1. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Over-thinking, or legit issue (regarding social awareness in my writing)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Apr 5, 2021.

    Potential Trigger Warning about race?
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    So recently Twitter got into a war over the fact that there's a lack of diversity within the publishing world, ie that white authors write about POC/cultures and get praised for it while the POC from that culture get ignored because they're apparently not 'legit'.

    That got me thinking. I'm writing high fantasy and while none of my characters obviously borrow from real-world cultures (meaning there's no transplanted Japan in my story -- none of my characters are meant to be any real-world ethnicities), there are characters whose names you'd find in, say, Eastern culture like 'Mishu Jerni' or 'Albius Hak'.

    Either I'm just noticing a potential issue with my story, or I'm wholly misinterpreting the discussion, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't stepping on any toes by having half-assed versions of real cultures in my fantasy and be just another white idiot thinking he can just yoink random bits of cultures from our world into his story.

    So, what do you think? Overthinking once again or is this a legit thing I need to look at?
     
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  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Over-thinking. Here's a legit question: how many agents/editors/publishers even know the race/gender of their authors before they accept manuscripts, or at least get down to the 5 yard line? Serious question: at what point do the gatekeepers say, "Hey, great story and we'd like to represent you, but before we do that, we're going to need to know your gender, race, sexual orientation, and all relevant culture identities before we can offer you a deal. Sorry, but as I'm sure you know, nobody will read anything you write until they know those things."

    I'm guessing that probably doesn't happen much. Know why? Because very few people care. They're going to read the story based on (expected) merit. Sure there's a few jack-wagons that refuse to read things written by women, or men, or gays or whatever, but I have to imagine they're in the extreme minority. It certainly isn't affecting the industry much, otherwise these books that have everyone up in arms wouldn't be published or gain enough popularity (re: sales) to even enter the discussion. Especially on Twitter, where the same idiots will make the same idiotic arguments regardless of the subject material.

    You see it on Forum here, too, though to a much lesser extent than in years past. Somebody will ask a question about whether to write a red car or a blue car and people will find a way to transmogrify that into a referendum on gender identity.
     
  3. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Life is Dynamite Contributor

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    Over thinking your characters names, yes... But the issue is legit.

    I dont have a twitter, but working in the library and being a part of a bunch of library facebook groups and organizations, the argument is there too. The big thing was American Dirt. How it became so critically acclaimed when there are plenty of Latinx writers writing about the same thing (A Distance Between Us, for example. While not fiction, the author writes about her own border crossing when she was 8. There is also a collection of short stories written by latinx authors as well on this very same subject).

    Another one called "Maid" about a single mother who is a domestic worker. Who also happens to be white. Yes, there are white domestic workers, but works along that line of POC rarely get the amount of recognition. That may have something to do with the agent too.

    Another thing to note is, the publishing world IS primarily white (i shared a fact sheet with percentages to a few other writers on here. Im typing from my phone right now so i cant attach it). Agents are primarily white. Publishers are primarily white. Going to an publisher who specializes in POC works will be limiting.
    In addition, POC writers are picked on by their names. You'd be surprised by how many people in a library will judge a book by the author name (i order fiction for my library,and a staff member asked me why i ordered so many "foreign" books.... When the book she was holding was written by a writer from the next state over. The writer just so happened to have a long, non-traditional name).
    another thing to note is, POC writers tend not to have any depiction of race on the cover or their own picture to go with bio because of the chances of the book being turned away.
    So many times ive had to move Beverly Jenkins, NK Jemison, and Mary Monroe out of "urban" (basically where all the "black books" get shelved) and into the general fiction section as one writes historical romance, the others are science fiction and contemporary romance. I used to think it was just a mistake... But then a white author who had a black woman on the cover of his book (agency by william gibson) was moved to "urban" and when the media tie in to LoveCraft Country came out, that book was moved to "Urban" too.
    Now, that might have a lot to say about the place i work... But it also has something to say about browsing habits as well. Books by POCs get passed over more often than books by white authors (ive got a ton of examples of POCs being removed or changed from book covers to make it more marketable)... Which is something that worries me personally as a POC writer...
     
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  4. karma

    karma New Member

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  5. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Yeah, from what I've gathered the whole system is rigged against y'all. :C

    And in my library, there's an entire sectioned labeled 'African-American' in between 'Fantasy' and 'General Fiction' sections. That's not good. :[

    I also love NK Jemison. :O
     
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  6. GraceLikePain

    GraceLikePain Senior Member

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    I don't understand how this is a problem. People specifically seek out books by black authors. At the bookstore I used to work at, we created that section specifically due to customer request. Until for some reason publishers and authors decided against it. Uh...what in the world is wrong with making it easier for your target audience to find your books? I especially dislike how this kind of pretentious thinking is against what the consumers want, as though publishers have a right to control that sort of thing.
     
  7. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Life is Dynamite Contributor

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    its limiting. non AA feel as though because its "not my section" that they cant read it. Some black writers dont want to be put in the AA section(NK Jemison, for example, wrote about this in her blog).
    Its also a form of "left over" segregation. the AAF section used to be in a different part of the library that only AA were allowed in. The whole "separate but equal" thing.... AA's could have equal access to the public library, but their section was separate from the rest of the collection.

    the reason why i rebranded my library's AAF collectionw as because of patron kickback, they didnt like that it was there. they thought that having contemporary black writers, or mystery/thriller and fantasy black writers side by side with Urban Fiction (a genre that deals exclusively with gangs, drugs, violence and sex) was insulting and saying that all black writers are associated with this (in my library... regardless of the genre, if the author is black, they automatically get put in Urban, and I have to go in and reshelve it in general. doesnt matter how often I remind them that those books dont go there, "authors black, so why not?"). A lot of libraries are rebranding the section or just getting rid of it all together for similar reasons.

    I even tested it by going into a Barns and Noble asking for the AAF section. they said "we dont have one. its just mixed in"



    (ETA: there ARE still people who want an AAF section because they dont want to have to deal with searching for black writers... hence Black Owned bookstores.... but it IS still limiting on the author snad publisher to sell to a small portion of the population rather than the whole)
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2021
  8. GraceLikePain

    GraceLikePain Senior Member

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    I know their reasoning behind it, but the fact of the matter is the customer wants to be able to find these books. The ideals you mention are not driven by the market, but by ideas that don't necessarily match up with reality. It's a bit like saying the Christian section is segregated just because it's kept separate. Granted, I don't think black teen books should be in a separate section, and specific genres like sci-fi and mystery shouldn't necessarily be separated either, but the African American genre really is a legitimate genre -- it is narratively and conventionally distinct from other fictions with traditions and styles of its own. It's not merely whether or not the author is black, it's a distinct expression of a specific culture. Like how anime is different from comics.

    Also, as a bookseller, it was really convenient to be able to find authors to recommend to people.
     
  9. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    I'd say you're half right about the market/expectation thing. There will always be readers who expect an African American section in a library, but as far as it being a "legitimate genre," it's not as relevant as it used to be as more POC authors get slotted into regular genres instead of their generic cultural category... even if @J.T. Woody has to manually relocate them from shelf to shelf.
     
  10. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Life is Dynamite Contributor

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    Theres a difference between "African American Fiction" and being an "African American author" though.... Not all African American authors write African American Fiction (they may have black characyers, yes, but having black characyers doesnt make if AAF). it sounds as if you are lumping it all into one.

    AAF/L is a genre written by African Americans or African decent that focuses on slave narratives, racial identity, the Great Migration (immigration from the Caribbean included), and "negro spirituality". It was widely prevelant in the 18 and 19th century where AA were trying to elevate their voices and writing for yhemselves in times where they didnt have equal access to books and stories.
    You are right, it is a genre. But not every black writer fits there. Less and less fit there now. The category is becoming obsolete. We write in various other genres and do not write slave narratives anymore or immigration or are many of the reasons why this genre became a thing.

    I can see having an Afro Futurism subsection of science fiction, as that is a genre written by black writers that explores racial identity in sci fi, putting black people at the forefront of scientific discover (like Wakanda in Black Panther, how it is more technologically advanced than the rest of the world). There are a bunch of authors in this genre, even though its small.

    Personally, i wouldnt want MY work in the AAF section because its sci fi/fantasy. Im not writing just for AA... Id hope other people would want to read it too....
     
  11. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Life is Dynamite Contributor

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    Are you saying that you would only reccommeded black authors to black people?

    If someone specifically request a book by a black author, in the library, its up to us to figure it out and find them selections. We also reccomend books that have similar stories to what they are looking for, but are not only black. For example, if someone enjoyed 12 Tribes of Hattie (Ayana Mathis) and wants something similar... Im not goong to go "oh well the authors black, let me find a black author".... A Woman Is No Man (Etaf Rum) hits many of the themes presented in 12 Tribes of Hattie. It touches on identity, being an American "other", multigenerational stories. A Woman is No Man just happens to be written by a Palestinian American
     
  12. alittlehumbugcalledShe

    alittlehumbugcalledShe Member

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    Totally agree. It can be pretty demeaning. Tbh I have actually been worried about getting published and being shelved into 'LGBT+ fiction' or 'Women's Fiction'. It is the othering that I have an issue with, the 'secondary' feeling it gives me. (And no, I do not feel secondary about intrinsically having those characteristics, it is not a self-worth/value/perspective issue on my part).
    But it's like, 'we have True, Main, Right and Proper Literary Fiction , and then, oh yeah, well... there's your stuff over there...' As if no one else reads those things.

    For an example, I'll use 'one' instead of me, she, he, etc. What if one's writing was as good as, or better, than these old literary heroes, but it's sidelined into one of these othering categories because either the character(s) or the author(s) are demographically of those categories? Chances are, people won't see it, because it's not in the main section, and their talent won't be recognised as widely spread as it would be if they just left it in the main section.

    It implies that a certain demographic of people is the norm, and that everyone else can be fitted into 'women's fiction', 'AAF', or 'LGBT+'. It's humiliating when, potentially, the greatest work of art in literature could at all be at risk of being reduced to an uncontrollable statistic. This is why so many authors choose a male sounding name. Because there is still a massive problem.
     
  13. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Active Member

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    Yes to overthinking it. (Also, a slight jab: isn't stepping on toes what writers are supposed to do anyway?). The people who matter, bulk audience with wallets, won't care; they just want a good book to read, and rightly so.

    Culture isn't an exclusionary element, and no reasonable person wants to live in a world where it is. Hah, imagine a world only white men could write about things featured in Western culture, under the false pretense that the West is strictly white patriarchal in origin.
     
  14. GraceLikePain

    GraceLikePain Senior Member

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    Had you actually read my post, you would have noticed that I specifically said that there are books by black authors that belong in genres like teen, sci-fi, and mystery. Just as not all Japanese people make anime, not all black authors follow AA fiction conventions. Thus, I was saying the exact opposite of what you claim I am saying, and that all black authors should not be lumped together.

    I was actually referring more to the "baby mama drama", "thug life", and "church drama" conventions that are more common today. Most of the "negro spirituality" stuff tends to be nonfiction.

    That's why I said that sci-fi belongs in sci-fi. Science fiction conventions aren't really racial. Maybe someone could make them racial if they wanted, but generally speaking that is not the case.

    NO. Holy hell, bookstore workers need to have familiarity with their product. It's not merely about the AA section, but about as many sections in the store as I can. Which titles are the most popular? Which titles have female leads (people ask a lot)? What books would appeal to men? What romance books refer specifically to Scotland? What is a teen book that doesn't have to do with vampires? Are there any handwriting practice books for young children? A quantum physics book for Eastern spiritualists?

    Honestly, people have interests in different things. As a bookseller, it was my job to match the person with what they wanted, to the best of my ability. This became more important as the AA section was mixed into general, because people would ask for books by black authors and I'd have to try and remember their names so that I could find them. All I know is, when people ask for a type of book, I want to be able to answer them.

    I have never said "oh, a black person, I must recommend them a book by a black author." I don't appreciate your false accusations. I asked interests before assuming anything, because people are more than their skin color.
     
  15. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Life is Dynamite Contributor

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    @GraceLikePain , apologies if i've worded my responses in ways that make it seem as though i am attacking you personally: i am not.
    my intention was not to pick a fight or make you feel as though you are doing something wrong.

    my first response (your first point in the above) is in response to how you'd summed up your point: "but the African American genre really is a legitimate genre" and "It's not merely whether or not the author is black, it's a distinct expression of a specific culture."
    to those points, i clarified that AAF and being an AA writer are not the same.
    another example is "Uncle Tom's Cabin". that is considered African American Fiction/Literature even though it was written by a white woman. this leads more to your latter point with it being a distinct expression... but the fact of the matter is, most people do not separate the two. if it has a black writer or black characters, its "AAF."

    this would be considered "Urban Fiction." there are imprints and publishers that focus specifically on selling this genre so much so that we have a section dedicated for it (Urban Renaissance, Urban Renaissance Christian, Cartel, Cash Money, etc.). Most black people take issue with "Urban Fiction" being seen as synonymous to AAF. that was the point i was getting at. I've gotten complaints from guests regarding this and in the Black Girls book group I am in on FB, there have been threads of people getting offended when they ask for black authors and are directed to the Urban Fiction section ("baby mamma drama" "thug life" "church drama") as if thats they only thing they read/want.
    (full disclosure: i have never read Urban Fiction. im not interested in it. i dont identify with it. i dont want to read it)

    Afrofurturism is a hybrid of AAF and Science Fiction. it is "speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th-century technoculture" (multiple sources quote Mark Dery's definition of the genre). though no one is advocating separating it from science fiction, it is recognized as a subgenre of it... the same way urban fantasy is also a subgenre.


    "it was really convenient to be able to find authors to recommend to people" this could be interpreted (and was) to mean that having a section to direct people to was more convenient. that was what I was responding to, my interpretation of what you meant.
    You are right that book peoples need to be familiar with books to make recommendations. Though I do not read urban fiction, i have familiarized myself with popular authors in that area based on what people ask for/request i order.

    I wasnt accusing you of anything. my quote was not me mimicking you. my quote was quite literally my thought process: "Im not goong to go "oh well the authors black, let me find a black author""
    you interpreted it the way that you did just as I interpreted your response in my above point.
    perhaps that was my error.
     
  16. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Simmer down. Nobody has accused you of anything. You're not being attacked. Nobody has directed any of content toward you. Nobody has "claimed" you said anything.

    These are differences of opinion. Nothing more.
     
  17. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    The Fremen in the Dune series are based heavily from Middle Eastern
    religion and culture, and nobody says a thing. There are countless other stories
    with fictional societies based on real world counterparts in one fashion
    or another. The Tau in WH40K are societal based on Communism and nobody
    really cares.
    Write what you know and can research to better depict the elements you are
    borrowing from. That is about all you can do. For all we know there may well be
    another planet with intelligent species on it that has similar cultures and philosophies
    to ours. Would they be upset if they read your book, and saw familiar themes to what
    they know and practice? Probably not, since most beings with any intellect will understand
    that it is just a fluffy bit of fictional entertainment and nothing more. Most people just
    want to be entertained, and fiction is an escape from reality. Sure sometimes it can
    make you stop and think, but overall it's just for personal enjoyment. :)
     
  18. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber Contributor Contributor

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    I don't see what race necessarily has to do with it if you're talking about culture.
     
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  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    This gets to concerns surrounding issues of cultural appropriation. I do not subscribe to the idea of 'cultural appropriation' in the certain contexts, cuisine and writing being among them (it can exist in other forms). For one thing, one often must take an artificial snapshot of the world to make the argument for appropriation. For example, a while back there was an argument on Twitter regarding an Israeli-owned restaurant serving a particular dish that many Arabs on social media considered part of their culture. However, upon further research it was revealed that the dish actually originated with non-Arab Turks and was later picked up by both Arabic and Jewish peoples. So, the outrage over cultural appropriation was founded on a false belief, and when you look at something like cuisine in particular you find this all the time--what people think of as traditional foods of a culture end up being the product of multi-cultural exchange from long ago.

    Beyond the likelihood of mistake, when it comes to writing I don't think it makes sense to say that any of the human experience is off limits. Any writer has the entirety of the human experience as a potential source for creating fiction, and that's the way it should be. Works offered from those steeped within a particular subject matter will offer a different view of that subject matter than works from an outsider, but they're both valuable works and, I'd argue, both biased, albeit in different ways. There is no reason to close either avenue to the writer of literature.

    If one writes about other cultures and experiences and screws it up, then of course one has to be prepared to be called out for it. I do not see any problem with that. If an author feels they are being called out unjustly, they can respond. But those judgments relate to the underlying works themselves, and not the skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or geographic accident of birth of the writer.
     
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  20. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    I'd be in a Hannibal Lector mask, dolly, and cell if this ever becomes a thing. There isn't a ethnic/cultural variety of food that I haven't appropriated yet. Or reinterpreted into the American palate.
     
  21. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I love fusions and reinterpretations of cuisines. It's one of the advantages of living relatively close to Los Angeles--so much to choose from.
     

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