I am a Caucasian who writes adventure stories about characters of color. Perhaps because I was raised to be sensitive about racial profiling I am constantly second guessing my motives for doing this. Is what I’m doing somehow wrong or unfair to people of color?
Why bother showing different races at all? In my comic (Sweet and Sour Grapes) I use different skin colors to help distinguish two different cultures. The Tashoni people have tribal roots, medieval technology, polytheistic beliefs, and dark skin. The Cunaveri are technologically advanced, non-confrontational, pale skinned, and almost extinct due to a massive war in the story’s prehistory. I could have reversed the skin colors but I feel more comfortable destroying my own race. Another reason I feature characters with dark skin is to distinguish my story from other fantasy adventures. There are seers and ghosts and princes but not in the traditional way. My audience will hopefully have fewer preconceptions about what those roles mean when they aren’t filled by the characters they’re used to seeing.
Wouldn’t people of color feel fetishized by my story? I hope they don’t because the color of my character’s skins aren’t their biggest defining characteristics. I write my cast to be whole people with aspirations and challenges, not 2-dimensional stereotypes. Lae is committed to protecting the pilgrims in her care. Kaga struggles to become a leader. My white characters get the same treatment. Silas looks for way to belong in the world when everywhere around him is evidence that he doesn’t.
What about my audience feeling mislead that the author of this comic isn’t black like the characters? And wouldn’t a black writer write the same characters differently from a white one? I can’t deny that my middle-class upbringing in a white-dominated neighborhood has effected how I write but trying to fake a black writer’s outlook seems like a bad idea. I think all I can do is be very upfront about who I am. Pictures of me around the Internet are very clearly white and I blog the way I talk (which is white).
On the one hand, being overly sensitive about problems like racism can draw too much worried attention to it, risking overcompensation. On the other, ignoring the issue gives it free reign to be even more disruptive. I feel the best I can do is acknowledge the problem and write solutions that work for me without worrying about changing the world.
What do you think? Are you comfortable with the idea of writers creating characters outside their race? Does a fantasy setting change anything?