A lot of conversations have been had lately about writerly responsibility to accurately represent in their books cultural experiences they have not had.
There are a lot of things that…discomfit me about this conversation. Like the fact that apparently some writers need to be told this is a thing? When let’s be clear: we have always been a hundred percent responsible for not writing racist bullshit. (Unless, of course, that was our goal. Presumably I’m not talking to anyone here for whom “inciting race war” is a goal for fiction.)
Also: I’m all for people writing characters who are not like themselves. Absolutely. But I hope this whole “help white people write characters of color better” movement doesn’t in some way subsume what to my mind is a much more valuable use of our time: publishing and promoting more books about characters of color written by people of color. For fuck’s sake.
The thing I find most unnerving about “increase the diversity of early readers and your problem’s solved” is that early readers can only offer opinions. Advice. Feedback. And they can only offer that from their perspective. The writer’s still on the hook for incorporating all that into their understanding of their characters.
In other words: I don’t care that you got a sensitivity reader to read your book, White Author: you are still a hundred percent responsible for what you’ve written.
I worry–and perhaps I have an unduly low expectation of human behavior–but I worry that next up we’ll hear “My book can’t be racist! I had a black early reader and they loved it!” or “The seder I wrote was great! My Jewish friend read it and said it was perfect!”
I don’t want to hear that shit in public from ANYONE. EVER.
If someone tells you you’ve written something that’s culturally insensitive, the first fucking thing you do is shut your goddamn mouth. Shut it. We had a thing, in writing workshops, and I don’t remember what the image was, but the idea was that the person whose work was being critiqued wasn’t allowed to talk. They had to just sit there and take it in.
There should be more of that in writing world. And way, way more of that in the land of white people defending themselves against accusations that they might not always be in the right.
It’s shocking, white people. I know. I, too, am white. I understand what it feels like to be raised with the idea that your default position is “in the right”.
For a little help, I thought I’d pull up Mr Jay Smooth, who addresses some of this stuff in his “How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist” video. (Then…go watch all the rest of his videos. “The List of Rules for Women” is pretty rad. Also “An Old Person’s Guide to ‘No Homo'”.)
The other part of my problem–and let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with adding many hundreds and thousands of new early readers of wildly diverse backgrounds. That’s wonderful. That’s necessary. Dare I say, that shit should have been obvious without any big “popular author wrote a racist scene” event.
So part of my problem is the danger that folks from