Sunday, April 3, 2016

What I've been thinking about

I'm not writing much. I finished a very short (like 1000 words short) story last month and other than that I haven't finished much. I've poked and prodded and massaged a few things here and there but it's all been in little snippets of time that I can steal from other things or multitask into writing.

But I've been doing lots of thinking.

My last post was a bunch of links to resources on writing people of color (PoC). That's one thing I've been thinking about--how to represent PoC in a realistic, non-exploitative way. I'm white and I've been white all my life and I think the only moments I've had that really give me insight into being a PoC is when I take my kids to certain stores and the ladies there watch me like a hawk to make sure my kids don't touch anything. It's distinctly uncomfortable, but you know, I only experience it when I have my small kids with me. I don't have to deal with it all the time, or deal with police officers finding obscure rules to ruin my day simply because I drive while dark-skinned.

Those moments with my kids color my day, but only my day, not my whole life.

Not too long ago there was a certain bru ha ha over JK Rowling appropriating Navajo culture (specifically skin walkers) for her Harry Potter-verse. After talking to some people it seems her sin was taking a Navajo boogeyman (the skin walker) and 'rehabilitating' them. That's a valid literary thing to do (think of 'Wicked' for a wildly successful example, or 'Maleficent' for another) but it didn't work for Rowling because there's no broader understanding that skin walkers are evil. Instead of accomplishing a fun twist of a trope, she walked all over the feelings of a lot of Navajo Harry Potter fans. I suspect that if she wasn't a big name nobody would have cared, her story simply wouldn't have sold to anyone. She have just been one more white person riffing badly on Navajo culture.

That's not the kind of thing I want to fall afoul of. I don't want to be 'that girl' telling the stories wrong.

Some people were not just upset about Rowling twisting skin walkers, they seemed to be upset she was using the stories at all, exploiting an underprivileged, downtrodden group's mythology and profiting from it. As a writer I find that idea problematic because I constantly steal from other cultures, other writers, other media makers of all sorts. Most of my ideas are derived from the white American culture that we're all stewing in but that totally ignores most minority subcultures. If I can only steal ideas and myths from my own, dominant white culture that makes it very hard to address the very real dearth of non-white characters in literature, including in genre fiction.

Needless to say, I'm a bit conflicted on race. I'm bored with stories about white boys. So, so bored. I want to read stories about PoC and to put PoC in my stories. But it seems like as a white person you have to do it exactly right or you end up in hot water because, hey, PoC are sick of being misrepresented, and rightfully so. I wonder if PoC are okay with white people including them in our stories, or if want us white folks to just stay out, to let them write the stories that borrow from non-white traditions and feature non-white protagonists.

And I wonder how long all of this will last. In a decade will this no longer be such an issue? Is this a problem now because so many non-white cultures have been ignored for so long and they're now finding a voice? I hope that the next decade will see a bunch of minority authors telling all of us their stories, giving their communities the voice and the standing and the confidence that white people have enjoyed as a part of our privilege. I hope in a decade it won't matter so much that I'm a white person writing people of color, that there will be enough cultural understanding of minority cultures that they have their own tropes--true, representational mythologies--that anybody in the broader culture can call on when writing their stories.

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