Friday, August 23, 2013

Because You Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down

Back in the end of July, I posted Why Do All The Girls Who Save The Day Only Look A Certain Way? on my Facebook page.  It wasn't a huge deal.  I'd been scrolling down my feed and saw that question next to a photo of Katniss, so I clicked it.  I took issue with how the chart characterizes Hermione, but I appreciated the message behind all those checks and Xs: is that, as great as it is to see all these kick-ass young heroines making the movies the days, there's something wrong with the lack of diversity.  I clicked "share" and moved on.

Later, when I signed back in, I saw that an author buddy had written:

I do agree that race is an issue in YA (as in much of fiction), but until people start writing it, it's going to remain an issue. And, quite frankly, a lot of non-people-of-color steer away from writing people of color because we're constantly told we "get it wrong." Which is fine, since we don't live in those shoes and we can't just make it up (I'm not a vampire, but I can pretend to be.) In that situation though, people-who-do-know need to write those characters and sell them.
This is an old argument--not between us, but in general--and I have mixed feelings.  1)  I understand your fear and you shouldn't feel pressured into writing anything you don't want to write.  2) If your book takes place in the backwoods, okay.  But what urban center in the U.S. has NO people of color?  3) I don't think it's wrong for fans to note that few people in their beloved genre (be it YA dystopia, UF for youths or adults, or whatever) "look like them" and I don't support the answer then is for them to become authors.

I'm not writing this to rip the author's words apart.  In fact, I applaud that she does indeed have characters of color.  I'm writing it because there are two sides to the bastard coin.

Follow this crazy loop in my thinking.  See, like I said, this was at the end of July.  I read the conversation that followed and set out to find more YA, dystopian and, since that's not my favorite, other spec fic, featuring people of color and I put a lot of stuff on my To Be Read Pinterest board.  Done.  Almost.

While I was looking for those books, I came across things like Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Disappointed.  What?  I shouldn't have been surprised because I know the racists are happy to speak out over the internet. (I love that they were named and shamed rather than fuzzed out).  I cringed thinking of all the YA books (sorry, not going to search for links right now) that were whitewashed because the publishers gave in to imagined racists.

Those publishers could learn something from the inspiration of this post.  I'd done all that web surfing in a month ago, so why post now?  Because every time I see the Cheerios commercial with the cute little biracial girl, her white mother, and her black father, I think of the racist comments that came up around it.  The cereal company refused to pull the ad, and the support has far overwhelmed the hate.

So don't let those bastards grind you down.

But what about the fear of those who will say that you got it wrong?  If you're at the point where you're getting published, you've been critiqued.  You probably have a crit group or beta readers.  If you're not self-publishing, you've probably submitted to agents and definitely to editors.  You can take criticism.  Hopefully, you've also learned when and how not to take it.  If you screwed up on a cultural point, accept it graciously and move on.  You've learned something so you can do better next time.   If the only critique is that you're white (or whatever) so how dare you, well, they're bastards, too.  Don't let 'em grind you down.

More practical advice goes back to the fundamentals: write what you know.  I have never been a werewoff, and don't know squat about it.  I do have the ability to google wolf behavior and biology and every other little thing that might help.  I have the ability to view every movie that includes werewolves on Netflix and Hulu and decide what I think they've gotten wrong and right, and them imagine up my own mythos.  Why would it be so different creating the background and world of someone who's probably a lot more like me than a werewolf would be?

** For a smile on your face, check out kids talking about the Cheerios commercial.
***For an author kicking ass, check out Cassandra Clare not letting the bastards grind her down.


Bea said...

Excellent post. I've seen a lot of arguments around write what you know, with some people insisting that only POC can and should write POC characters and others who are in agreement with you. I agree wih you provided the author makes an effort to get it write and resists stereotypes and cliches.

I love that Cheerios commercial. I'd seen it several times but it wasn't until the fuss kicked up that I even realized the couple was mixed race. Cluelessness FTW!

Falcata Times said...

Its just silly, I sit back and read everyones books, do I care as to the characters colour? No, I want characters that have foibles and have issues I can relate with.

Its like saying that you can't write a fantasy race because you aren't one but does that stop people writing about Elves, Orcs or Fae? No.

There are authors who do write different ethneticies to themselves. For example if you get the chance perhaps try Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series. They're great fun with a lead character thats black. Is that a big issue? No, its the fact that he's thrown in from the life of a mundane police officer to a special unit to be trained as a Wizard. It's a great series and a lot of fun.

Likewise I like to sit back and read Malorie Blackman, She has some great characters and really finds a way to get her message through to the youth of today. I just don't understand some people.

Great links though, great to see the kids thinking.

An Again said...

Bea, you hit the nail on the head with stereotypes and cliches. If one's idea of including diverse characters is having an asexual Asian man who's good in math but a terrible driver and an oversexed black guy who speaks ebonics, they should go away with that. But otherwise they shouldn't be scared off.

And, sir G of Falcata Times, thanks for mentioning those bucks. I'm going to go look them up now.