Open Discussion: Who can write it better?

letstalkA couple of weeks ago, we started the discussion, Who should write ethnic characters? If you missed it, you can find it here. We started the discussion based off this article.

There’s a section in this article where a person states their opinion on minority writers becoming marginalized due to the rise of non-minority writers writing ethnic characters.

It’s an interesting perspective and one that speaks to centuries of hurt. After all, there was a time when minorities could not be published unless they established their own printing press.

Even today, there are authors who believe they can’t/won’t be published because of the color of the skin of their characters. So this begs the question: What is the difference in non-ethnic portrayal of ethnic characters and portrayals by ethnic ones?

Do you believe a non-minority writer can portray an ethnic character just as well as an ethnic writer can?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in this open discussion forum. Let’s talk!


23 thoughts on “Open Discussion: Who can write it better?

  1. Hmmmm…the words “just as well” have stopped me. And having just been in Mexico with my hubby (who is from there and I am only Latina at heart), I’m going to have to say no, that I don’t think I could write it “just as well” as someone who is from that culture and for a few reasons:
    1. Though I can put myself in someone’s shoes, I can never completely understand what it’s like to be from that culture.
    2. I can learn from immersion in the culture and reading and media, etc., but there is always going to be stuff I miss. (Ex: This year my hubby taught me a new Christmas joke. “How was your Christmas?” “Good, but I opened more tamales than presents.” I thought this was hilarious, having never heard it before, but every time I told a Latino person, they groan laughed like they’d heard it a bazillion times.)
    3. There is something extra beautiful and cool in reading a book and knowing this person is writing about their culture and adding to their cultural background by writing new stuff for generations to enjoy and learn culturally from (examples that come to mind are Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, and Amy Tan.)
    Despite all this, I’m going to keep writing Latino fiction, because there currently isn’t any Latino Christian fiction yet, and, as I wrote in the last article, I feel God has called me to it. And also because I think there is something that happens when a white person (with all the privileges that come with this, even if you don’t want them or want to admit them) stands up to the inequality that is happening in a minority group. It’s like it wakes up the majority people that have been snoozing and not paying attention to the thousands/millions of cries of the minority people and makes them stop and think. I wish it weren’t that way, but somehow for those snoozing people, it gives validity to the argument to hear someone like them talking about stuff. Even writing this makes me mad at the situation and my people, but I think this is how it is sometimes.
    And, while I know I can never be the next Allende or Morrison, I hope I can pave the way and make it easier for them to be heard.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Just because I want to fuel conversation, I have to ask: what if the way you write a Latina character is closer to a Latina reader’s experience versus someone a writer who is Latina? The reason why I ask, is because sometimes characters are written as stereotypes, even by the writer of that race. What if the reader (same race) doesn’t identify with that stereotype?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been told repeatedly by people that I’m not like “normal Black people.” That bothers me on so many levels, but I bring it up to say, that sometimes not going with stereotypes is more true to a person’s experience. Not all black women talk with their hands on their hip and swivel their heads with attitude. I think we get so caught up in what media portrays that we don’t take the time to actually know the real people.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I would say that anyone can write any type of character well if they take the time to get to know people of that sort (and I’m including genders, personalities, etc. here as well as races.) Because to say that minority writers are the only ones who can write minority characters well basically necessitates the reverse to be true, and I don’t think anyone would ever have the temerity to say that a minority author shouldn’t write a Caucasian character because they wouldn’t be able to do it well.

    Women can write men just as well as men can. Men can write women just as well as women can. And so on and so forth provided they’ve taken the time to learn the craft (writing anyone well requires first simply writing well) and have researched the cultures and fostered friendships among those they want to write.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree, because if we couldn’t writers would be in a world of hurt for fresh material. I like that fact that I get a story idea for a person who is nothing like me. I learn something every single time. If we limit ourselves to our experience, it would be boring and we’d never learn.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. At a renal conference years ago, I say next to a black nurse from Houston during a talk on diversity. The speaker, a black woman, said, “Another black person and a white person both from Texas probably have more in common than a black person from Texas and me.” She was from Boston, I think. I turned to to woman sitting next to me who pasted my leg and said, I know you and I have more in common than I have with her.” That stuck with me when I was terrified to write diverse characters.

    I also live in a predominately Hispanic part of Texas. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized Mexican food isn’t a staple everywhere.

    All of that to say, we may not write characters of other cultures as well as someone from the culture, but I think we owe it to our characters to have them diverse. Not just in skin color or culture, but also in personality, looks, etc.

    My friends and family aren’t all the same ethnicities or races. Why would my characters be?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m from Texas and yes, Mexican food isn’t a staple everywhere. Neither are mums for homecoming! My husband is from Louisiana and that’s enough to create diverse experiences within our own race. I think sometimes we place too much emphasis on skin color to the point we’re unable to see how many things we do have with another person.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I think so, too. In the conference, the speaker and I had very little in common, but the woman sitting next to me had a lot in common with me even though we’d just met.

        I don’t understand why skin color has to be a separator. After all, the same God made each of us in His image. The differences between us should draw us together. How boring would our lives be if we were all alike?

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Toni, do you feel that traditional publishers and agents regard minority writers differently than they do “white” writers? I’ve never been interested in traditional publishing, so I don’t now much about how that works. I would think that the independent publishing “boom” would level the playing field, but I know some people want to use traditional publishers, and I hate to think we are still seeing that prejudice there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Honestly, I can’t say what the big house traditional publishers do, since they require an agent to even be approached. I do believe that some agents do treat minorities different than white writers. I try not to assume that it isn’t race, but when you’re told that they don’t know how to market your book and you write Christian Fiction like other white writers, it’s hard not to feel that you’re being discounted because of your race. I’ve experienced this with some small presses as well. I’m thankful for the ones who were willing to give me a chance (I had a contract with one, even though they ended up closing their doors, and my current publisher is a small press). I felt that they looked at my work and not the color of my skin or my characters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am sorry.
        And what a stupid comment from an agent or publishing house – We don’t know how to market your book. They want to be considered the experts!! They’d better learn pretty darn fast, or they’re going to miss out on a growing, enthusiastic market.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I had an editor at a conference tell me once that she didn’t think the people who read Christian fiction (who are predominantly white) would be able to connect with my character because she is Latina. She asked me to consider making the main character white instead. I politely smiled and told her I would think about it. Then I did and realized then that I was writing Latino fiction. It would be like someone telling Toni Morrison to make Sula white so it would sell better. It wouldn’t work because her culture/color is part of what makes the story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And one of the reasons why Indie publishing is becoming an avenue for people who want to write ethnically diverse characters. We have to be a voice to the voiceless. If we give in and write white characters, how does that help the world has a whole? It shows them a world that does not exist.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly the reason I have decided to go the indie route after 4 years of trying to get an agent. Even with my book almost winning Genesis last year, I kept hearing the same stuff about not being able to market it.


  5. Cathe, I find marketing to be the same. Granted, I’m no guru, but readers are readers. They want to read a good book and sometimes, they don’t care what race the author is.

    Liked by 1 person

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