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Character Race (1 Viewer)

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Tiamat

Patron
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?
 

Cephus

Senior Member
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.
 

Joker

Senior Member
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.
 
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TheManx

Senior Member
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...
 

Joker

Senior Member
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.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
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.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
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.
 
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Joker

Senior Member
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.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
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?
 

Tiamat

Patron
I think people who believe in such a thing termed "cultural appropriation", and that it is a negative thing are part of the problem.
I guess I'm part of the problem then. At least to some. But in the interest of not turning this thread into the sort of mess reserved for the Dante's Inferno section of the boards, I'm curious what kind of research you did on your protagonist. I say research because biracial folks often do have a number of stereotypes associated with them (depending on which two races and such) and often have a lot of specific irritations regarding how they're perceived. The more I think about this the more I want to say that there are some lines that shouldn't be crossed, but that if done correctly -- which is to say with proper research and respect -- then there's no reason a writer of a certain race can't write a character of a different one.
 

Lee Messer

Senior Member
I guess I'm part of the problem then. At least to some. But in the interest of not turning this thread into the sort of mess reserved for the Dante's Inferno section of the boards, I'm curious what kind of research you did on your protagonist. I say research because biracial folks often do have a number of stereotypes associated with them (depending on which two races and such) and often have a lot of specific irritations regarding how they're perceived. The more I think about this the more I want to say that there are some lines that shouldn't be crossed, but that if done correctly -- which is to say with proper research and respect -- then there's no reason a writer of a certain race can't write a character of a different one.

Date enough outside of your race, or at least befriend outside of your race. Don't change your own culture in doing so. You'll get more respect that way. I'm a white man. I still love you anyway sister or brother. I'll make love to you if you like, or we can just be friends, or if you are the same gender I'll at least get drunk with you.
But I will not change my identity... that is something I didn't have a choice on. I respect the way you talk, and so you should respect that I keep my personality as well.
When we go out together, we are together... understand? You watch my back, and I watch yours.

I'm sorry dude, I'm not letting you beat up my friend today.
I'm sorry dude, I really need to defend the her honor. Push on, or your losing some teeth today because I'm going to make sure she sees what happens.
Got a gun? You'll never pull it... and God help you you if you try to get up.

Point is, make these friendships. Ask them what is correct.

[video=youtube;UprcpdwuwCg]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UprcpdwuwCg[/video]
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I guess I'm part of the problem then. At least to some. But in the interest of not turning this thread into the sort of mess reserved for the Dante's Inferno section of the boards, I'm curious what kind of research you did on your protagonist. I say research because biracial folks often do have a number of stereotypes associated with them (depending on which two races and such) and often have a lot of specific irritations regarding how they're perceived. The more I think about this the more I want to say that there are some lines that shouldn't be crossed, but that if done correctly -- which is to say with proper research and respect -- then there's no reason a writer of a certain race can't write a character of a different one.

I have been very interested for some time in the backgrounds of certain people or races that have had to flee from other countries to the USA to either seek asylum or enter illegally. Probably the last twenty years or so, I have been reading various either fiction or non-fiction on the subject. It's a secondary theme to my story which takes place in New York and Washington and is based on a true crime.

As someone who has been the target of discrimination, it has been a big part of who I am, to foster inclusion and compassion. I base my characters on real people, either those I have met, or those I have researched. There is a strong educational component to my story, so I hope that is what people focus on. But you can't please everyone. So if people find it irritating, they don't have to read it.

I know you are a really good technical writer, and as you know there is an expectation that in technical writing you will strive to get it correct. Although in my experience, that is almost impossible. Even legislation goes through numerous amendments, because the drafters didn't capture the intent of the law. So I guess, I will throw a question back at you. Do you think when you write fiction about another race and you don't get it correct, that people will get irritated, or will they just accept that there are certain limitations to authors, and still enjoy the story?
 
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Lee Messer

Senior Member
I have been very interested for some time in the backgrounds of certain people or races that have had to flee from other countries to the USA to either seek asylum or enter illegally. Probably the last twenty years or so, I have been reading various either fiction or non-fiction on the subject. It's a secondary theme to my story which takes place in New York and Washington and is based on a true crime.

As someone who has been the target of discrimination, it has been a big part of who I am, to foster diversity and compassion. I base my characters on real people, either those I have met, or those I have researched. There is a strong educational component to my story, so I hope that is what people focus on. But you can't please everyone. So if people find it irritating, they don't have to read it.

I know you are a really good technical writer, and as you know there is an expectation that in technical writing you will strive to get it perfect. Although in my experience, that is almost impossible. Even legislation goes through numerous amendments, because the drafters didn't capture the intent of the law. So I guess, I will throw a question back at you. Do you think when you write fiction about another race and you don't get it perfect, that people will get irritated, or will they just accept that there are certain limitations to authors, and still enjoy the story?

For that matter, I have a Japanese female assassin working for the C.I.A. in one of my stories. I'm looking for a Japanese female raised in America that has some ties to Japanese culture. I need this because of the history of Japanese assassins in ancient Japanese culture, but I would like some authentic dialogue. It's Sci-Fi, so don't worry about a hijacking of culture. This is as if I were making anime. I need an extraordinary character's comments for this as the character is the most deadly, but still a support character due to the purpose of the novel (She even kills the main character).
 

Cephus

Senior Member
I think people have a more productive time "writing up" than "writing down".

Most people are just writing. Whether it is "up" or "down" is often in the opinion of later readers who had no part in the construction of the story in the first place.

Screw those people.
 

Tiamat

Patron
Do you think when you write fiction about another race and you don't get it perfect, that people will get irritated, or will they just accept that there are certain limitations to authors, and still enjoy the story?
I think, as a whole, people are hard on authors. Artists in general, really. It's easy to crap on people you don't know, especially when you're consuming their art and it ruffles your feathers. Ultimately I think it depends on your target audience and how much you care about the opinions of those not in your target audience. "American Dirt," I believe was written for a white audience, about a Mexican woman who fled to America as an undocumented immigrant. I've not actually read it. I only know that a lot of people called it "brown face" and said that it was not the author's (a white woman) story to tell. Some of the criticism also mentioned stereotypes and trauma porn. I would prefer to avoid that in my own fiction. But I guess we'll see whether I stepped out of my lane when you and the others judge my LM piece. ;)
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
It's a good excuse why I never mentioned race or ethnics. The only ones that I ever mentioned are Japanese and White, which both aren't mine. The rest are fictional / never mentioned.
 
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