Writing While White (Diversity vs Authenticity)

Meoskop wrote a very thought-provoking post over at Love in the Margins the other day that she titled Reading While White (The Finicky Reader). In it, she admitted that one of the reasons she might not be finding as much ethnic and cultural diversity in romance as she wants is because she isn’t actively seeking out works by non-white authors.

I’m entirely on board with the general concept, but there’s one thing that worries me. You see, I’m a white author, but I’m not interested in writing only white characters any more than, as a woman author, I’m interested in writing about only female characters. I want to put diversity into the books I write as much as I want to find it in the ones I read. My world isn’t all white just because I’m white. My husband is of Mexican and Native American descent; several of my closest friends in the romance writing community are black; my husband’s former boss and many of his coworkers and friends are Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean. If I’m going to write “what I know,” especially in a contemporary setting, I have to include characters from many different ethnic backgrounds because that’s the world I live in.

But as a white author, can I do that with “authenticity”? Or am I doomed, by dint of my Northern European ancestry, to get it wrong because, despite my immersion in a culturally diverse world and my active efforts to avoid it, I see everyone through my privileged white lens?

Well, the answer to that is, I hope not. I’d like to think that if I can write male point of view characters while not being male, I can write point of view characters from other cultural backgrounds, too. The characters in my stories have many traits I don’t personally share, but my job as an author is to try to get inside the skin and the mindset of someone unlike me and make that person come to life on the page. And I strive to do that for every character, no matter what their skin color or country of origin or social status might be. I may not always succeed, of course, but that’s going to be just as true of characters with whom I share traits as those I don’t.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, though, because the book I’m writing, RULES OF POSSESSION, features a biracial hero. Warren’s father is African American and his mother is Korean. Warren is also a very successful NFL quarterback. The thing is, for a long time in the NFL, black quarterbacks were very much the exception, not the rule. That’s changing (the 2013 season started with 9 black starting quarterbacks out of 16), but the “stereotype” of an NFL quarterback is still a white guy, and I didn’t want to write that character again. But I’ll admit, I’m nervous. I’ve tried to cross all my t’s and dot my i’s when it comes to building this character, to steer away from stereotypes while also not steering away from his ethnic background and cultural identity.

Will I get it right? I don’t know. But whether I do or don’t, I’m going to keep writing POC characters because it’s the only way I know to reflect the world as I see it.