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How to avoid the trap of boring white people

Pinterest-ready-CydneyPost

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Do I mean that authors are making white people feel bored?

Or do I mean that white people are boring to read about?

Both.

And neither.

Fellow Nashvillian, author, and book addict Cydney Lawson posted something on her personal Facebook profile the other day that everyone should see.  I asked her for permission to share what she said, and she kindly granted it.

 

Cydney Lawson FB post screencap

 

Here’s the plain text (line breaks added), if you can’t read the pic up there for whatever reason.

PSA to my writer friends: If you have never made your main character or your love interest a person of color, a member of the LGBT community, a person with a mental illness, a person with a physical disability, I’m really going to have to ask you why. If it’s because you believe you don’t know how to, or won’t do them justice, then please message me with any questions you may have.

As an avid reader, I can tell you that it hurts to never be able to find yourself in ANY novel you pick up because the author never tried in the first place. I can tell you with all certainty that I am not the only one bored of looking at the same covers with different filters. I’m over the pretty white girls in dresses on all the books in my stores, and I’m really ready for badass African heroines and Mexican love interests and a deaf lesbian best friend. I’m way more interested in a hunk in a wheelchair than your cliche tattooed badboy with a soft heart. Totally waiting for an Inuit princess with an anxiety disorder who turns out to be an ice dragon than another novel where a pretty brunette fights a zombie. I’m tired of white girls who are normal until they meet slightly less normal white boys, and I’m ready to read about a Swedish girl who falls in love long distance with a boy in the Philippines and they overcome their language barrier to be together.

Aren’t you tired of writing the same thing? Don’t you see that all of your books look the same?

~ Cydney Lawson

It bears repeating. 🙂

She’s so spot on.

And I’m saying this as a middle-class, hetero, educated, Christian white chick.

As I commented back to her then — I’ve read all the 90210 characters I care for, too!

Besides being socially irresponsible, it’s just plain… boring. Buttered rice forever.

This isn’t to say you should ever throw in the Random Latina Friend who’s obviously a one-dimensional afterthought, or that you wrap up your whole deal with a “Magical Negro” who passes down his wisdom to the white-girl protagonist and conveniently disappears for every other scene and has no life of his own outside of her problems.  (Don’t even get me started on that one. See this definition and this list of examples, if you need to.)

But if you write, it follow that you care about people, and what goes on inside them and around them.

And that’s not all one generic person. It just isn’t.

People vary.  YOUR BOOK CAN, TOO.  That’s all I’m sayin’.

 

This is not a lecture. I’m absolutely pointing at me, too, here, guys.

This is just an invitation to be a little more adventurous. Write the other.

If you feel weird about it, ask someone who shares whatever “otherness” you’re writing. One caveat, though — do be careful about that, because it can be a microaggression in and of itself to assume Your Black Friend wants to speak generically for every other black person in the world. (Wanna know what else can be a totally accidental insult? Here’s a decent starter course, with examples and translations.)

And, I mean, I get it. I’m an admittedly privileged white chick. I know how it feels to say, “Okay, I’ve got this black character, but what do I name him?  Do I pick a traditionally black name?  Is it racist to assume he’d have a name like Jamal or Derrique or T’anthony?  Okay, then, what if his name is something more unexpected and less stereotypical, like Connor or Scott? Or if I pick one of those, does it sound like I’m trying to avoid his blackness and slide something by white readers? ALL THE THINGS FEEL RACIST! What do I doooooo…?”

I get it. Been there.

Admitting you don’t know is not racist. It’s honest. We’re all learning.

One safe way I’ve found of getting the help is asking everyone and letting my friends opt-in on their own — I put up a Facebook post or a tweet and say, “Hey, I’m working on this kids’ book, and I’m concerned I haven’t gotten the worldviews and cultural issues quite as authentic as I could. Anyone want to take a look?  Thanks in advance!”  Trust me, the people with the best answers will always self-select, and their ideas are often out of left-field and well worth getting.

I’ve yet to ask the hivemind anything and come away disappointed. Even for dinner recipes.

So, now I turn the tables to you:

* What have you written that shows off people unlike yourself?

* What have you read that represents our mixed-up world well?

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(Image credit for rice pic: Pascal THAUVIN.)

 

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2 Responses to “How to avoid the trap of boring white people”

  1. Linda Silvey says:

    Colin Fischer is a book I got from a couple of screenwriters (Miller and Stentz) at San Diego Comic Con a few years back. It’s a detective story with the main character being a teen boy with Asperger’s, if I remember correctly. I read it before I left San Diego that weekend. I recommend it highly.

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