Hello, dear mods. (thank you for running this btw). I’ve an awkward question, cause I read Black Art Is Not A Free For All by Nadijah Robinson. It mostly makes sense to me, because white people do treat POC, especially black people, very shittily while taking their cultures and not giving credit. But I’m also unclear about the boundaries. I have been writing a book where one of the protagonists is black and racism affects her life very much, but I feel hypocritical writing it A. being white and B. not being as active in Ferguson protests as I could be. Basically, I feel like writing about the experience and struggles of a Black character would be appropriating experiences that aren’t mine (and, if people actually read this, benefiting from them). Thank you for taking the time to answer.
I haven’t read the mentioned piece, but It’s not co-opting or appropriating as long as you’re not somehow making this Black character’s experiences about you, White people, or write in a way that caters to the White Gaze and serves to make them comfortable over telling her honest story.
I’ve discussed writing from the perspective of a character of color, particularly a Black woman, as a non-Black person in “Writing ‘Authentic’ Characters of Color in First Person POV.”
And what I said there applies, so I won’t be repetitive here, but I will quote this:
Not being x and x has hardly stopped authors from writing about people and places unlike them since forever; most folks probably don’t understand from personal experience how it is to be a young teen who leads a revolution, or what it’s like to wield magical powers, or be a different gender, etc. but somehow people write about these characters, in first person nonetheless.
I also encourage there to do your research and to keep in mind you’re writing a human, someone who is not so different from you when it comes down to it. (read the whole post; I’m sure it’ll help).
As for writing the racism in itself. I’m not sure what time period or region this is, either way, don’t forget she should have a life and avoid making her a tragic prop sweltering under the heat of racism and oppression at every corner. Give her an arc and if adventure is to be had, don’t leave her out! Racism affects people’s lives but isn’t their lives so I’d be nice to see her have layers and goals too even while struggling with racism.
And if we’re talking everyday racism (and levels vary by region, current events that may add tension to said regions, how the world perceives her, socioeconomic status etc) racism isn’t always so blunt as someone blurting the n word. It comes in the insidious forms of systemic oppression and micro-aggressions a whole lot of the time more than the loud and clear.
Another note: On “not being as active in Ferguson protests as I could be.” It’s not a matter of whether you’re physically able to be involved in protests for Ferguson or any rallies for Black lives. That doesn’t even sum up all that affects us. What this is a matter of, in your case, is having an understanding of the subjects that affect Black people, particularly in the location you’re writing of (Black British people have some differing experiences from African Americans for example).
You can’t write a story about these issues if you’re not aware of said issues or don’t have the commitment or empathy to write them properly. Protests like Ferguson are not about isolated issues of one Black person slain here and there, it’s about the trend of Black people being murdered by police every 28 hours, how we’re essentially hounded and targeted by the police, made to feel afraid and guilty by default and are even taught how to act so as not to end up wrongfully accused, jailed or killed, it’s fearing you or your brother may be next.
So do your research, understand the issues that might affect her, but don’t just make her a prop who only has a plot connected to dealing with racism in contrast to everyone else who do not.