Character Race


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Thread: Character Race

  1. #1

    Character Race

    I'm curious what everyone thinks about writing characters who are a different race than yourself. Specifically real-life characters--not fictional races such as elves and goblins and the like--but real people with real history that's different from yours. There's always the old adage of "write what you know" but in my case, the straight, white female viewpoint (although less prevalent than its male counterpart) is quite well-represented as is. On the other hand, I feel like trying to write another race or culture makes you run the risk of appropriating stories that aren't yours to tell. I know there was quite a bit of outrage about the Jeanine Cummins novel "American Dirt" for exactly that reason.

    The specific question here is: Do you feel it's possible to write a story about a character that is racially or culturally different than yourself without crossing the line into cultural appropriation?
    "A word after a word after a word is power."
    -Margaret Atwood

  2. #2
    I write what I write. I don't give a damn if it offends anyone. Whatever race a particular character seems to me to be, that's what they are. Same with gender. Same with sexual orientation. Anyone who doesn't like that is free not to read my books. Writing via checklist is idiotic.

  3. #3
    Honestly, I think writing a man of another race is far easier than writing a woman of my own. There are slight cultural differences but I'm largely going to think pretty similarly to a man, even if he's brown.

    But women... women are aliens.

    Anyways, you should always do a little digging into other cultures, but it's really not as complex as Medium or Buzzfeed would have you think.

    I think Khan from King of the Hill is a pretty good example here. On the surface he appears to be a caricature of well-to-do Asian-American men, but once you actually get to know him his character flaws stem more from his family history and bipolar disorder than his cultural background (although that's still relevant). And his youth spent as a delinquent is subversive of the model minority stereotype.

    Khan is a character written as Asian, not the other way around.
    Last edited by Joker; September 13th, 2020 at 10:14 AM. Reason: Typo
    Currently working on: The Huntsmage

    "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." - Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

  4. #4
    Yeah, I wrote a short story about a jazz musician in the mid-fifties. Obviously black. He was in Paris a number of years and when he came back to the states his music was a little out of date -- and in contrast to Paris, had to deal with segregation again. These are underlying elements, because it's mostly about his relationship with a singer who he helped make famous, but now he's getting second billing to her. I also wrote it using jazz lingo and slang associated with the era. The prose is stylized too, to kind of capture a jazz feel.

    So my usual readers seemed to like it, but one basically implied what you said -- it wasn't my story to tell, because I'm not black. I think I did justice to the characters to the music and the era, and I think if a reader didn't know I was some white guy in the suburbs, it wouldn't matter. I could probably sub the story and it would be fine, but in the very unlikely scenario that it would ever reach a wider audience, I'd probably catch some flack these days. Should I care? I'm honestly not sure...

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by TheManx View Post
    Yeah, I wrote a short story about a jazz musician in the mid-fifties. Obviously black. He was in Paris a number of years and when he came back to the states his music was a little out of date -- and in contrast to Paris, had to deal with segregation again. These are underlying elements, because it's mostly about his relationship with a singer who he helped make famous, but now he's getting second billing to her. I also wrote it using jazz lingo and slang associated with the era. The prose is stylized too, to kind of capture a jazz feel.

    So my usual readers seemed to like it, but one basically implied what you said -- it wasn't my story to tell, because I'm not black. I think I did justice to the characters to the music and the era, and I think if a reader didn't know I was some white guy in the suburbs, it wouldn't matter. I could probably sub the story and it would be fine, but in the very unlikely scenario that it would ever reach a wider audience, I'd probably catch some flack these days. Should I care? I'm honestly not sure...
    Those types are just looking for a reason to label you. Who cares what they think.

    That honestly sounds like a very cool story.
    Currently working on: The Huntsmage

    "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." - Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Joker View Post
    Those types are just looking for a reason to label you. Who cares what they think.

    That honestly sounds like a very cool story.
    It's pretty wild now. People on both sides of the political divide are susceptible to some kind of cancellation -- although one side thinks only the other side does it. But I ain't getting into that...

    It didn't occur to me that I shouldn't write the story -- and some people might claim, that's the problem. Oh well.

    Anyway, I've been messing with it. Maybe I'll post it here.

  7. #7
    I think people have a more productive time "writing up" than "writing down".

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Tiamat View Post
    The specific question here is: Do you feel it's possible to write a story about a character that is racially or culturally different than yourself without crossing the line into cultural appropriation?
    I certainly hope so, because all of the MCs of my current WIP are different races than me. The protagonist is bi-racial. My intention was to create a character that didn't fall into a stereotype, and I thought this would be a good basis for an original character, although only one small part of it, I know.

    I think people who believe in such a thing termed "cultural appropriation", and that it is a negative thing are part of the problem. If you believe that something of your culture is so appealing that others want to adopt it, or write about it, then, then why would you see that as a problem?

    For example, if a non-Aborignal sculptor was inspired by Aboriginal art, and learned how to carve in a traditional First Nations style, I personally wouldn't have a problem with it, provided they were transparent about it. Art is for human enjoyment. If an artist has a pure heart and wants to express that, why should they be limited to certain styles or personas for fear of offending someone. And if someone is offended, they don't have to buy it or look at it.

    When I look for a good fiction book, I don't check to see if the author is qualified to write the book.
    Last edited by Taylor; September 12th, 2020 at 11:37 PM.
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    I certainly hope so, because all of the MCs of my current WIP are different races than me. The protagonist is bi-racial. My intention was to create a character that didn't fall into a stereotype, and I thought this would be a good basis for an original character, although only one small part of it, I know.

    I think people who believe in such a thing termed "cultural appropriation", and that it is a negative thing are part of the problem. If you believe that something of your culture is so appealing that others want to adopt it, or write about it, then, then why would you see that as a problem?

    For example, if a non-Aborignal sculptor was inspired by Aboriginal art, and learned how to carve in a traditional First Nations style, I personally wouldn't have a problem with it, provided they were transparent about it. Art is for human enjoyment. If an artist has a pure heart and wants to express that, why should they be limited to certain styles or personas for fear of offending someone. And if someone is offended, they don't have to buy it or look at it.

    When I look for a good fiction book, I don't check to see if the author is qualified to write the book.
    Literally everyone has "culturally appropriated" someone else.

    English culture is just a mix of Celtic, Scandinavian and French.

    The Japanese ripped-off Chinese calligraphy.

    The Turks and Arabs stole Hindu numerology and Chinese gunpowder and then had it stolen from them by Europeans.

    And so on.
    Currently working on: The Huntsmage

    "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." - Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Joker View Post
    Literally everyone has "culturally appropriated" someone else.

    English culture is just a mix of Celtic, Scandinavian and French.

    The Japanese ripped-off Chinese calligraphy.

    The Turks and Arabs stole Hindu numerology and Chinese gunpowder and then had it stolen from them by Europeans.

    And so on.
    And of course you know the story about spaghetti too right?
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

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