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  1. aella

    aella New Member

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    Do you believe white authors should be able to make black characters as their main characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by aella, Jan 27, 2020.

    This is for black people or POC. It is a genuine question because I view my main fantasy characters in my book as black? I want to be an author that makes diverse characters including all races.

    Your opinions?
     
  2. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    Should a black author be able to make a white character as their main character?

    Should a man be able to make a woman as their main character?

    Should a straight person be able to make an LGBT person as their main character?

    Should a Jewish author be able to make a Nazi as their main character?

    Should a mentally well adjusted person be able to make someone with mental illness their main character?

    With all due respect, this is an utterly bizarre question. You do not need to be something in order to write it well. Why should anyone be prevented from making a person different to themselves their main character?
     
  3. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    Anyone can do anything they want to do. Anyone who doesn't like that can find a short pier to walk off of.
     
  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Potatoes again? Supporter Contributor

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    This type of question comes up every month or so here, and the answer is always the same. Yes, you can, but you should a) do your research to make sure that you aren't getting any critical points wrong, and b) make sure that you aren't fetishizing the character based on their difference from you.

    I've won two contests on this forum (not bragging, just making a point) and both of them have female MCs. One of them is a skydiver, and I joined a skydiving forum (openly, as a writer seeking information) to make sure that my terminology and proposed jumps were correct and plausible. I've never done so much as a tower jump. The other was a parent (and, now that I think of it, race-nonspecific. She might have been black or Asian or Hispanic, I dunno). I didn't really have to research parental reactions, but one of the other characters was anorexic, and I had to research that to get a view into the mindset of people who suffer from that condition.

    Basically though, unless you're writing an autobiography, you are writing about characters that are somehow different from you. That could be as little a difference as writing someone who's a few years older than you or lives in a different part of your country, or it could be as great as (from my POV) writing a story about a non-gender binary person of color who is missing one or more limbs and lives on a Lunar colony. I personally wouldn't stack that many challenges on myself, but it's up to what you think you can do.

    Just be respectful and no that no matter what, someone out there is going to be upset and say that you shouldn't have, because that's the way things work.
     
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  5. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Even better than research is if you've known people of the (race, gender, religion, what-have-you) that you plan to write about. Actual personal experience can't be beat.
     
  6. More

    More Active Member

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    You don't need permission to write anything you would like to write, but you do need the knowledge and skill to do it.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I would echo what others have said here. The question isn't 'should' white authors write black characters, but 'how.' It takes intensive reasearch to write convincingly about anything outside your own experience. This issue is no different. Do it well, do it with an open mind, and it will work.

    Of course the tenor of our times means this can be a contentious issue in the minds of some—especially if your story is laid in our contemporary world. But just go ahead and do it as well as you can. If you gather a few black friends to beta-read for you after you've finished, and pay attention to what they tell you, you should be good to go.
     
  8. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody The Ole Razzle-Dazzle Contributor

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    James Patterson, Claire O'Dell, Edna O'Brien, Harriet Beacher Stowe..... Writing a black character shouldn't be anything different from writing a white character with the exception of color and hair. If you think of it as different (how we talk and act) then you are writing stereotype. And stereotype is wrong.

    A book group I'm in, the ladies are up in arms over ca blackharacters written by white women NOT because shes a white author writing a black character, but the stereotypes she portrayed. She wrote a charicature of a black woman and portrayed her and all of her friends as a cursing, illiterate, always angry, violent, big lipped black woman named "CeeCee" or something like that. As a legitimate character. Not a joke character (though that would be equally as bad...).

    I don't mind books about people of color written by white authors (the majority of books in the west are by white authors, and growing up, honestly the only book I read by a black author was Black Boy by Richard Wright in school). I take issue with authors writing black people like charicature.

    I guess, do some research? Like any other person, our way of speaking changes depending on where we are. Washington DC slang is different from New York or Atlanta slang (didn't know this until college where someone pointed it out). Dialects are different too... My relatives in New Orleans speak with a different accent than my relatives in North Carolina. And apparently, to midwesterners, I speak like an "East Coaster" and they sound just as weird to me here too. But I'd imagine that's what it's like no matter what race you are.
     
  9. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    The biggest problem with this question is the assumption that there can even be an answer. People of various ethnic backgrounds aren't all united as one big blob with one single opinion, and some kind of council approved vote of authority. People are individuals, and so the opinions they hold will differ. Some may say yes, others no. Even if you chose to use other's opinion to decide if something is appropriate, which would you pick?
     
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  10. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody The Ole Razzle-Dazzle Contributor

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    In a way, this reminds me of the ted talk I watched where Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke about writing in the West. She said in college in America, her teachers and classmates were all white. in a writing class, she submitted her work and it was about where she grew up in Nigeria. From going to school, friends, and everything. The professor told her "it's not African enough" and her response was "what do you mean? This is who I am. This is where I'm from." She says that "African" to this teacher was poverty, and third-world and starvation and struggle. And African characters had to be in that environment to truly be "African."
    I believe the same could be applied to writing about black people in America.
     
  11. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who think that the stereotypes are real. That all black people have to be a certain way and anyone who dares write them a different way, they have to be demonized.

    Those people have some serious problems. People are people. What color they are shouldn't make a difference.
     
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  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Yes, you can. And in addition, since you're writing a fantasy novel there's no reason that MC's life experiences should have any connection to those of African Americans or any other group in the real world unless there is some reason for it within the context of the story (e.g. an urban fantasy in a slightly-altered real world; a portal fantasy featuring a POC from our world). Unless something along those lines exists, you do not need to do research or take any other steps to ensure your character is representative of the experiences of people in the real world because they're not relevant.
     
  13. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    Indeed. Dark elf =/= African-American elf.
     
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  14. frigocc

    frigocc Contributor Contributor

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    Yes. Anyone that says otherwise is being ridiculous. People can write about things they haven't necessarily experienced first-hand.

    Have I ever experienced space travel with two aliens? Nope. But I still write about it.

    And here's the kicker: anyone that tells you you're not representing their culture right, doesn't actually understand what culture is. Every family has their own culture. There is no "black culture" or " white culture."

    Yes, there are certain cultural norms which permeate throughout a great deal of a given demographic, but there are always exceptions. And there are also always people that go with every single stereotype out there. Just depends on the person.

    Give a character any set of physiologically and anatomically-possible traits, and I'm sure there's someone in real life that fits that mold.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2020
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  15. hyacinthe

    hyacinthe Senior Member

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    I wouldn't advise it. It's not a good idea. Leave it for someone whose story it is to tell.
     
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    It's a fantasy story. Do you suggest she summon an individual from the imaginary fantasy world and have them write it? That's an interesting marketing trick, I suppose, I don't see it as an imperative by any stretch of the imagination.
     
  17. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Potatoes again? Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, as I mentioned before, this type of thread crops up about once a month with the same results every time. Unfortunately, those results include it turning into a debate so before this gets overheated, I'm calling it "asked and answered.

    :closed:
     
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