Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On: Articulating Race

I've come to realize that I've maybe bitten off more than I can chew when it comes to writing characters of other races.

I would very much like to write characters of differing race, viewpoints, and culture to my own. However, I've been struggling to find their voices. I'm very conscious of my privilege and naivety, and how good intentions informed by bias and history can translate into a literary disaster. Even in my own head it sounds self-congratulatory to say I have a relation of X ethnicity, I've read Y book, or I ally with Z person. I am learning the "Shut Up and Listen" mode when it comes to race.

The perfect storm of links lead me to following NK Jemisin on Twitter today. Her book "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" is something very high on my Must Read list. I had been reading some of her posts on Alas, A Blog without realizing it was her, and was very pleased to put together that blogger was that writer was that person who had some very interesting things to say about race. Makes me like her even more!

Stay with me, the link storm continues. From Jemisin, I discovered an essay called "No Country For Strangers" by ephemere, a rebuttal to "No Foreigners Allowed" by Charles Tan, a discussion about RaceFail in literature. From there, another rebuttal was "An Open Letter to Charles Tan" by Deepa D.

Finally, I came across a beautiful article by Nisi Shawl called "Appropriate Cultural Appropriation". This article, and all this reading recently, has taught me a lot already. I would also very much like to get my hands on the book "Writing the Other: A Practical Guide" Shawl wrote with Cynthia Ward, but I haven't found it yet.

If you're going to write race, ethnicity and culture different to your own, do your research, understand your privilege and baggage, write it well, not be so damn proud that you think you've done some "service to humanity", and even then be prepared for criticism and debate.

I realize I'm overly ambitious in tackling difficult subjects at the same time as re-learning the writing skill. I realize I'm probably going to screw it up and take a big berating somewhere along the way. But I am listening.

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