Monday, May 27, 2013

An Uncomfortable Confession

A couple days ago I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix and grumbling to my husband about how there are barely any non-white characters on the show. This came after a scene where a black man was depicted unloading a van and then gets eaten by Dracula (double whammy of a person of color depicted in manual labor and then being instantly killed off). And I had a very uncomfortable realization. In the WIP I'm editing now (my second book), I don't really have any significant non-white characters either.

I sat there thinking, "Wait - can that be right?" And it pretty much was. I had one fairly minor Asian character, but that's it. Now, I've grown up (thankfully) in a non-prejudiced family. My grandmother was one of the few white teachers who volunteered to work in integrated schools when they were first mandated in the 1950s, and my mother is famous for making a gift to NAACP in honor of her extremely racist in-laws during her first marriage. I am a huge promoter of diversity of all kinds.

Recently the HBO show Girls, which is fairly new and exploding in popularity, was called out for the same thing. The creator, writer and main character Lena Dunham had to admit that she had made her show with an almost entirely white cast of characters as well. And when you look at it, a lot of the TV, movies, books, magazine pictures, etc. have mostly white people depicted. What disturbs me about this, as evidenced by my own writing, is that even for people who consider themselves fans of diversity, we can sometimes slip into white-centric thinking unconsciously.

So, for the WIP in question I've gone back and reevaluated my main characters and made sure that there is diversity in the mix. And it's something I'm going to have to be conscious of in my writing from now on. They say to write what you know - but just because I'm about as white as you can get, other than a little Native American blood, I don't want to "write white" (and I frankly think that piece of writing advice is not the greatest anyways). Diversity is beautiful, and our writing can only be better by sharing it.

What about you? If you take a good, hard look at your cast of characters, what do you see? I know I'm not the only one, based on a ton of the books I've read. I'd love to hear your opinions below.


  1. The protagonist of my current novel, Shadow Spinner, which is being serialized, has a mixed race protagonist. His father is Sumerian. The villain, though, is white.

  2. I think was a kid's cartoon a long time ago, Doug (I think), and each character was a different color (if remember correctly), blue, yellow, green and that sort of thing.

  3. Mine has a mix now, but initially it was dominantly white. I, too, realized my error and went back to fix it. Way to pay attention!

  4. I usually write white in most of my ideas, but that's predominantly down to the fact that, growing up, there wasn't a great deal of diversity in my town, so that's "what I know".

    Saying that, I'd like to think I'd write characters with ethnic traits that make sense to where they're from in the world. A port town, for instance, would have a more culturally diverse mix than an area with a predominantly cold climate, which would usually feature lighter skinned characters. Luckily, with the fantasy genre, there are more opportunities for a diverse mix of characters since you can have several species inhabiting the same world, both humanoid and non-humanoid.

    It's a difficult balance to walk - do you write what you know and run the risk of being seen as diverse, or do you write colour-blind and run the risk of being seen as shoehorning diversity in for the sake of its inclusion.

  5. I tend to focus on the location my characters are from, eg Australia or Romania, and then the characters reflect those who live there... I probably haven't given it that much thought either.

  6. I agree with Tania. Culture diversity is a part of my world building. I think it's wise to have people of all ages and nationalities. It makes it feel real.

  7. Hi, Alexia. I wouldn't beat yourself up about it. It's obvious that it wasn't intentional. I say write the story the muse has whispered to you. :)
    As for me, I'm Hispanic, so my latest novel is basically half white, half Hispanic. I did have an African American family in my vampire series. I never really thought about it. That's just the way it happened. Interesting...
    I hope you're having a great weekend! *waves*


  8. Sometimes its nice to have cultral diversity in our books, but sometimes its not possible. I have not thought much about this.

  9. Hm, interesting. I've never actually thought about that. I do often have Asian characters, though.


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