friends could identify with and that's a shame, but the entertainment community wasn't thinking about me. They didn't think I needed to see my image reflected in the media. I'm sure Missy Elliot wasn't thinking about me either. These days the defaults are Oprah and Beyonce, again two woman that I'm not sure I share all that much in common with. I would kill to be compared to Octavia Butler. Oh man. But let me get back to my main point.
I gave up expecting to see myself anywhere after The Cosby Show went off the air and that sucks. It sucks that I'm a little shocked to see an Asian/White couple in a VW commercial. It sucks that I know that commercial is not being played in parts of the country.
The main praise I have received for Better Off Red is that I have included a diverse cast of characters. As it stands, I have women who are Japanese, African-American, Puerto Rican, Bajan, Native American, Russian, British, and Scots-Mexican. I touch on their history, but I'm writing about vampires. I need to focus on them being vampires and what issues that presents. Moving forward, that I see, all of my romances will feature interracial couples. I had another author ask, with some shock (and a little disgust maybe, she seemed to be against this idea, like I was trying too hard) why I would do this. I think she was wondering why I wouldn't just write black couple or white couples. Why? Because people ask me all the time to recommend romances with people of color or for romances with mixed couples. All the time. Because I don't live in an all white world. I live in Koreatown. If anything I should be writing about Korean couples. I'm not in an all black relationship. Because my best friends here in LA are Latina and Korean. When we walk into a room, INSTANT DIVERSITY! Why? Because I am afraid to leave it up to other authors to do it for me.When people take to screen and page the default is white. Tell me I'm wrong and I will laugh in your face.
|see, bestie and i being diverse.|
I am not white, of course, but I have white characters all over my stories and I write them as people. I don't go on at length about how they can't dance, how they have flat butts and bad taste in music (I don't believe any of these things so I swear to god if someone quotes this as my opinion I will be very upset). I write about some wacky situation they found themselves in. I write about them falling in love or hating their boss or having some really good sex. I don't break down how white they are and what defines their whiteness according to blacks. See what I'm getting at here?
My dad and my boyfriend had an interesting conversation last night about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950's and 60's and growing up in the 1990's in North Carolina. My dad reminded my boyfriend of something that stuck with me: though he was dealing with segregation and racism, when he got together with his friends they talked about the same things teenage boys talk about now: girls, sports, school and so on. The same applies in this situation. People of color do not act like less of people when they get together. I think of big Italian family get togethers I've attended and they have the same thing in common with big black family get togethers. There's food, there's laughter, there's cracks at some wacky uncle's expense. People are people. The traditions my be different, but the emotions, the heart is the same.
Here's what I am: A human being. I'm a woman.
Here are some things about me: I love cartoons. I love to draw. I can dance. I love the beach. I am a great swimmer. I suck at it, but Russian is my second language. I love folk music and pop and rap and jazz and some country and metal. I'm pretty freaking polite, especially to strangers. I'm a little obsessed with PBS. And I have three black siblings who can claim the same things. My sister's Russian is excellent. I am not abnormal. Plenty of black kids come from great homes and have perfectly regular interests.
Here's what I am not: A joke. A piece of entertainment. I don't now and never want to be a nanny. I'm not that great of a cook. I'm not quick to anger. It would take you a while to realize you've even pissed me off. I'm a quiet storm, baby. I'm not promiscuous to other people's detriment. I don't dance or sing on cue. I don't do stand up, nor do I have plans to be on a sketch comedy show. I have no idea how to break and/or enter. I have no interest in any sort of violence, at all. My diet doesn't consist of watermelon and fried chicken. No one in my family would be a suitable spokesperson for Popeyes. With my blackness, I cannot help you win a golf tournament, get a publishing deal, out wit plotting angels, reunite you with your estranged family member, cure you of your awkwardness in dating situations (though this is something I like to play at when I'm bored) and any other magical thing Hollywood would have you believe.
Here's what I'm tired of seeing: Authors who turn to the stereotype. Authors who claim they are not in control of their characters. Authors who set characters in diverse urban areas and omit every bit of diversity. Token minority characters. We were not put on this Earth to play supporting roles. Please believe me.
I think you see what I'm getting at. If you want to write people of color, write people of color. We are people. We have assholes among us just like you, but we're actually pretty chill. Radclyffe and Colette Moody are two authors I can name immediately who include characters of color and do it well. If you don't want to, and believe me it's a choice, then don't. But call a spade a spade. It's a choice.
If you're wondering, here's what I have on deck "race wise".
The Fling, out April 16
Biracial Russian and West African/ White
Latina/White (secondary couple)
The vampire sorority series in no particular order, all lesbian or bisexual couples.
White/Biracial White and Hawaiian-Polynesian
Biracial Black and White/Japanese
Native American/ Biracial White and Thai
lesbian romance shorts
YA - Black/Black
Adult (60+) Black/Black with historical context
LGBT YA Novels
Chinese/ and Fae that would appear to be African-American
Biracial Black and White/ ? (I have vague picture of the love interest, but nothing concrete yet)
Hetero Werewolf Romance Novels
Native American/ ? (I have vague picture of the love interest, but nothing concrete yet)
End note. I am a victim of the American educational system in that I do not know nearly enough about First Nations and Native American people. I am working on this.
If you want to know more about racism, media white washing, cultural appropriation and erasure, Google is a mighty fine tool. Don't be afraid. Here's further reading if you're too lazy to Google.
Readers Against White Washing
Here I recommend some interracial romances. http://rebekahloves.tumblr.com/post/11894203053/do-you-have-any-recs-for-good-interracial-romance
Here Director Steve McQueen is left to answer the question as to why there are not more people of color in films. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/video/video-award-season-roundtable-series-directors-part-2
You can also send Skittles to the Sanford Police Department.
Sanford Police Department
815 W. 13th Street
Sanford , Florida 32771