Who are we writing about?

There has been so much in the news about race lately. It’s been on a lot of people’s minds. Yesterday, I listened to some podcast content about the percentage of non-White authors here in the US. One book reviewer said a company she contacted told her they had NO books they could send her written by certain ethnicities (it may have been Latino?). The numbers and percentages she talked about were shocking. We know, but do we KNOW? The current state of which makes me alternately so sad, and incensed.

I have, however, been thinking about where and how non-White characters and cultures appear in my stories. Art is one place where you might expect to see more branching out, and yet, it’s still so White. I’ve never had a problem finding role models that look like me. I’m White. I understand that I have privilege. But what about others?

I have to admit that most of my main characters are White. They’re a different species, but they appear, for the most part, Caucasian. There are stories I haven’t written yet about other colors and cultures, but for the most part, these appear as minor characters. Japanese and Asians appear second, and there are a few Black characters. There is one Native American tie-in, whose story is still mostly unwritten.

Some of my most diverse characters, even some original characters, will never be able to leave the world of fan fiction–they were created via means only available in those environments. Even my new Fae story, in which many colors are represented in a different species format, the main character is quite pale. She is the Winter Queen, so it’s expected, but still. She’s joined a group of mostly other pale, Western-like main characters.

Anyone looking at my set of stories will note the lack of color. I’m clearly into Asian stuff, but other than that, diversity in this area is lacking. We may show a diverse group of background characters, but sometimes I feel some of mine are token characters. Characters who could be nearly any color, so I made them non-White. This isn’t the same as really writing characters of diverse color or culture. As writing without stereotype.

If we want children and young people of color to feel they have a decent chance in life, and that they can accomplish their goals, then they should see media–both real and in fiction–populated with people of color. There was a time when Nichelle Nichols changed what young Black girls thought they could do when they grew up. Many Asians were impacted by Margaret Cho’s TV show, the first to feature an Asian family. Latinos are still highly misrepresented in this country. How many people know what’s happening at Standing Rock?

As writers, we have to challenge ourselves to do better.

It is part of our job to not be afraid of tackling tough and controversial things, or topics that we personally find scary. Even when we can’t directly impact events, our characters and stories can do what we can’t.

NaNoWriMo is coming up–less than two months to go. Perhaps I will take this time to plan a story about someone who isn’t White, and isn’t living in another world.

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