Some of you may have heard that August 6th through the 12th is the second International Blog Against Racism Week.
I’d love to contribute something lengthy and thought-provoking, and maybe while I’m home in Dallas I will. But I can’t promise I’ll have the time, so instead of a substantial post born of my anthropology brain, you get a brief, personal anecdote.
You see, most of my stories are set in other worlds, where the representation of race automatically gets more complicated. (If my black-skinned people have a Chinese-style culture with a religion that looks more Sumerian, who am I “really” commenting on when I write about them?) Then there are works like Midnight Never Come, where historical reality dictates that my characters will be white. But every so often, I write something set in the modern world.
Last night, I was developing a synopsis for one such idea to send along to my agent. It’s a new idea, something I’m still very much fiddling around with, and who knows if I will be writing it any time soon, or ever. So a lot of details are still fluid, and amenable to change.
And out of nowhere, I found myself stepping back and asking, “why is every character in this white?”
It’s that easy, folks. Question your assumptions. Poke at your default settings, rather than just operating on reflex. There’s no reason the main character’s boyfriend can’t be black. There’s no reason the best friend can’t be “mixed race.” There are only two characters in this novel who have to be white, for story purposes. (I wish it weren’t the protagonist and another central character, but that’s how this particular idea is built.) Everybody else is — and should be — potentially up for grabs. I’m not going to deliberately populate the cast of characters with a carefully balanced sample of races, as that way lies tokenism, but I will make myself think twice before imagining everybody as white.
It’s that easy. I have no excuse not to do it.