1. Mara Winter
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    Mara Winter New Member

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    Is a white protagonist bad

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mara Winter, Jul 3, 2014.

    I am writing a YA Sci-fi novel in which my main character is a 17 year old white girl. She is average looking, skinny, with slightly pasty pale skin.
    Her looks are not random, they are actually slightly modeled after me. I know this is not a very good thing to do in writing, but I decided to let it slide just this once. I like how the protagonist (Hope) looks, and since I have already written a lot, I'd rather not change it. But a problem I ran in to is that many people who read what I have so far called me unoriginal or racist because most YA novels have white protagonists.
    I do think its strange that most YA novels are whitewashed, but I don't think it should be such an issue if I only made a character a certain way because of who I am. I am white with weirdly pale skin and brown hair, so I made Hope look a bit like that too.
    Should the white protagonist be a problem because of how overdone it is, or not?
    I'd love to hear opinions
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with modelling a character after yourself. I wouldn't worry about 'many people' you've run into say about the racial aspects of your story. Sad to say, there are many, many people (maybe most people) who feel the need to automatically try to kill other people's dreams with unwarranted criticism. It isn't just with writing and other creative pursuits, either. Try coming up with an idea for a small business and see how many people you describe it to find all sort of fault with every aspect of the plan.

    If you like the character, use her and just write the story. If it's a good story, no one who matters will care about the apparent lack of racial political correctness.
     
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  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my mind, it's just as racist to declare that you have to use a PoC or you're racist. Good grief. My only caution would be not to get too hung up on how your character looks, or her similarities to you. Let the character grow and develop as their own entity.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I try hard to separate myself from my characters because when I don't, the lameness creeps in. I think having them look like you, or have the same name, or name that was your internet nick, are all pretty slippery slopes because they tend to result in the wrong kind of identification. Perhaps that was proven in the reaction to your character?

    I think if your character was well-written and story engaging, you should have absolutely no problems with skin colour of your protagonist. It should be something the reader just accepts without even giving it a second thought. There's only a few different options anyway, yes there's a whitewash, but it isn't necessary to pile the responsibility for dealing with it on a single novel. I believe characters come fully formed, at least in their essence. I know immediately things like gender, and who they remind me of, because I can already 'see' them, even if it's somewhat vague. So it isn't easy changing these things because of other's expectations. Instead, focus on how to improve the character you have, on the inside.
     
  5. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can have a protagonist who is any ethnicity, provided their ethnicity isn't the cause of their evil tendencies.

    Magneto, Voldemort, and Khan were all white, but their evil didn't stem from their ethnicity, rather from their false belief that their mutation, magic power and genetic enhancements made them superior to others.
     
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  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    It's your story, you can make your character look any way you want. All I want is for the protagonist to be interesting. She doesn't have to be likeable, she just has to be interesting.
     
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  7. purplehershey
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    purplehershey Member

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    Most of the time spent in the story is more on what a person is feeling inside, what they are doing, how they are doing it, wouldn't you say?

    Besides a general description that might be sprinkled throughout the physical look kind of takes the back burner for an average looking character, now if the characters face was green and made of slime...we have another issue on our hand.
     
  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most important thing is that the protagonist is interesting and has something to struggle with. If race is part of that, fine, it it's not - also fine. That and write what you know, and if you're Caucasian than that's your experience.

    I have a pretty expansive "foreground cast", and most of them are white (one Indian-American, maybe one Aboriginal Australian...long story), and all but one or two are from upper-middle class, two-married-parent homes, did not struggle to get into college, etc. However, that aspect has become a major plot point in itself, and the entire point has become the idea of telling the American story as witnessed by those "yuppie/hipster rich white kids" who actually end up being the ones making decisions that effect people (of all colors) who don't have it so easy. So like I said, it's more complex than white vs. minority or male vs. female or whatever.

    Also, think about "diversity" in terms of more than just race. Almost all of my characters are white and middle class - but they are not culturally similar. I have a Greek-American protag who grew up working in her family's diner in Appleton, Wisconsin. My villainess grew up in small-town Pensylvania with a harshly devout Catholic father who had no clue how to raise two girls after her mom died. I have a decadent and drunken celebrity-gossip reporter who grew up as a military brat and lived all over the country, an East-European-American secretary who grew up in Connecticut and whose mom was a radical feminist professor at Yale, a farm kid from Oklahoma who became a news cameraman, and my one minority is an Indian-American who grew up as an L.A. valley girl and has a serious obsession with fashion and pop-culture.

    The point being that despite their race and social station being mostly the same - they all have extremely different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to pull from.
     
  9. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually Khan was South Asian (despite being played by a Hispanic and then a Brit) but the point stands :p
     
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  10. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why should being white be a problem. You would most likely understand the world from a white person's point of view than anything else. This PA obsession with promoting "minorities" is absurd when applied to your own writing. Your character is what he or she is. Being apologetic about it will only weaken your character. Adopting an attitude of inferiority is just as bad as feeling superior.
     
  11. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, my Trek is a little rusty. I guess I was basing my thoughts on the ethnicity of the actors alone, assuming the Asian sounding name was given to the character regardless of his outward appearance, regardless of which culture he came from.

    We don't need to dwell on skin colour for the sake of it. Don't worry about it, and if you have to describe it, always keep the positive aspects in mind while avoiding any outrageous and offensive stereotypes.

    I'm off for some tea and crumpets, chaps. Tally ho!
     
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  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi Mara, welcome to the forum.

    We had a related discussion about the preponderance of male protagonists and the stereotype of females in leading roles in movies. I agree with the previous commenters here, you don't want to force your characters to fit any mold they don't fit for the sake of political correctness.

    On the other hand, for some of us, the characters and the story we want to tell do involve such considerations because it's what we want to write. My protagonist is the not the female I've been annoyed reading about. She's the female I wish others would write, not the more commonly seen female stereotype. She can't beat up a guy and she isn't gorgeous and popular with few other redeeming qualities besides having a boyfriend. And she isn't a scientist that takes off her glasses and lets down her hair then becomes beautiful because that's of course, more important than being a scientist.
     
  13. thearchitect
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    thearchitect Member

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    It definitely wouldn't affect me reading it, for someone to say you're racist for having a white MC is simply farcical. If you want a white protagonist, by all means do it :)
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Aren't those characters antagonists? ;)

    I like your point, though. :)
     
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  15. Annalise_Azevedo
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    Annalise_Azevedo Member

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    Honestly, it doesn't matter whether the character is white, black or yellow (cue Black and Yellow plays in my head) - as long as the story is great and the character isn't a Mary sue/Gary Stu then it should be fine.

    I try not to model characters after myself any more, but it's kinda hard not to when I'm a brunette with brown eyes. Then that led to most of my characters having blue eyes or hazel eyes.
     
  16. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rue in the Hunger Games was described as being dark-skinned, and then the movie was completely attacked when Rue was played by a black girl.

    Some people are going to be unhappy no matter what you do. Don't make your main character a different race just to appease people. Write the story you want to write, write the character that fits your story, and don't worry about changing anything to adjust for those few who might think it's racist to not include minorities in your novel.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The necessity of this thread is the first horseperson of the Political Correctness Apocalypse. And in that sentence is also the answer to the question.
     
  18. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    It would be reverse racism to change the character's race just for the sake of being different.

    However, I usually prefer when an author reveals as little as possible about a character's appearance. The more that is left to the reader's imagination, the better. A book is not a movie.
     
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  19. outsider
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    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write the thing and don't get hung up on complete non-issues such as this. Sorry if that's blunt but if you don't take it personally you'll find it's sound advice.
     
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  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm glad to hear this because I'm using this technique. In my story class divides play a big roll. What I didn't want though, was having the groups fit any particular ethnicity. It's important the discrimination be irrational, luck of the draw, not based on ethnicity that allows the reader to say the class divides make sense.
     
  21. S-wo
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    S-wo Active Member

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    Well yeah it is sort of played out, but it's your story and you can do what you want.
     
  22. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I messed up big time ;) Thanks for setting me straight there, not sure what I was thinking, confusing "antagonists" for "protagonists".

    I need a holiday.
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It was hard for me to get used to 'protagonist' not meaning antagonist. I looked up the word etymology and it comes from Greek words meaning first in importance.
     
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  24. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    Now that I've got my head screwed on the right way, I'll answer the original question properly:

    There's no problem with having a protagonist of any particular ethnicity, as long as their primary motivation isn't simply to attack people from other backgrounds without them realising how wrong that is.
     
  25. Red Herring
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    Red Herring Member

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    I think others have answered your question very well, but I'll chime in. The people who have read your story have no reason to invalidate you for writing what you want to write with such an erroneous accusation. There is nothing racist about writing a protagonist with white skin, or any skin colour. That's not being racist. Unoriginal? I think one could make an argument for that, but it's not racist.

    Now if you presented characters of other skin colours or demographics in illegitimate ways that could be deemed ill informed and hateful, then yes you would be a racist for doing so. But having a protagonist with a light skin pigmentation, if that was the complaint of your readers, doesn't make you a racist. In fact, it is ridiculous that they even called you one for it.

    Just write what you want to write, no rational reader is going to care what skin colour your character is. If you want your protagonist to be white, black or purple then go ahead; follow your whim.
     

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