The question was this:
I hear white authors say they're afraid to write a diff race cuz they might do it wrong. Any minority authors afraid of writing white wrong?I didn't get a lot of replies, but the ones I did I found interesting. One girl said as a white person she feels like she's told she isn't allowed to write outside her race or her sexuality. Another person owned up to being scared of offending anyone, even unintentionally. Perhaps especially unintentionally. While another admitted she's even afraid to write her OWN race for fear of not getting it right to some people.
— Natalie Whipple (@nataliewhipple) August 3, 2013
It seemed there was a consensus that no one seemed to have a problem writing a white person, regardless of race. One person even went so far as to say that because 99% of media is about white people, everyone feels comfortable writing the standard white American. Because we see it all the time.
By the time these replies had come in, I'd finished eating my cinnamon toasters and had gotten dressed. Because I was going to the mall to edit my book about a half-Japanese girl who's forced to live with and care for her racist, Alzheimer's-stricken, estranged grandmother. As one does. So instead of replying to tweets, I went about my business with all these thoughts in my head, hoping some kind of answer would surface over time.
I worked for several hours in an abandoned corner of the mall, where the tables of an out-of-business cafe still remain. I cut lots of words, as my agent told me to, all while sipping at a Code Red and wishing I didn't have to work on Saturday (which I usually take off).
Then I got hungry, since all that thinking burns calories. I wandered to the food court, but everything there looked gross and I wanted something comforting, filling, spicy, and a little bit healthy.
|Bibimbap, a mixed rice dish from Korea that |
makes me drool just thinking about it.
I got in my car and drove to one of the two Korean restaurants in my entire county (There used to be only one! We're moving up!). The place was empty when I got there, and a cute guy took my order and waited on me while I continued to edit in the pleasant silence.
I could hear the cooks speaking Korean in the back—the friendly tones of a woman and a man seeming to enjoy their work. The server would occasionally chat with them, and I sat there thinking about how many words I recognized thanks to my slight obsession with Korean dramas. When my food came, I got to mixing my rice with all the goodness, and I'm pretty sure the server gave me a surprised look when I put all the kimchi side dish in my bibimbap, too. I got the feeling this was not a common customer practice here in Utah. As I sat there enjoying the perfect mix of flavors in a Korean restaurant all by myself, something hit me:
This all felt utterly normal to me.
The truth is, I didn't know much about Korean food, culture, etc. until about two years ago. I'd always been curious, but all I'd ever heard was that kimchi was gross (so not gross!) and I saw this segment on The Amazing Race in Korea where they had to eat raw octopus that was chopped up but still moving.
I know. For reals. This was the extent of my knowledge. I'm not proud of this, of course.
Then I got pregnant. Which sounds like it has nothing to do with this story but, oh, does it. Because I got very sick, and pretty much all I could do was lay in bed and try not to throw up. I was so dizzy it was hard to even sit upright. Unable to do much of anything, I lived on Netflix and Hulu but was quickly exhausting my options for shows when I happened upon this thing called Kdrama.
I liked anime since I was a teen, so I figured hey why not? I'll probably like this. I picked Boys Over Flowers, and 30 dramas later here I am.
When I first started watching Kdrama, not everything made sense even with subtitles. Yes, it felt foreign. It took a few episodes for me to keep the names straight. It took me a couple series to figure out the different titles they called each other and why. And it took me even a little bit longer to understand the potty humor. But none of that phases me at all anymore—I've become accustomed to it because I see it all the time. Therefore it has become normal for me.
I'd like to pause here to emphasize that I am NOT saying I know everything about Korean culture because I watch Kdramas. Repeat: I am not saying Kdramas are a completely accurate representation of all Korea/Koreans or that I know everything about what it's like to be Korean or live in Korea. This is an example—bare with me here.
*and end disclaimer*
But this IS what I'm saying: I believe that because I watch an increased amount of media from other cultures (mostly Japanese and Korean), these cultures have become somewhat normalized for me. I am comfortable with them. I don't feel that unease some writers express about writing another race, at least not anymore, because I've deliberately exposed myself to diverse media.
This idea of being immersed in a culture through media might be a big part of why no one seems to be afraid to write a white character in America—it's just so darn prevalent and normal. I've now realized immersing myself in media from other countries has had a huge impact on how comfortable I feel reaching out and learning about another culture.
Which means inclusion of diversity in all media is that important. It IS that big a deal. If we aren't exposed to diversity, humans naturally fear the other. The arguments in media are often confusing—we can't include diversity because it makes people uncomfortable and then they won't buy but we promise we WANT to but we're also scared to do it wrong and people DO rip you to pieces for doing it wrong. It's a mess, really.
But here's the rub: No one will ever feel comfortable with diversity if we continue to avoid it in our media. People won't start getting it right until we start seeing more examples, more stories, more people stepping up.
As I stuffed myself full of bibimbap, this is what I thought about. We keep wanting the fear to go away before we include—but I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way. The only way to get rid of that fear is to include now and help people learn until it's so common no one can possibly be afraid.
(For more on my feelings about diversity, see this post about my experiences with being "white-passing.")