Thursday, September 3, 2015

Representation matters

My book, She Dies at the End, is more diverse than a lot of novels out there. So why did a white woman write a book full of people of color?

People of color are bombarded daily with the message from popular culture that white is normal and that everything and everyone else are not.  That sends a harmful message to everyone, of any race.  I didn't want my book to be part of that damaging narrative, so I have tried to create characters in which a variety if people can see themselves reflected.

If we're going for realism (well, realism in a world where vampires, fairies, and werewolves are real, anyway), my characters in She Dies at the End would not be living in an all-white world.  My story is set largely in the San Francisco Bay Area.  California is not majority white.  Why would a story set here have only white people in it?  Why would a vampire family assembled over many centuries across four continents consist solely of Europeans?

Then there is the fact that it is boring to live in a monochrome world, so why should people have to read about one?  When I started my book, I was writing for fun.  I made choices that made me happy. I wanted white, Black, Asian, Latino, and mixed characters.  I wanted a cast of characters that made me think of Oakland in all its mixed up glory, that celebrated the city where I once taught high school and where I still go to church.

My son is half Black, half East Indian.  He has an Indian dad and a white mom.  Kids like him should see people they can identify with in pop culture.  White kids also benefit from seeing people of color portrayed in a positive light.  It combats all the negative stereotypes they see broadcast every day.  It helps us all have empathy for people who look different from the way we look.

And don't tell me that talking about race makes me the real racist.  That is bullshit.  Ignoring race means ignoring part of who someone is and dismissing the lived experiences of people of color.

Did I do a perfect job realistically portraying my characters of color?  Probably not.  I did my best to use everything I have learned by listening to my friends and family of color, or by listening to strangers' stories online and off.  I may well have made a hash of it, but at least I tried.  That's more than a lot of much more successful authors can say.

Representation matters.

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