I feel a serious post coming on

I was just reading some commentary wherein someone said, “White people shouldn’t write X minority.” That’s paraphrased, of course, and simplified, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard that sentiment. I’ve also heard writers express the opinion that they’re afraid to write X minority because they’re afraid of getting it wrong.

Well, hello, Sword of Damocles–aren’t you precious perched above my neck? But that’s okay; I’m going to dare your wrath anyhow.

I disagree with both opinions above, and this is why. You see, assuming that a minority must exhibit certain traits? That’s racial profiling. If these people are fictional, they are my inventions, and if they are my inventions, they cannot possibly be wrong. Do you see how that tracks logically? When I wrote Chance as half-Korean / half-other (and no, I’m not telling you who his daddy is. You must keep reading the series to find out his secret, and OMG, it’s GOOD), he does not come with a packet of pre-existing qualities, like he’s good at math, or a bad driver, or whatever other stereotypes may be. He’s not merely a character of Asian descent; he’s a person. Likewise, I have people of Hispanic ethnicity. That doesn’t mean they all wear hairnets and drive restored El Caminos. I’m not into racial profiling. And sure, some people may find my characters differ from their personal experiences, but I am not attempting to capture the essential (insert minority) experience. I put forth that background, geographic location, and socio-economic status all impact the kind of experience any person has, which contributes to character and development.

For example, my husband was educated in a British-run school system. Therefore, he speaks English with a mild British accent. He lived in LA for many years, so the accent wore nearly away, but the accent is still clear on many words. And he’s Mexican. He is. You would be amazed how many people ask me if he’s a drug dealer. Because clearly since he’s Mexican and successful in his family’s pharmaceutical company, he must be a drug dealer. That’s offensive on so many levels.

There is no universal truth. This is not a quiz, wherein there are only right and wrong answers. I present to you the idea that filling our books with only white people, or Hispanic, or Asians, or black folks is wrong. I try to write books (and worlds) where the population is diverse, both in my Corine series and in Jax as well. Nobody has ever asked me about this, but Jax is clearly mixed; she has caramel skin and light eyes. She’s not accurately depicted on the covers, in fact, but they’re lovely, and anyone who has read the books and the description of her hair knows the truth.

In my first Ava Gray romance, the hero is half Crow and half Guatemalan. I went looking for actors / models who shared that background, and I found Jason de Hoyos. In my mind, this is Reyes. You guys are, of course, free to picture him however you like.

At any rate, I think it’s a mistake to let fear keep you from telling the story you want to tell. Remember you’re the creator, and you aren’t trying to tell a story that offers unilateral truths; you’re just trying to tell a story. I welcome your thoughts.

Posted in Uncategorized

19 Responses to I feel a serious post coming on

  1. :grin: Ann,

    First off, great blog. I agree one hundred percent. Now saying that, I will admit that I haven’t written many characters that in the general scheme of things are considered “ethnic” in the way most people seem to think of it. Most of my characters are white bread. Then again, I have written many characters who hail from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Still white bread in a sense, but different cultures. I think your willingness to write the story rather than be afraid of what others will think about that story is very admirable. Sometimes the very best stories written are those that come straight from the author’s heart. More power to you. :)

    Denise A. Agnew

  2. I have no problem with white people (or any other group) writing about ethnicities not their own, but I must caveat this by saying Don’t Be Stupid With It.

    If you write characters in a stereotypical manner, or demean characteristics of that particular group, people are going to get pissed, and I don’t blame them. All too often people write about other ethnic groups and either haven’t bothered to do their research, or are simply clueless.

    One book I read had a black woman who was a shifter. There were white characters who were also shifters. Please explain to me why shifting changed the hair texture of the black woman even when she wasn’t in wolf form. Interestingly enough, nobody else underwent any physical changes when they weren’t wolves.

    Yeah, that chapped my ass and I’m still pissed about it.

    We live in a culture where white is the default setting. If you’re going to write about other ethnic groups you need to understand that, and do your research accordingly.

  3. Ann Aguirre says:

    Roslyn, I would say “don’t be stupid with it” in correlation to every aspect of writing. :grin: And yeah, that shifting thing is totally dumb.

  4. Hi Ann,

    Thank you for this post! Your beliefs comes through in Blue Diablo and I love to read about different cultures/ethnics. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed your book so much.

    On a personal note, I am also of “mixed” heritage and I’ve grown up surrounded with a lot of these misconceptions/stereotypes you just talked about. When I use to get frustrated as a child, by how people treated my mother, brother or myself, my mom would tell me to ignore them and just treat everyone like I would want to be treated, irregardless of their beliefs and nationality. Even today, I still come across those who will treat me different or make a snide remark because of what I am, I just remember what my mom used say and it actually makes me feel better. I have raised my son in the same way and I’m proud to say when he looks at someone, he sees them, not the color of their skin.

    Take care,
    Donna :smile:

  5. Excellent post, Ann, and I agree with you. I’ve run across a lot of sentiment lately, both in online communities and in my academic setting, that people should write what they know, and that they shouldn’t write ethnic groups outside of their own. That mystifies me. Why?! Why shouldn’t people make an effort to research and learn about another group and then respectfully write about them? And respectful is the key here. Stereotypes are rarely good character choices, particularly those surrounding ethnicities. But if a writer wants to move outside of her comfort zone (or heck, stay well within it), I say more power to her.

  6. Natasha A. says:

    I am not a writer, but as a reader, I don’t look at race, 90% of the time I don’t remember. Also…..isn’t technically your husband a drug dealer? :D

    • Ann Aguirre says:

      No. He’s the IT director for a privately held family corporation that manufactures antibiotics and vitamins, fulfilling more than half of the government requirements for the social medicine program. I am very proud of what he (and his family) have achieved, and I don’t think that lessening that achievement (his father built the company from the ground up) is in the least amusing.

      • Natasha A. says:

        I am sorry Ann. My comment wasn’t meant to offend. I sincerely apologize! My sense of humour isn’t always appropriate :( From what you have written it sounds like a major achievement and again, I did not mean to offend.

  7. It’s funny, not in the hilarious way though, I hear the opposite – Minority/Non-Majority writers shouldn’t write Caucasian characters. If there are questions, find a beta reader or trusted friend to read it if you think it may venture into stereotypical behavior, or even if you don’t. Do research, ask questions.

    This is a great line and one that every writer should heed – At any rate, I think it’s a mistake to let fear keep you from telling the story you want to tell.

    Truthfully, I don’t really look at race when I’m reading. I generally picture the hero or heroine how I see them in my mind.

    I’ve run across some interesting comments & sentiments (good, bad and indifferent) in my writing/publishing journey. There are so many stories I can tell, but I’ll just say – great post.

    • Ann Aguirre says:

      Well, as a white chick, I say: go for it. There’s no single way to be a white person. There are liberals, yuppies, hippies, punks, skaters, Goths, conservatives, religious folks, and the list goes on. Inside every group, there are always more subgroups. And even in those groups, experiences will vary. I would just advise anybody to write a character who is a person first and whatever their race or gender second. It’s part of who they are, but not all of it, by any means.

      I’m a white chick, a wife, a mother, an ex-pat, an author, a reader, a cook, a dreamer — well, you get the picture. But all of those comprise the whole.

  8. ocelott says:

    Oh, you’re so right. I hated the Race Fail that went on earlier this year, because it really was a no-win situation. “Nobody should ever write any sort of minority if you aren’t one because you don’t know what it’s like, but if you have no minority characters in your books we’re all going to hate you.” Seriously, what? I mean, yes, it’s absolutely possible to write a minority character that’s horribly offensive, but if nobody can ever attempt it, how are we ever going to step closer to equality?

  9. I didn’t follow Race Fail particularly closely, having gone through similar fucknuttery in Romancelandia.

    Right now I’m doing edits on a book with a heroine who is an African Arab Muslim. I’m none of those, and don’t know anyone who is. I would’ve been an absolute idiot to try to write this book without researching and talking to people who actually fit into those categories.

    I think the problem occurs because for the most part we are still a very segregated society here in America. It seems, at least to me, that some authors write without researching or talking to people from the ethnic groups they’re writing about.

  10. azteclady says:

    First: Ann, oh how I love you!

    Of course all Mexicans are either drug dealers and ignorant, wife beating chauvinists/barefoot always pregnant broodmares

    *ahem*

    Second: it always amazes me–or bemuses me, I’m not sure which is the prevalent feeling–how authors are always held to such impossible standards. “Don’t write stereotypes” but “research the minority/ethnicity you are writing”

    Erm… which one do an author does then?

    Do they research ‘the ethnicity/minority’ (as if any human community were a cyborg-like block of beings) in order to then break all the sterotypes–so that when people read it they’ll wonder, “did s/he even research this group?”

    Or do they just write the characters as they imagine and feel them, so that then readers can say, “oh look at all this stereotyping! Has this author even *met* a real (insert minority/ethnicity here)?”

    Yeah, try to win that one.

  11. I think you write the people as they come to you and you feel them, but you do your research so that you can understand the background and origins from which they function. For instance, my character came to me as a Muslim woman who happens to be the leader of the bodyguards for a North African dictator.

    Now, I could’ve written her as I would any other female soldier, totally ignoring any limitations either her culture or religion might place on her. To me, that’s stupid. Being aware of, and understanding your character’s background does not mean you have to write stereotypical characters, in fact, it helps you avoid doing so.

  12. I do see the Catch-22 here, and frankly, some people are never going to be satisfied. They’ll call foul no matter what.

    As a reader, I’d much rather read a book in which the writer researched the setting and backgrounds of characters and incorporated that research into the gut-feeling characterization. I think Roslyn has it right; being aware of those stereotypes helps a writer to move past them and write a better, more realistic character.

  13. Thanks for this, Ann. My husband is Mexican and also not a drug dealer!

    I love to read and write about characters from different ethnic backgrounds because it’s what I see in my community and in my family. It’s a beautiful thing!

  14. For some reason I can’t read the last four comments on this thread.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *