Ethnic(ity) is such a loaded word. It conjures batik long shirts or hijabs or spices that did not originate in England. It conjures otherness in a romanticized way. Here, I mean it more inclusively and pragmatically. But I hope you’ll forgive me for not spending time to define beyond that.
I’d always intended a follow-up to my post What Race Has to Do with Writing. I am, frankly, stuck.
I read an article on Strange Horizons on the same topic and realize that I have the wrong vantage point for what I want to do with my follow-up post. I’d intended to encourage us all to be open to writing other races, ethnicities, or cultures. Yet I have never done this. I merely have the intent. And I also have a deep respect for those who say “don’t”.
When I came across an article on this topic, it mentioned RaceFail, which refers to –in a very loose definition – use of another’s culture in a shallow or desultory way. The conversation sketched in the link to RaceFail and the experiences and reflections in the author’s article helped me realize I don’t want to tell you about writing outside one’s culture. I am not an authority, have no experience, and am really more spectator than participant at this point. What I want to do is really much simpler:
I want to invite you into the conversation—you might even call it an argument, but I prefer conversation. I want to invite you into the conversation about race in writing, and share the information so you can come to your own understanding and decision.
I’m directing you to sci/fi sites but that’s because sci/fi writers have had the…luxury, perhaps…of shallowly borrowing pieces from real cultures because it’s all supposed to be taken as, well, fantasy. So the argument is alive and heated in the sci/fi community. But the problems in this way of presenting culture, and the question at hand goes beyond fantasy and sci/fi. The question underlying it all is who has the authority and the right to write certain kinds of stories or characters.
My invitation and question to you: Should author’s write characters who are outside of the author’s own culture? Would you?
Please don’t answer until you have read more about it. Here are two perspectives:
“So what do you think of my story where I made use of another person’s culture” by Rochita Leonen-Ruiz
Transracial Writing for the Sincere by Nisi Shawl
Please come back and share your thoughts in the comments.