Should writers be able to write characters of other races and nationalities?
Should they be able to? Heck yes. I have no doubt that people definitely have the capacity to write characters of other ethnicities or cultures.
But should everyone be writing people of color that they themselves are not?
Yes and no.
Firstly, I say yes because as a woman of color I have grown up reading novels upon novels and watching many movies and shows with protagonists which are so different from me, both culturally and racially.
Nothing would make me happier than to see characters that look like me, talk like me, deal with cultural problems like me. Indian-Americans, such as myself, have fought the daily struggle of deciding if you’re too Indian or too American, or just trying to convince your very Asian parents that just because you had fun yesterday doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun today.
I want, no, I demand, that writers take it upon themselves to branch out of the usual cookie cutter and please add in more culturally inclusive main characters. Not side characters or minor characters because you don’t want to do the research required. Main characters.
But I say this with a word of caution, which brings me to all the reasons I have to say no.
While I would love to see more cultures represented on T.V., I will NOT stand for misrepresentation. Like, please, please, please do your damn research.
I’m sorry, but not every Indian I know has a thick accent like Raj from Big Bang Theory. Not all of us do yoga on Saturday mornings or wear a bindi. Not every Asian is smart. Not all of us want to be doctors or engineers. No, I don’t speak “Indian” and I am not “a Hindi”.
Please figure out the difference between Hindi and Hindu. Understand the fact that Indian people don’t speak Indian. Rather they speak Hindi, English, Hinglish (a recent development), Tamil, Telugu, and so much more. Because your poor writing will show. And I promise you, it’s not only rude to the people you’re writing about but it’ll reflect the poor research on your part.
And maybe it’s more convenient for you to write characters which resemble yourself. I know it’s ten times easier for me to write an Indian-American character than a Vietnamese one. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. What it does mean is that I’m going to buckle down, research the heck out of a nation’s history, interview close friends who may belong to particular groups, and figure out everything I need for my story to work.
So if you’re going to feed into stereotypes and promote biased, negative views of specific cultural or ethnic groups, hold off on writing people of color all together. But if you’re willing to do your research, understand the culture, come to know why certain things are the way they are, then by all means, please write a character from whatever group you want!
Selfishness. Boredom. Monotony.
In a world where all authors write about themselves, all singers sing about themselves, all artists only depict themselves, and all people are limited to themselves;
We shall not write about our everyday lives unless we live all to ourselves in a glass box.
But from inside the glass box, we can see the world, so it should instead be a metal box.
That way, we will only see our own reflections.
How did ancient writers of old express themselves, visit faraway lands, and teleport us to fantasy worlds? None of us are unicorns, aliens, animals, or inanimate objects, so why do we write about them?
How can we write of social interactions, unless we imagine a sci-fi world where everyone is a clone of ourselves? How can children write about adults and adults about children? How can males write about females and females about males?
Should artists paint the sky? Should singers tell of birds? Should writers write at all?
What I think
I think writers should be able to write characters of other races and nationalities... on one or two conditions
1. the author in question should research the said race and/or nationalities in depth, perhaps even talk to people of the race and/or nationality and thee race/nationality's relationships with other races/nationalities
2. if questioned about a topic the author mentions in the book about the race and/or nationality, they should have have a list of their research/notes to show that they aren't just speculating or making something up
I don't know, this is what I would hope to do if I was writing a story that includes people of different nationalities
Write? Yes. Speak For? No.
Can you write characters of other races/genders/etc.? Sure. But I think where it gets tricky is can you speak for them, which is another issue.
When writing characters I think of it in terms of a realist painter or an abstract painter -- either I’m drawing something as true to life/form as I can, based on careful observation and study; or I’m manifesting my own emotions / consciousness onto the page and giving it life. If your character is meant to be the former, then it’s probably alright to try and diversify them so long as you remain neutral and aware of your own lens. But if your character is meant to express your own self/psyche, then I would stick to a character that falls more closely to your own background.
The safest bet when writing a character of another gender/race/etc is probably to just ask for feedback from honest proofreaders of that particular group. When they read your character, is it too flat/stereotypical? Is it a valid portrait or a false copy? I’ve sat in several book discussion groups and heard the words, “Did any [insert demographic] even read this crap before they printed it?” too many times. It’s a simple fix that can force you to be a better writer and take a more critical look at your own innate biases before you immortalize them on paper.
Case in point: One of my close book club friends loves horror but can't stand Stephen King, because his minority/female characters often fall flat (and/or dead). Whereas I prefer Dean Koontz - sure, half his books might boil down to a boy and his dog fighting monsters, but the man definitely knows how to write about a boy and his dog.
Writing is more powerful when you write what you know.
I Don’t See Any Reason Why You Shouldn’t
Should writers be able to write characters of other races and nationalities?
As writers, that's kinda what we do. We create characters that we hope are remembered and loved until the end of time. It doesn't matter the race or nationality, as long as they have some aspect of likablity and are written very well.
Just because I'm not black or a woman, should I not write as if I were them? I'm not Christian, can I not write a Christian character? Or Jewish? Or Muslim? I'm from New Zealand, am I not aloud to write as a character from that country?
If I cannot write as those characters, what's next? Will I not be allowed to write about an immortal elf with magical healing abilities? Or a superhero that can shoot lasers out of their eyes? Or a lesbian angel struggling with their faith? Or a three-headed, six penis, komoda dragon that spits acid from it's tail?
We as writers are granted with two things: imagination and creative liberties, both are intertwined together. We are free to write characters as we wish, and we do so out of respect to our readers. We go through life learning that there are people who behave or do things differently than we do, and their are different cultures and traditions that we are not familiar with. Why do we write characters like that? Maybe we write them because, more often than not, the real world is like that. Maybe we write them as a way for us to learn and understand about them, and hopefully our readers will learn and understand something too. Or maybe we find our own lives a bit mundane and wish to write about a character that is outside our norm.
I can't speak for all writers who do this, but I believe that we all can agree that there is no limit to what you can do when creating the best character.
If you wish to write about a character of another race or nationality, go for it. Write them as you'd like. Hey, I do it. Sins of the Father consists of numerous characters that are different races, faiths, sexual orientations, and nationalities. I even have angels and demons and other beings of different mythologies and theologies written to be very down to earth. But in case you wanna play on the safe side, definitely do some research into different cultures and nationalities before printing. You want be surprised by what you can learn.
#writing #characters #characterdevelopment #creativeliberties
If we couldn’t there would be no science fiction, fantasy or childrens books. Aliens, elves and animals rarely write their own stories.
Another Lesson From Uncle Tom
Such is akin to declaring that, if an author is white, they should only write white characters. And here I thought that was the problem!
To say that any culture beyond one's own should be off-limits to portray is just plain counterintuitive. Ignorance and prejudice are the enemies here, and the only way to counter them is to explore the world beyond one's original horizon. Literature has ever been a vital means of exploration. Uncle Tom's Cabin is an important example of this: it is a book written by a white woman from the perspective of a slave, and it is easily one of the most culturally influential books America has ever seen. It exposed white Americans to the true wicked brutality of slavery, and is named by some to even have been a factor leading up to the American Civil War.
That being said, Uncle Tom's Cabin and other books like it do not, of course, make up the full population of books written from outside perspectives. Prejudice and stereotypes in literature still run rampant. But umbrella-ideology is a dangerous thing, and one cannot justifiably judge a tool for the one who wields it. Since perspective is one of the most important tools to be found in a writer's arsenal, ideas like this one, that it is immoral to approach another culture at a deeper level, will only end up hurting literature, and our society by proxy, in the long run.
So, yes. Writers should most definitely be able to write characters of other races and nationalities. Let a work of art be judged for itself: if a writer portrays a culture crudely or in a disrespectful manner, condemn them for it. But do not, by any means, keep yourself or others from reaching out to research other perspectives and ways of life. Get to know the intricacies of marginalized mentalities. Get to know the many delicate ways of the world. Don't be afraid of getting it wrong, for as long as you come from a place of honest curiosity and a desire to grow from your mistakes, you will be fine.
Through conversation and literature both, let the mending begin.
I'm going to start by saying that I'm white. Completely white, though I have Jewish cousins. Brown hair, brown-eyed, fair skinned.
But I believe that I can write a black character. An Asian character. A Native American character. Why? Because it is my license as a writer to be able to do so, so long as my intentions are to portray them as a person, not an exotic or racist caricature of what that race or nationality is. Will I ever know what it's like to be a black person, really and truly? Probably not, because I can't reverse-Michael Jackson and suddenly become a black person and I'm not the type to interrogate someone about their life as a member of a particular race. I'll admit that I've never held a conversation with an Asian person, but I know what the stereotypes are. I can ignore them and actually create a character.
Now, there are obvious differences between white and black people, but those lines are swiftly becoming blurred. People marry whom they want. Black, white, Asian, indigenous, gay, straight, bi, or pan, we can marry anyone we choose. If I decide to make a biracial character who is Lebanese and Eskimo, that's my right. I can make a character look like what I want, make them be who I want.
But there are limits. You can't make them a blatant stereotype. You can't write a story with black kids that only like rap and are in gangs along with white people who are rednecks and have shotguns in the back of their truck. That's not a person. It's a stereotype.
Nearly everyone falls into a stereotype in some way. But if the stereotype doesn't define the character, then it's alright.
That's just my opinion.
Of course they should!
Every book would be the same, there wouldn't be any international intrigue possible. Nothing but kitchen sink dramas! Where would this line of thinking lead?
You can't write outside your class! What were you thinking, writing a nobleman?
But you're from Manchester! How dare you write a Londoner!
You were brought up on this street! You've got a nerve, writing about a character from the other side of town!
Stop it with the cultural appropriation crap, please. It's b*****ks.
Shackling the Pen
Should someone be allowed to write characters of other races and nationalities? Though a timely question, to demand that people not write from the perspective of someone of another race, culture, gender, or religion is absurd for multiple reasons. At its core, it cuts the writer's creativity off at the knees. Suddenly, the human experience is religated to one perspective, making the world two dimensional and devoid of reality. It also denies the humble writer the opportunity to make important statements. In my opinion, some of the most important early statements ever written on racism were written by white people. Let me be clear, these authors did not presume to know all the nuances of the African American experience. What they did know was that what they were seeing was wrong and they used the African American characters in their works to call out the evil that is racism. As far as this pasty Irish boy is concerned, so long as the characters are written with the humanity they deserve, no difference should be off limits.
For my first argument I ask the reader to imagine trying to write a story about early twentieth century New York. However, you are not permitted to write about anyone except for those of your race and cultural background. Your work would not be able to convey New York at all. New york is a city of immigrants and this was especially true at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many of these immigrants lived in close proximity to those from different parts of the world which often led to a mixing of cultural nuances. Of course, the close proximity of different cultural groups could also lead to tensions and violence. Either way, without characters of differing cultural experience, you wouldn't be writing about New York, you'd be writing about a super-sized Mayberry U.S.A. In short, if the writer is denied the multi-cultural sights, smells, music, tensions and true character that is this great city of immigrants, they simply cannot convey the reality that is New York.
For my second argument I would remind the reader that some of the first, "Main Stream" works regarding racial injustice came from white authors. Mark Twain's, "The adventure's of Huckleberry Finn" and Harper Lee's, "To Kill a Mocking Bird" helped to bring the reality of racial injustice to white America and the world. Though I hated the way Huck Finn looked at the runaway slave, Jim at the beginning of Twain's novel, I could see the subtle change in the boy's opinion of his escaped slave companion as they traveled the Mississippi. Jim went from being a source of humor for Huck and a target for his jokes to being a valued friend whose quest for freedom became a righteous cause. Jim cared for Huck despite the cruel treatment he endured at the hands of the boy. Jim's nobility, compassion, and devotion to the cause of freeing his family from slavery taught Huck what it truly means to be human. I also remember reading Mockingbird and cheering on the noble lawyer, Atticus Finch's stand against the injustice his African American defendant faced when falsely accused of raping a white girl. Atticus knew he would likely lose, but he could not stand to see an innocent, good man railroaded simply because he was made a scapegoat for the true rapist, the girl's own father. Twain and Lee's works sparked curiousity and a sense of righteous indignation in the hearts of the reader. This curiousity led many to read the writings of Fredrick Douglas and W.E.B Dubois which gave African American writers and thinkers a greater voice. It also created a sense of empathy for those who were forced to endure racial injustice in the Jim Crowe south. Twain and Lee never claimed to fully understand the plight of African Americans, but they knew wrong when they saw it. This is what they wrote about and they portrayed the African American characters in their works with humanity and compassion wrapped in a cloth of harsh reality.
My opinion may not be popular, but there it is. No sector of humanity should be off limits to a writer. So long as the writer embraces their characters with a sense of empathy and respect they should be able to use characterizations of every race, culture, ethnicity, gender identity, or religion in existence.