I haven’t said much as the writing community attempts to cut open the festering, repulsive ulcer of racism and sexism in an attempt to heal and change. I’ve tried to be supportive, and listen, and pay attention to what is happening in the world. I’ve digested and pondered and discussed and…
The fear I now face is that I may never completely understand. I’ve never been the victim of abuse due to my gender or my skin. Even being a women, when my female peers talk about scary men and abuse and being insulted for their sex, I’ve never felt in danger because of a man. I don’t know if it means I am that sheltered or that lucky. Men have always been a source of comfort for me; my fathers, both biological and step father, both compassionate and well-meaning men; my loving partner; the older and younger men in my life, who have stood as friends and guides.
I listen to the world, and hear that remaining quiet about racism is wrong. I listen, and hear that defending authors of color is wrong too, because it’s my white privilege allowing me to have a voice louder then their’s. I listen, and hear that I can’t talk about the plight of women of color, because it’s my white privilege that allows my voice to be heard.
I listen, and I see the terrible hate that seems to come from everywhere, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to do anything.
This post isn’t supposed to be all about me, but it’s the only thing I know I can speak of without hurting or offending someone. I read an article about a man who hesitated most of his life to speak up about sexism, to be “that kind of man,” the one who uses his privilege to speak for the trampled sects of society. It gave me hope even as it destroyed it, that I, a white writer, could… do something.
He said that no matter what, speaking about issues such as these, it’s going to offend someone. He said it was inevitable. That everything was trial and error until someday we get it right.
My best friend is a bi-sexual woman. My partner is a gorgeous Filippino/Native American man. They both me stories of sexism and racism. Sometimes weekly. Or daily. It’s not like I don’t hear, or I don’t see.
I’m scared of it all. I’m scared I’m a worse person than I thought. I’m scared the hatred and pain will suck me in, and it’ll be all I can see, and I’ll become bitter and hating, too. I’m scared I’ll be able to do nothing.
The main character in the series I am writing is a part Romani — Gypsy — young woman. I didn’t choose her race because I wanted to create a non-white character. I don’t remember the exact point where I chose Romani, but I wanted her family’s history to be nomadic, outcasts, a little secretive, and a little magical. The Romani fit.
Yet. Her father is white. Her mother ran away from the Romani lifestyle to marry her father. Rumors follow her grandmother of an affair with a non-Romanian. My main character is ethnically Romanian, but she’s gadji — not living true to her culture. Raised in a white privilege household, she might as well be white. Because race isn’t just a skin color, it’s a culture and a history, and of that, she has little from her ethnicity.
I don’t address racism issues as a core theme, at least not in the first book. Sexism shows up as a theme, as a barrier to my main character’s goals. Maybe because it’s easier to write. Maybe because when I was first writing the series, that was issue swirling most in what I read.
Maybe my de-emphasis of her heritage is racist. Maybe I should be pushing it, showing more truths, educating the world on the reality.
But can I, without making it all worse?
Can I, without readers and reviewers screaming that I did it wrong?
My genre is alternate-history fantasy, which means I can play with history and time and culture, both as a plot device, and, as an excuse if I screw up. But I don’t want to it to be an excuse. If I do this, I want to do it right.
But more than that, should I? Am I, in my white privilege, simply showing my entitlement, or actually making the world a little bit better? Is it even my right to do so?
After I wrote this, I got some responses and ideas to ponder. The basic gist was: write about diversity, but don’t write AS BEING gay/trans/POC/disable/etc if you’ve never experienced it. Let the people who have experienced it talk about it, and support them.
I don’t know if it should be the rule; ‘write what you know’ has never been my favorite advice. But at the very least it’s a starting point.
I’m still figuring out what that means for the character I mentioned above. But for now, I’ll do my best to be respectful and do what a writer does best: explore the unexplored, imagine the impossible, and touch the heart of humanity.