Double Consciousness is hosting an Erase Racism Carnival, which led me to write this. Here’s why.
Two years and change ago, I wrote my first novel. While I was trying to edit it, I realized that my protagonist was severely prejudiced towards the majority (this is set three hundred years in the future; the majority happen to be psychic). This got me thinking about prejudice issues, and my research led me into racism (our majority issue) and how it affects people.
Over the last two years I’ve had my pale butt handed to me more times than I care to count, but in all this I’ve learned a few things. Namely, a start on how you as a white writer might not get it wrong.
(If you’re not white, please drop a note as to what I got right/wrong. I’m still learning.)
This is why you get it wrong:
1. Your prejudice hurts people. It hurts your writing.
When you believe all Blacks are poor criminals, all Asians are super-smart kung-fu masters, all ‘Hispanics’ (a loaded term in itself) are lazy or illegally here, then your actions will follow. Clutching your purse or wallet when a certain race person walks past, putting too high (or too low) expectations on a young child, denying someone a job or refusing to welcome them to your home … when you turn that around and imagine it done to you or your children … it hurts.
And it hurts your writing. When everyone in your stories are white, when the only ‘ethnic’ person dies in the first third, when you write racial stereotypes or make the villain ‘dark’, your prejudice shows. You lose readers. Your stories don’t ring true to life.
“But I don’t do that!” you protest. “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race, I just treat everyone the same!”
2. Your privilege blinds you.
What is white privilege? You can look at that link (or Google it), but the basic idea is that in America, if you’re white:
- you don’t have to prove you’re a good person
- you were preferentially treated by everyone from your kindergarten teacher on
- you don’t have to think about race, because being white is a given.
The word privilege trips people up. I can hear you now … “But I earned everything I got! I waited in line like everyone else! No one gave me anything!”
The problem is that you don’t know your history. Do some research.
I said your privilege blinds you. Meaning that you don’t see it, by definition.
If you say that you don’t see race (aka ‘colorblind’), you are not only avoiding your own feelings on the matter, but you’re saying that this person in front of you is really just a white person with dark skin.
Would you like it, white person, if someone said you weren’t a white person, just a black person with light skin? It would negate your upbringing, your culture, your whole experience and life up to now. It would say you were lying about who you are.
That’s the other pitfall in ‘colorblind’ — it blinds you to what makes a person of another race unique. You’re just as handicapped as a person who’s literally blind. Perhaps more so, as yours (and mine — I don’t claim to be over this) is a handicap of the mind.
Read the links I’ve provided, they’re a good start. Then start reading blogs you don’t normally read. Ones by non-white writers are a good place to start. Don’t know of any? Google is your friend.
If you’re anything like I was, you have a long road ahead of you. But just maybe when your dream of being published comes true, you won’t have gotten it wrong.