Friday, March 25, 2011

Writing Racy Part II

I just want to offer a heartfelt thank you for all the fabulous responses on Wednesday's post. You guys have given me a lot to think about.

I've spent a lot of time the last two days emailing back and forth with people who commented and I have to say, these conversations have been awesome. If you left a comment and you didn't hear from me, it's because I don't have your email address. Add it to your blogger profile or your sidebar or just email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com. I'm loving the thoughtful responses and I'd love to continue the conversations.

Because really, this isn't just about race. If you're female do you have a responsibility for how you portray females? What if you're gay or a cancer survivor or overweight or in a wheelchair? How much of who you are informs how and what you choose to write about?

As I said to many of you, I think in many ways, we're better off looking for our similarities than pointing out our differences. And yet, sometimes, by highlighting those obvious differences, we can then show our similarities with even greater impact. At least in my idealistic world :)

Maybe the fact that I've never experienced overt racism impacts my attitude. I mean, the worst thing that ever happened to me was in first grade. A kid named Stan told me I was chocolate ice cream and he was vanilla and vanilla was way better than chocolate. He actually taunted me for quite a while with this nonsense until a teacher heard him and he got busted. To this day, I'm not a fan of chocolate ice cream. Is it because of Stan? I have no idea whether or not I liked chocolate ice cream before Stan showed up in my life. But I do know that there are plenty of people who've had to deal with far worse. And I think for them, this issue could take on a whole different meaning.

I'd like to believe that one day race won't matter. That someday people won't be judged by their skin color, by whom they love or by any of the barriers that divide us now. Wouldn't that be lovely?

I'd also like to believe that one day I'll turn on the news and not see a single item about Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

And now, the winner of CAMO GIRL by Kekla Magoon:

Woo-hoo! Congratulations, Sheri!
Email me with your address and I will get that book right out to you.

And to everyone else, have a fabulous weekend <<33


Unknown said...

Aww, the ice cream story is kind of cute in a kids-have-no-clue-what-they're-saying way. But it's not cute that he tormented you over it.

And amen to the world being a more peaceful place--including less Seen and Lohan. lol

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Love, love, love your fourth paragraph. So true! I missed your Wednesday post. I'll have to take a look at it.

AND I won! Thank you so much. I'll email you.

Enjoy your weekend.

Laura Pauling said...

It is a great topic. I have black friends who live in the south and they have definitely experienced racism. Unfortunately, until there is no sin in the world, I think we'll always see some form of prejudice. The lucky ones are the ones that rise above it.

Kristine Asselin said...

Sherrie--this is a really interesting topic, and I loved your post earlier this week. I do think we should all look for similarities and focus on those.

Bish Denham said...

GAK! The seeming obsession with wanting to know what the glitteratti(sp?) are up to is beyond me.

As a "white" person I experienced some racism growing up in the Caribbean. But not much. Mostly it was about what island a person was from. I was not considered really "civilized" by a few of my St. Thomian classmates because I was from the little/primitive island of St. John. We all laugh about it now, but it just goes to show how trivial things can get.

storyqueen said...

I think your only obligation as a writer is to tell the stories that haunt your imagination. Where and if race fits in as part of that story is for the writer to determine.

I do think it is hard sometimes, wondering about how our own personalities, gender, race, experiences should inform our writing. But in the end, the character is just the character.

Often, we don't think so much about "creating" characters, but discovering them or stumbling upon them. It's as if they already exist when they come to us with their tales.

However, there is the "outside" expectation sometimes that if you are of a certain culture (or race or religion) that you should be writing from that perspective.

Outside expectations can be stifling.

Unknown said...

It wasn't until I moved to the US that I found out about racism. I was confused why people acted that way. Still am.

You know, some people don't like vanilla ice cream because they think it's bland. ;)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

These posts and comments have been fascinating. Even though our experiences, beliefs and hopes may come through our characters, it should be natural to the story, first and foremost.
I'm so with you on the obsession with celebrities. I was staying in Venice with family when I heard a helicopter for a long time and thought there must have been an accident. But, no, they were stalking Lohan who was late to court. Sigh.

Tere Kirkland said...

I love this discussion! Sherrie, if it makes you feel better, I think vanilla ice-cream is BOR-RING! ;)

One of my biggest hurdles in writing characters that are a different race than I am is overcoming stereotypes, particularly regarding skin color, like the character with the "tan" you mentioned in your last post. I mean, good lord, how many chocolate, mocha, or cafe au lait comparisons can there be? Too many, when that's not usually what matters to the story.

In my quest for authenticity, I've taken a lot of criticism for using dialect. One person even said it would be fine for me to use this dialect—that I hear every day in NOLA, and is not indicative of a persona's education, status, etc.—if I were black, but since I am white (and because most people have very little experience with real NOLA accents) it's disrespectful.

The same dialect, when critted by one of my black readers, felt realistic to her. So I think there's a lot of deep-seated white guilt that keeps white writers from writing characters of other races, on top of the fact that they don't want to be called out on their mistakes.

I welcome the chance to learn from my mistakes, but playing things safe, casting my stories with white people because they're like me, won't help me learn a thing!

Anyway, I'll quit rambling, but I think discussions like these need to be more commonplace if we want to see more diverse characters in fiction. More picture books with characters of all races—doing normal kid things that have nothing to do with race—wouldn't hurt, either.

Have a great weekend, Sherrie!

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Most of the time, that's the kind of racism I experienced. We were pretty much the only Hispanic family in our school system for a long time, and any time you're different, some people will feel put out by it. I think the worst thing that happened to me was my brother and I were chased home by a bunch of punks throwing rocks at us, screaming out "Spics!" It was very unpleasant, especially when the rocks hit. I didn't even know what they were saying until later.

But to be honest, I don't actually know how much my Latina background actually influences my writing. If it does, it's not on a conscious level. I'd say the experience of getting smashed with rocks by a bunch of hateful hooligans would affect my writing more than the fact that they were calling me a Spic. I think sometimes people just target the one thing they can find different about you--the one thing they think will get under your skin--and then they hit hard. But like you, I'm not just one thing. I wasn't born in this country, but I've spent most of my life here and I'm American. I spent a good portion of my life in Indiana, sometimes having Ecuadorian food, but not always. After age 8, we spoke only English in my house, so for me to somehow try to "represent" wouldn't be that much different from some all-white Indiana born and bred person attempting to represent a Latina culture. I do have Ecuadorian influences in my life, but it's not all of me.I'm also German and Spanish and Dutch. So, if anything, maybe I should represent some sort of mixed person. I mean, most people are pretty much mixed now.

I have wondered about this, though. With a name like Valdez will people expect all my characters to be Latino? Even when it's just a part of me? I have characters of all ethnicities, but to be honest, when you have a mixed group of teens, the one thing that stands out most is not skin color, but something like virginity or a tattoo or an embarrassing piercing.

Krispy said...

And yet, sometimes, by highlighting those obvious differences, we can then show our similarities with even greater impact. At least in my idealistic world :)

I think this goes to heart of why I think it matters to have a diverse cast of characters in fiction.

Thanks again for starting up this discussion!

Mother Hen said...

Having grown up in preppy New England, I never thought about race as a child. When I moved to London in the latest 80's, my neighbours where Asian and Indian but I was in Europe and never considered colour,speech or food preferences as issue. People were what they were. I was the one that stood out as I was the white American living next door!

Now both my children go to multi cultural schools and think nothing of race or eating a hot curry for that matter and I'm pleased by this. It seem that the only time we have real issues with race is when we go back to New England for holidays and visit our preppy New England cousins. They need to get out in the world more.

America is supposed to be a big melting pot of ethnic race and culture as is Europe, but do we really see the people around us and except them for just being people? Sometimes and Sometimes not, I think.

By the way, have you Tried Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie Icecream???

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ah, I should have read Part II first! But yes, obviously, I agree with your idea that the idealist world should be the one we're striving for - so many of the books I read as a kid were about envisioning a better (or worse in the case of dystopian) world. I think we need to talk about racism, and all the other -isms, and that fiction can be a great vehicle for doing that, just as it allows us to "think out" much in our lives.

Writers are great thinkers, and they should share that with the world.

Deniz Bevan said...

Both are great posts - funny, I don't think about this stuff at all while writing a story, but wonder if I should be? Mine's a historical romance, with characters from Spain, France, Turkey, and other places - do I have to start paying attention to make sure that if my greedy merchant captain is French, I have a "good" French character to balance him out? And then do the same for all the other ethnicities? I sure hope I don't have to start adjusting the book along pc lines, that would be endlessly tedious!

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