Monday, March 18, 2013

The Race Card

In case you weren't aware: I'm brown.
As I was wondering what the topic of my second blog post would be I was scanning twitter when I found an interesting question posted by the fabulous literary agent, Jennifer Laughran:

"Let's say there's an Off-World fantasy where nobody is described by skin tone at all. Maybe some are PoC {People of Color}; it's never mentioned. Should it be?"

Readers and authors both weighed in, and the number of responses was considerable. I agreed with many of them, and thus the topic of this blog was set in my mind: Does a character's race matter in a book?

*steps up onto Soapbox*

My response is Only My Opinion...

My answer is Yes and No.

Caveats and variables abound in reference to acknowledging race in a story, but as a reader I've always found is that if it doesn't move the story forward or offer insight into the character/setting then it really doesn't bear mentioning.

Race only matters if a reader or author makes it matter. Period.

Remember the uproar when The Hunger Games movie came out and so many people were confused as to why Rue was black? Some foul creatures went so far as to be verbally hostile. Even though she was described as such in the novel, the characterization was done so naturally and so subtly that apparently some people who read the book didn't notice. That's how it should always be done *when it isn't relevant to the story's conflict*.

When you (as an author) say "I need a (Black/Asian/Indian/Irish/Italian/Peruvian/Etc) character." You do yourself, your reader, and perhaps most importantly your story a disservice. The story then ceases to be organic.

Some people reacted very strongly with: "Yes! {race needs to be mentioned}If not the readers will think the characters are white!"

I don't think this is a crime. Part of the beauty of reading is allowing your imagination to create pictures for you. If your brain sees black where mine sees white, or blue, or yellow, or green, or orange....who suffers for it? Does my Asian Harry Potter devalue the reading experience? Is your black Katniss Everdeen a killjoy for your friends? I didn't think so.

People argue that younger generations of (insert race here) need role models "of their own kind".
It takes a lot to offend me, but this argument certainly does.
It perpetuates racism. Even if it is positive, or well-meaning racism it is still racism. If you don't think a young (insert race here) child has nothing to learn from a (insert race here) professional/celebrity/successful person then you are....someone with whom I would not associate.
People will argue about cultural pride.
Again, when you make a decision based on "cultural pride" instead of sound reasoning, instinct, or intuition then you are succumbing to a passive form of racism.

All this rambling basically to say - Lighten Up.
You are the writer. You are the reader.
The amazing magic of books is that imagery is entirely in the hands of the person holding the text.
It doesn't matter unless you make it matter, and if you make it matter then it's an issue that goes beyond Hermione Granger not being an Inuit.

*picks up Soapbox and walks away*

Until we meet again...


  1. Awesome post. I wrote a NA dystopian book at the issue of race has been posed by some of my betas. If you are a black writer - do your characters automatically become black? This perplexed me ,even after a writer friend sent me an article about the lack of black characters in dystopia. Personally, I see my characters as a rainbow coalition of characters and really not something I think about. My main character is bi-racial and her love interest is white - so what. In the end, shouldn't it just be about how awesome my story is?

  2. "The amazing magic of books is that imagery is entirely in the hands of the person holding the text. "

    So very well said.