Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Earlier this week, I guest-blogged at The Galaxy Express about the challenges of standing out as a writer of color in a market laden with both conscious and unconscious white privilege. It's not exactly a fun topic. Not one that makes friends and influences people. Of course, the hard topics seldom do.

I was talking to a fellow writer recently about how it's expected that people of color write about POC experiences. She observed that, in contrast, when a white author writes about a minority experience — be it Kathryn Stockett and The Help or a romance novel where one protagonist is a racial or sexual minority — there is an immediate rush to applaud, to dole out accolades for the "risk" they took. As if an author of color doesn't have to do the same due diligence and research? As if we're not "brave" or "bold" for addressing the same issues? And, of course, when POC write white stories, well, that's just...the status quo. No kudos there. No applause. Because everyone should be doing that, right? Because it's the foundational narrative? Because it's the foundational reader?

It's pretty disturbing when you break it down like that. It's disheartening, too.

I write about people of color because I want to. I write about white characters because I want to. Because they're my stories. It's never a conscious effort to try and "sell." Lord knows, if it is, I suck at it. Yet, the sad fact is, a white man or woman writing them would get more traction.

"Bollywood" is only a buzzword if you can link it to Selena Gomez or henna tattoos or dressing up in a "costume." It's only an aspirational fantasy if you allow the West into the frame, into the skin. And if you allow the West to control the narrative. Because, somehow, otherwise, characters of color are always less relatable than vampires, werewolves, and aliens with long, unpronounceable names. You can say "Daenerys Targaryen" but "Vyjanthi Singh" makes you think of singing vaginas. A mate-bond is sexy, but a Hindu arranged marriage is weird. Tattooing Sanskrit on your skin and buying yoga pants is trendy, but you hate those people on the subway that smell like curry and don't speak English.

POCs are not allowed ownership of our own love stories, our own cultures, our own existence, unless someone with power approves of it. And, even then, you need to be a Maya Angelou, a Toni Morrison, a Jhumpa Lahiri or Arundhati Roy, to get anywhere. A "serious writer." A litficcer. Writing about immigrant experiences and race relations and other NYT-approved subject matter. Yes, those are important stories. But they are not all the stories we have to tell.

We have romances and science fiction and contemporaries and westerns. We have gut-wrenching angstfests and ridiculously silly comedies. We take risks. We tackle issues. We hit the books and we write them. Where's our applause?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. I found your blog through your post on Galaxy Express. I'm a WOC who wrote short stories for years and just published my first novel. My heroine is a WOC on a diverse planet in a future world across the galaxy. I felt conflicts within myself about making grand statements about race and culture, while just wanting to write a story and let my heroine just be. Reading both your posts has helped me to get clear within my own mind.

    I have ideas for fantasy and other SFR stories with WOC, and I'd love for them to be embraced widely. But if not, then not. It won't stop me from writing the stories and putting WOC at the center of them.

    For a long time I stepped away from SF and Fantasy because I got tired of not seeing myself represented. Now I'm slowly getting back into it. But if not for self-publishing, I don't think my book would've been published. And if not for the books and stories others are publishing right now, I doubt I would've returned to this genre.

    Sorry for the long response! :) Just very glad I found your blog and your post.