This question is sparking conversation in the adult-fiction world, but it seems to be front and center in the children’s realm. Attend any SCBWI regional or national meeting and this topic is sure to come up: Can a white author write a character of color?
The answer is yes. We live in a diverse world. In fact, in most contemporary settings, an all-white cast of characters would be odd, as it hardly reflects reality. So yes, a white author can write diverse cast.
Before I discuss this further, I want to acknowledge two awesome movements that all writers need to be aware of:
- #ownvoices on Twitter
- WeNeedDiversebooks.org and #WeNeedDiverseBooks on Twitter
Writers, if you haven’t spent any time listening in or participating in these Twitter conversations, I strongly recommend that you do. Even if you’re an experienced writer. Treat it like any other research you do to create and fully realized characters.
So let’s tackle my “however.” This endeavor is not to be taken lightly. Make your characters realistic and grounded, and avoid falling back on stereotypes. Instead of merely describing your characters’ skin color, build a realistic and complex backstory for each character: What past experiences related to their heritage have shaped their identities and worldviews, and how will those things affect the ways in which they think, behave, and interact with others during the course of your story? Research extensively. Engage sensitivity readers of the same background(s) as your character(s). Expect and listen to criticism.
And read, read, read. Here are a few articles to get you started. I’m no expert, and I’m still learning along with everyone else. But the authors on my client list are from a variety of backgrounds, and we all support diversity in literature.
- Writing People of Color (if you happen to be a person of another color)
- How To Write Women of Colour and Men of Colour if you are White
- Should White People Write About People of Color?
- Read Diverse Books
- Writing POC While White
- 7 Offensive Mistakes Well-Intentioned Writers Make
- On Writer PoC When You Are White
- How Do We Feel about White Authors Writing Black Stories?
Know that some readers, respectfully, will not read your book if you are a white author writing a novel which features a character of color. And you need to be 100% okay with that. It is a reader’s prerogative.
Finally, begin to engage in similar conversations related to writing characters of different genders (it ain’t just male and female, folks!), sexualities, and physical abilities. The depth and range of characters that you create for your novels is limited only by your willingness to step out of yourself and into the lives of those who are not like you!
Photo Credit: Sean McMenemy