Writing Race Part 2
Posted on March 30, 2012
So I’m guilty of suffering from a little bit of hubris with Part One post that discussed the controversy of race in The Hunger Games. Instead of the post receiving lots of comments, it got no comments at all. And even though I bumped the post through my Facebook page and Twitter, it didn’t get a lot of hits. So I was left thinking about what had gone wrong?
The reality is that it isn’t that there was anything truly wrong with my post. Race and racism are ever-present, uncomfortable subjects about which many have thoughts and feelings but maintain serious trepidations in expressing outwardly. I completely understand the hesitance, but I still feel strongly about applying the questions from Part One to my own burgeoning writing career.
My intent as a writer is to write speculative fiction as I expressed in my second post “Talking Tolkien”. What makes the genre so interesting and at the same time so challenging, as many other writers know, is that you create space in worlds that are completely different from reality. There are endless possibilities and choices that a writer has to make to create a world that is believable. Characters have to function within worlds of fairies, witches, or zombies with specific rules that a writer constructs and upholds like a god from on high. So why is it so hard to think about creating worlds that include race intentionally?
I am not saying that speculative fiction with intentional race or racial issues does not exist. If you want to read some great science fiction stories that are thought provocative, I highly recommend So Long Been Dreaming. Aliens, elves, and fairies can be seen as representing different types of races or species. As writers, we can choose to write about these alternative species, but it’s harder to consider race when we are writing human characters.
I return to the final question from Part One: Is it important to intentionally include race in my writing? It is not an easy question, nor is there an immediate answer. The most important word in the question is “intentionally”, or more specifically to interpret it as a writer’s intent. I look back on the most popular fiction from fantasy and sci-fi, and I find a true lack of intentional race. That does not mean that I condemn those writers, nor do I condemn those who read their works. I am a fan of many of these works, and a lack of race does not equal racism.
But I question why there is a lack in the first place? Would Harry Potter not be so popular and lucrative if Harry, Hermione, or Ron had been a character of color? In Middle Earth, any hint of characters with ethnic backgrounds comes from those from the East who are part of Sauron’s army.
In the vampire world, especially with current fan favorites, there are not a lot of major characters of color. If Edward’s skin sparkles like diamonds, how would the author describe him if Edward had been anything other than white, and would that diminish his popularity? It is a sticky topic that does not have comfortable or conclusive answers.
For me, I think my job is to keep in mind all of the provocative questions. It may make the task of writing harder because it seems as if writing race has to, at this point, be intentional. Some may argue that it takes away from the organic flow of creativity if I have to deliberately insert racial assignments. I have to consider that when dealing with fairies, they may not all have silky white skin. When dealing with characters of color, they don’t have to function as the villain, they don’t all have to come from the East, the don’t have to be the only characters with ethnic backgrounds, and they don’t have to be the force that has to be overcome.
I don’t think my writing will ever be “righting” race. I choose to tackle the difficult issue at this time, and to discuss the hard questions with others so that my writing can become better. What will be interesting to me is to see how this deliberate mindfulness may affect my first novel.