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Toward awareness and understanding

I suspect most of the people on my Friends list are unaware of the stuff I'm going to talk about--there doesn't seem to be a great deal of overlap between the F/SF writer community and the kids/YA writer community. The only reason I am aware of it is through my few ties from years back when I was still regularly writing and attempting to publish F/SF short stories. But I think it's important that we are all aware of the issues being raised there. Because I think they affect all writers--all people.

In very basic summary, for the past couple months the F/SF online community has been engaged in a debate (which has gotten very heated, and in some cases purposely hurtful) about cultural appropriation, writing characters of color, and supporting authors of color.

As someone who has written and will be attempting to publish fantasy novel in which all of characters are people of color, I found this to be both a wake-up call and a lot of food for thought. These are some posts I've found particularly helpful, which may be helpful as well to anyone else writing characters of color, or wondering why they haven't written characters of color, or just hoping to gain a little awareness they might not have had before:

Understanding where I'm coming from:

A primer on privilege by brown_betty

White privilege in SF/fantasy

Understanding where people without that privilege may be coming from:

I Didn't Dream of Dragons by deepad

White people, its not all about you, but for this post it is by deepad

We worry about it too. by nojojojo

Understanding how this affects the act of writing (some of the above address this, too):

Some thoughts on writing outside my experience by brown_betty

Fantasy Roundtable: People of Color in Fantasy Literature by ktempest

On Writing, Cultural Appropriation, and Invisibility by karnythia

Ursula K. Le Guin on the TV Earthsea

Some advice for white people in fandom (focuses on writing fanfiction, but applies quite well to writing fiction in general) by zvi_likes_tv

There isn't much more I can say that hasn't already been said much better than I could say it by many other people (rydra_wong has been doing an amazing job of collecting all the related links), but I would like to add that, as far as I'm concerned:

-Patronizing people because you think you know more than them, and refusing to listen to what they have to say? Not okay.
-Telling people you've hurt to shut up? Also not okay.
-Attacking people in ways that could potentially hurt them in their offline lives? Really, really not okay.

Hoping the more this gets posted about, the less of the above we'll see.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
I'm not familiar with a lot of this because I'm not in the fandom world or the sci-fi/fantasy scene really--but I checked out your links and I did get involved protesting the white-washing of Avatar actors for the movie, which is think is NUTS and racist and dismissive.

One of SEA's main character is Indonesian, well actually, many of them, and many leads in my urban fantasy JADE are non-white as well. For me, this is not about trying to do anything other than representing reality. My son's kindergarten class has kids from around the world in it, and in my point of view, literature should represent the same thing so it's accessible and appealing to everyone. Not just white kids.

Thanks for posting on this important topic.
Mar. 7th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
I think what really came home to me while following this discussion (as far as writing goes) was that it's not enough just to have characters of color, and portray them realistically--you have to watch the roles that they play, too. Because it's always easy to fall into the same patterns that you see in other books and TV shows and movies--when anything, not just race--and so you can end up unconsciously continuing conventions (like characters of color who only exist to pass their wisdom on to white folk who can use it to do good, or having the CoC be the one that dies) without realizing how problematic that is.

I've written non-white characters, because like you say, that's reality! And I *think* (I hope) I've avoided stereotypes and objectifying. But the story-level stuff, that I'm going to be keeping a closer eye on from now on.
Mar. 7th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
Action films do that ALL the time. Kill off the CoC---it's so annoying. You can like pin point the one that will die.

I hope I don't do that either. But at least we are aware of it and are trying, which is a lot more than many are doing, right?
Mar. 8th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, trying is definitely the thing. :)
Mar. 8th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
Hey there fellow aang-aint-white protester!
Mar. 9th, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)
Hey! I joined the facebook group 2 and have the icon downloaded for my blog. =;
Mar. 6th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
I also read Elizabeth Bear's LJ, so I had some idea of what's been going on...I thought deepad's journals were very insightful. It's a tough thing, the idea of writing about another culture or even another race. I put characters of varied races in my books because life is a mixture -- but I don't spend hours agonizing over how accurate I might be in my portrayal...these are characters who are either based on someone I know or on someone I've read (to a certain extent). Therefore, I assume they're real and true to their ficitious life.

I know someone suggested once that I put multiple POVs in my WWII book -- and the suggestion was to use David, who happens to be a German Jew. I nixed it right off -- I can write David from a distance and probably be true enough to him. But I can't possibly know him from within...but he's important to that story, so he has to be there.

And yes, if we all can just treat others with respect and compassion (and as much understanding as we have), perhaps these kinds of wars can be avoided. Thanks for posting this -- after reading all that, I have a lot to think about!
Mar. 7th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
It is a lot to think about! I've been sorting through my thoughts on it since it first started back in January, both as a writer and a person, and I still find a lot of it hard to put into words. So I've just been doing my best to listen.

As I said above to Heidi, I think what really came home to me (as far as writing goes) was that it's not enough just to have characters of color--you have to watch the roles that they play, too. Because it's always easy to fall into the same patterns that you see in other books and TV shows and movies--when anything, not just race--and so you can end up unconsciously continuing conventions (like characters of color who only exist to pass their wisdom on to white folk who can use it to do good, or having the CoC be the one that dies) without realizing how problematic that is.

I totally understand the hesitation to try to get right inside someone's POV, feeling you can't be true enough to them... Voice, I think, is one of the hardest things to make authentic. I'd be nervous enough just trying to write a boy voice! But from what I remember, David's a really strong character as he is. :)
Mar. 7th, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the encouragement :) In my own books, my CoC tend to be the love interest (or best friend) -- perhaps reflecting my own life, huh? The whole issues is very complex, which is why I'm glad you brought it up and linked to those posts. I like thinking about it and pondering it all.
Mar. 8th, 2009 11:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. I think it's incredibly important and it's something a lot of people don't like to discuss because it's a very uncomfortable topic.

It's hurtful when I see other people find ways to dismiss race and racism as well as the voices speaking out against it. I think part of the problem is, people have trouble understanding exactly what racism is. To many people, racism = KKK, Nazis, nooses hanging in trees etc. Many simply don't know that racism usually exists in much more subtle forms. It pervades institutions, media (including books, movies, music). It exists in the messages that society teaches its members right from birth - messages that people usually just accept as truth.

For example, people who might not see anything wrong with whitewashing or people who may believe and use racial stereotypes may not be themselves RACIST. They've simply been taught by society and informed by the messages that are continuously reinforced by institutions and media (again, books, movies, tv etc), that this is okay. This is 'just the way things are' and it's 'not a big deal'. And so when other people protest against stereotypes or whitewashing, they are often dismissed as whiners who see racism everywhere, whiners that need to relax and that are making a big fuss out of everything. The same people doing the dismissing would probably only speak up if the KKK or something was involved (and even then, it's iffy).

Anyway thanks a lot so much for this. I'm a writer myself and am definitely hoping that one day I might publish something that adds to the racial diversity of the fantasty/ya urban fantasy genres :D
Mar. 9th, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
It is uncomfortable--I've been watching the debate unfold and wanting to say something but not really knowing what to say other that, wow, it's really awful how PoC and their experiences are being dismissed here... but that didn't seem terribly helpful, and seemed more about me making myself feel like I was doing The Right Thing than actually doing anything useful.

I'm hoping this post will be useful to people, especially people like me who haven't really thought about this a lot before--because we've had the privilege of not having to.

And yes, yes, yes to everything you said about people dismissing racism and not understanding what it is. The line that struck me the most in brown_betty's post on white privilege is "It's about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal." As a white person it's easy to just go along with all the messages saying "this is normal, and you're normal, so it's all good" because we *can*. And it's hard to try to imagine what it would be like not having that privilege. But it's so important that we do listen when people say, hey, there's something wrong here, even if it isn't obvious to us.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books

Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014

The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012

The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013

The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014

Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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