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Reading and Race

I often find themes that stick with me for several days or weeks.  It’s been about a week and a half so far with my current ponderings which seem to be opening up to even more ponderings.  Sometimes it can get so overwhelming, I wonder why I start at all.

This current theme started when I read a blog post about readers assuming a character is white when no description is offered.  I argued that we see ourselves in an undescribed character.  So after a weekend of talking about it with family, I decided to test my theory and asked a friend.  She, though she is not white, always assumes the character is white.  Well that left me really confused and completely disproven.  It was a good conversation we had but it left me unsatisfied.

Then someone posts on facebook a comic strip about white privilege.  That just left a bad taste in my mouth so I shared it with a comment.  Now, I want to keep this post on the topic of reading so I won’t share my comment but there were a few things that came out of that discussion. Someone said if you don’t understand the issue then you are most likely experiencing white privilege.  The other part of that conversation that stuck with me – is that each group fights against its self.  What I mean by that is if you have a group fighting for a particular right, there is always a certain amount of people within that group that holds the group back.  One good and easy example is feminists – many people see feminists as men-hating, anti-family, pro-capitalist sort of females.  The reason is those sorts of women were at the forefront.  While they do exist and did a lot of good work, they also made those women who would support them but didn’t believe exactly the way they did uncomfortable.  Pretty soon, you have women who should identify themselves as feminists declaring themselves non-feminists.

Then after all that, I run to a woman I had just met in the comic book section of Hastings.  She is black and I am white (if you hadn’t guessed yet).  It was fun talking about comic books but then she says “I just wish there were more comic books about black people.”  It left me speechless.  Every comic book I would have suggested suddenly became moot – none of them had black characters.

So here I am – pondering.  I open my eyes and see that there is a lack of what my friend called exotic characters.  I love that word – exotic.  However, just the lack of non-white characters left me wondering.  I read a multitude of books.  I have the genres I like but few of them seem to have non-white characters.  I don’t know why – are non-whites not writing those genres?  Which led me to Manga.  My son and I read a crapload of manga.  We love it.  To us, they are exotic.  Lives in Japan and various other Asian nations.  There are re-tellings of stories we are familiar with – Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz.  All with this Asian flair.  But the characters are white.  Sometimes there are Asian characters but the main characters are always white.  They may have Asian names and habits but they are essentially white.  I never thought of it before because I’m too engrossed in the story to stop and consider what it means to have them all be white.  The style of Manga is always the same so I never thought about it.

I think that’s where the problem really is – we just don’t stop and think.  Where are the black wizards?  I get that Harry Potter had characters that were black and Asian but none of the main characters were.  I appreciate that Cassandra Clare wrote in an Asian wizard but the majority of her characters are white.

I know that the reason I don’t write about non-white characters is the same reason I rarely identify the location of my stories.  I just don’t want the backlash of people who declare my story is no good because something is inauthentic.  I’ve seen it happen.  People get weird.  I’ve read whole reviews about a book I loved that just focused on the fact that the geography of the book wasn’t accurate.  I don’t mean she had polar bears in Florida, I mean – “I used to live in xyz Florida and there is no street called xyz.”  or “xyz street in xyz Florida is a north south road and in the book the character goes west on it.”  It actually terrifies me that someone might write a review like that for something I wrote (I know I have to get it published first).

I don’t know why there aren’t more non-white characters in the books I have read.  It’s not that I don’t like “ethnic” books.  Some of my favorite books have been written by non-white authors set in their cultures.  I just don’t gravitate to literary books which is where so many “ethnic” authors seem to go.  Maybe I just don’t pay attention enough to realize that there are more non-white characters in the genres I read.  I’d love to hear what other people have to say.  I’d love book recommendations but only if they are in that whole horror, paranormal, mystery genres.  Well, recommend away but don’t get offended if the plot doesn’t appeal to me.  When it comes to stories – I don’t care about color or race.  When it comes to life, I don’t care either.  I want a story that entertains, scares, challenges but mostly entertains.

I think my friend is right – what we need are more multi-ethic characters.  I think I will challenge myself to add more color to my characters and let haters be haters (ha! I can pretend to be hip as well).