May 31, 2020 at 12:56 am #114154StorySeeker@storyseeker
Okay, so I have had this question for a really long time now.
Is it okay for white writers to write a story through the eyes of a black character?
I’m asking this because in one of my books I have a black main character. My reasoning for making my character black has less to do color diversity, and more to do with the plain and simple fact that she has dark skin. When I was imagining her character, I saw her with black skin and so I rolled with it. Her skin color is not her key identifying feature as a character, it’s just apart of her physical appearance.
The real reason that I’m asking this question boils down to my fear of making a mistake. Maybe portraying my character incorrectly. Or in such a way that offends or even hurts someone. What sort of things do I need to research?
As a Christian, of course, I know that God created people of all sorts of sizes, shapes, and colors…I’m just scared of portraying that incorrectly.May 31, 2020 at 7:11 pm #114171Arindown@arindown
Just jumping on here, because I’m really interested in seeing what others say to your question. I have several characters from different backgrounds, and I want to get them right too.
My only advice would be to be aware of the hurt people have in their past. One of my best friend’s is black, and she is very sensitive to discrimination…because people have bugged her in the past. She will stand up for anyone who she sees being picked on, just because she knows how it feels.
I don’t know what sort of research you could do…that stuff is really tough to get into. Hopefully someone else can help you on that.
Forgiven. Loved. Creative.May 31, 2020 at 7:52 pm #114177
This is definitely a question I and other writers have struggled with! There was actually a thread addressing similar questions a while back. I’ll link it here–hope it helps!
Hearts are like matter--they can be beaten down, torn, and burned, but they cannot be destroyed.June 1, 2020 at 9:19 am #114189
@storyseeker Hello! As an Asian, I’m gonna assume that I have some authority to answer this question.
Often times I actually hate seeing diversity in books nowadays. Not that diversity is bad, but because everyone is misrepresented. (At least the Asians are. I can’t speak for others.) They do things that honestly I could never see myself doing. I can’t relate to them at all. When in their point of view, they seem white.
I think that writing characters of different races is okay. I’d just rather not be represented than misrepresented.
So make some friends with other people! Ask them what it’s like being their race. That’s my advice, at least.
"Moving on and on and on we go,
Shining lights above blown away..."June 1, 2020 at 6:42 pm #114208June 1, 2020 at 6:50 pm #114209R.M. Archer@r-m-archer
@devastate-lasting This might be a stupid question, but does it make a difference if the book takes place in the real world vs. taking place in a fictional world? How important is it for fictional ethnicities inspired by real-world ethnicities to resemble those real-world ethnicities?
Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.June 1, 2020 at 7:52 pm #114211Arindown@arindown
@r-m-archer Shucks, you stole my question.😆 I was thinking the same thing. How do you write other-cultural characters in fantasy worlds that are totally unconnected to ours without offending people?
You took the words right out of my mouth.😉
Forgiven. Loved. Creative.June 1, 2020 at 9:06 pm #114219
@storyseeker Haha, I get you. 🙂 I think what would help most here would be watching foreign movies! Foreign movie-makers understand what cultural values their people hold and also what their people are like, so you can easily get a sense and a feel of what people are like. So watch a ton of foreign movies, and take a ton of notes. Also, make sure to put on the author cap to analyze character personalities and motivations. The reason why I am recommending movies rather than books is that for movies, you get to hear the original language, whereas with books, meanings are often lost across translations. I think that one author who really pulls of representation well (at least in his time period) is John Steinbeck. I explain more in the other thread. But, yeah, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men both have well represented people of other races. I was gonna say something else, but I can’t remember, so I’m gonna leave you with that.
Also, this might be totally unrealistic, but living in a foreign country for a period of time can also help (A LOT) in understanding other cultures. There’s this one white guy who lives in China and runs a Youtube channel, and I think he’s more Chinese than some of my friends.
@r-m-archer I think that in fantasy, I feel much less offended when reading characters of my own race, since in fantasy worlds there is much less in common with our real world, and thus, cultural influences would be less dominant. In fact, since I write fantasy, I feel much more at ease when writing races that are not my own. Occasionally I feel that books with a main character of every race out there is a bit unrealistic, since, let’s face it, we all like being with people who are similar to us. I think one great fantasy world way of representing different people/cultures is having different regions/countries filled with those people. Fullmetal Alchemist has two countries that are predominant, one representing Germany and the other China. And although I’ve never watched this one, I believe that Avatar: the Last Airbender also does a great job of this.
Also while some people hate stereotypes, there are occasional times when I think that it’s okay to use stereotypes. For example, occasionally I get confused if the guru type of person is white instead of Asian, but more specifically, I think that portraying the Asian as the hacker, the martial artist, or the take-out restaurant owner is perfectly fine, because these are all accurate. I have friends who do all of these things. It’s fine. Just don’t limit yourself to just these things. It’s okay to think outside the box.
That being said, an Asian jock is probably not out there, because we are, indeed, on the weaker side.
So that being said, for fictional worlds, I think I would just keep world-building in mind. if your not directly bringing in a real country and changing it to be fictional, then I think that even last names don’t really matter. Just…genetics have got to be realistic. If the prince is Asian, then the whole royal family is too.
My brain is fried so I might sound like I’m contradicting myself or repeating something of the other…but for really original fantasy worlds, I think that you can come up with your own cultures too. I’d be ok with that. Also, the new Star Wars trilogy, while it felt only a little bit shoehorned, I was not offended with it at all like I was with the Heroes of Olympus series.
Thanks for coming to my TED talk, I’m sorry for taking up your time :).
"Moving on and on and on we go,
Shining lights above blown away..."June 2, 2020 at 12:24 pm #114248
@devastate-lasting *hears Fullmetal Alchemist referenced* *eyes light up*
Hearts are like matter--they can be beaten down, torn, and burned, but they cannot be destroyed.June 2, 2020 at 3:08 pm #114265R.M. Archer@r-m-archer
@devastate-lasting *nods* That’s really helpful. Thank you! 🙂
Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.June 2, 2020 at 3:41 pm #114268June 2, 2020 at 5:12 pm #114276
@devastate-lasting Yesssssssss, I finished watching ’03 and Conqueror of Shamballa with my sister and am working on Brotherhood now!
Hearts are like matter--they can be beaten down, torn, and burned, but they cannot be destroyed.June 2, 2020 at 7:28 pm #114281
@naiya-dyani Ahaha not to take up too much of the discussion but yea I read the manga and then watched the movie so I have no idea what happens in ’03 XD
"Moving on and on and on we go,
Shining lights above blown away..."August 25, 2020 at 6:40 am #118699Arlet@legomaiego
I think great points were brought up here, and thought I’d put in a couple cents.
I’d rather see so-called minority/diverse characters be individuals. This may come from being a mixed-ethnic (not biracial) woman, but I really. Don’t. Care. For. Race. I want to read about people, not groups. From what I noticed growing up, individuals often behave differently when in mixed settings versus more homogenous. And a second-gen immigrant tends (again, me looking at friends over the years, not universal) to have a different understanding of ethnicity than the immigrating generation. It continues to change as time goes by, and differs amidst individuals within that generation. There’s so many factors and all kinds of things that influence how individuals behave and make decisions. You’re going to find, generally speaking, more diversity within a group than between groups. How much research should one do to accurately portray that? I’d rather read about a character who has dark skin, instead of a character whose identity is that dark skin. Don’t get me started on how we’re to know what qualifies as “dark,” because oh, all the shades melanin and other things can do for a skintone.
I second an earlier respondent’s idea of viewing foreign films, with the caveat that you understand these are entertainment in/for/of that depicted culture, not typically documentary. 😀
So here’s my shorter reply to the question of your character being in a fantasy setting. Darker skin usually implies that ancestors were exposed to warmer climates, or more solar exposure. So really, that character, either distantly or proximately, came from a location closer to an equatorial belt. Do you need to map this character on to an ethnicity from our world? Are certain traits/characteristics really exclusive to ethnicity, or do we associate such things strongly to specific ethnicities? The advice a former mentor gave me when I freaked out about portraying my characters was something close to this, “If ethnicity is important to the plot, then bring it up. If not, then it’s not as major of a specific detail for a character within the story.” I’m paraphrasing, but I hope that may be helpful. Well-wishes and good tidings for you~ <3
+ His mercy in your dark.August 25, 2020 at 8:18 am #118702Zee@zee
Great ideas, everyone! This is a topic I’ve put a good bit of thought into myself, though I’d never actually discussed it, so it’s interesting to hear (read) different points of view.
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