Directive: If You’re White, Stop Writing About Black And Brown Characters
[guest post by Dana]
Well, as you can imagine, this got my blood boiling. The fact is, I abhor efforts to segregate free people as much as I abhor individuals acting like they are the Handicapper Generals we need to institute their version of fair play:
White people need to stop writing Black and brown characters.
— saira rao (@sairasameerarao) September 13, 2020
How about we stop telling people what they can and cannot do, especially when it comes to being creative. Let wordsmiths and creative-types do the hard work of bringing to life that which is born from the fertile ground of their imaginations. Stop trying to restrict artists by imposing your own intolerance on others who just want space to freely express themselves.
Given that the very definition of fiction is: Literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people, it’s ridiculous that anyone believes that they have the authority to demand others to stop writing about, well, anything that stems from one’s own imagination. Take a moment to consider the many works of literature that would not be a part of the American library of classics if this specific authoritarian effort at censorship had been in place over the last century. We would be the lesser for it.
I don’t like censorship, and this is just another tendril of the ugly beast wending its way through our culture under the guise of being some sort of moral imperative. Let people create their own stories without trying to impose subjective restrictions on others just because you don’t think how they’ve fashioned a story is the *right* way to do it. It takes a lot of arrogance for an individual to believe that they should be setting the standards of acceptability for everyone else. How about this instead: If you don’t how a story has been crafted, don’t buy the book. If the story appears online, don’t click on it. We’re adults, we get to make these choices. Why is the reflexive reaction to what is perceived as unfair to limit choices rather than increasing choices? It’s unfortunate that a large swath of the country has become obsessed with controlling what people think and say, and now, even what they create. I think the most recent example of fictional writers facing the wrath of the critics over the characters they created and brought to life in a story occurred when American Dirt was published and quickly rose to the top of a number of bestseller lists. It rapidly became a book club favorite, and even Oprah selected it as her choice for her incredibly influential book club. The book reached that level of success because it was a remarkable piece of writing. The exquisite writing, the multi-layered cast of compelling characters, the overarching theme of oppression and freedom, and the harrowing journey of the two main characters simply left readers undone by its impact. However, there was a lot of anger directed at author Jeanine Cummins, whom the critics assailed for allegedly presenting stereotypes of brown people while being appropriative, as well as committing the biggest sin of all: she was a white writer whose work of fiction centered around brown people.
I want to know
when if Rao will be following up her directive with a tweet telling black and brown people to not write about white people? Will she be instructing non-handicapped people to not include handicapped characters in their stories, or writers who can’t sing worth a hoot not to include opera singers in their stories? I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
Anyway, in checking Rao’s Twitter feed, I see that she has attempted to justify her earlier tweet by moving the goalposts from telling writers what they can’t write to the business end of publishing and marketing books:
given ample airtime for their stories and everyone else's.
It is high time that BIPOC writers get to speak for themselves.
— saira rao (@sairasameerarao) September 14, 2020
Look, I’m a brown person on my mother’s side, and Rao telling anyone that they cannot write about people like me is really offensive. Are we not worth the development of a story whose character resembles me – regardless of the color of the person writing it? What if said character draws attention to the history and current plight of those in a specific brown community today, and actually enlightens readers? Should that opportunity be squandered because the writer might not meet the imposed criteria? This regressive effort to practice creative segregation and police writers to meet her standards should offend creative-types of every stripe and color.
[Ed. It is no secret that there has historically been a dearth of writers of color in Hollywood, and in big publishing houses where the important decisions are made. However, with technology, there is a multitude of ways to get one’s stories out there for the public to read. Rao’s tweets conveniently ignore this. I am reminded of a blog I used to read, maybe 15 years that was written by a New Englander who was a writer and furniture maker. For the life of me, I can’t remember his name or the blog, but I do remember that he started publishing installments of an intriguing fictional story he was working on about a man working in a big, rambling old house and the strange noises emanating from the house and whether or not it was a ghost he saw flitting by. Readers loved the story, and would impatiently wait for the next installment to be published. In today’s world, that could easily catch the eye of someone in a position to make a book happen, propose a screenplay, offer the writer representation, or any number of possibilities..]