I’m writing this blog post for more reasons than I can count. I will say, however, that the things that drove me to put my thoughts down on cyber-paper are as follows:
1. Kristen Strassel (@KristenStrassel on Twitter)
My beautiful friend Kristen wrote a great book with a biracial main character (Callie’s half Jamaican—West Indies, y’all!) and it made me wonder about the last time I read something in my own genre (New Adult—hollaaa!) with a black, half black, African-American, West Indian (whatever version of this you want to call it) MAIN character. Thing is, I don’t think I ever have.
I can’t even think of an NA novel on my TBR with a black MC.
After realizing that, I realized something else. I wasn’t upset by this. Every time I think about how under-represented minority characters are in fiction, I can link a certain group of genuinely upset people to it. (And rightly so—They’re more than entitled to those feelings. It’s natural to feel that way.)
What I’m saying is, there is a serious LACK in the mainstream NA world, when it comes to writing black MC’s, and I feel as though I’m required to be upset about this.
I don’t like being “REQUIRED” to do or feel anything, but I do feel like people expect me to be upset because the characters in the novels I read don’t look like me. This brings me to point #2.
2. Baldwin, baby.
I. Fucking. Love. James. Baldwin.
I love him and his writing so much that I took a lit class on him in college that I didn’t even need the credits for. The catch is that it was taught by this WITCH of a woman that I know for a fact hated me—but that’s beside the point. I was willing to take the class for him.
Why? Because Baldwin’s always just written whatever the hell he wants. I once had a discussion in one of my Queer Lit classes about how Baldwin was quicker to write a piece that deals with Queer issues than he was to write a piece that deals with or advocates for race issues.
Baldwin had a tendency to focus less on race politics and finger pointing, and more so on his own personal impact, as a human. Not as a black man.
Does he discuss race and his status as a black man? Yes. Do I also then have a responsibility to do the same, or to write black characters into my work? No. I don’t believe I do.
So why not just write it and not weight the situation at all?
I won’t just write a black character and not have the race issue touched upon at all, because you’re bound to piss someone off that way. Doing that would signify to some people that the issue at hand is unimportant.
With writing, you can’t please everyone. I know this. You’re bound to piss someone off for reasons beyond your control. But this is an issue that hits close to home, so I wouldn’t want to write about it (neither the issue nor a black character) and not do it justice. I guess that’s what it all comes down to.
I don’t want to do it and get it wrong, so I’m bowing out gracefully. It’s a personal choice.
I grew up in Los Angeles. It’s a very race-conscious city. I’ve experienced racism at school when kids asked me why my skin was so dark, while shopping in the mall with my friends at the age of 13, in my ballet studio at the age of 8 where I thought I was safe from it. So, yes. It’s an issue that hits close to home. My mama and my step-dad used to drill these lessons into me about how I needed to be an educator for people who didn’t know any better. They told me I had a voice and a mind (and a mouth) for getting things heard.
Did I want that responsibility? Hell no.
Because black history is incredibly weighted. All history is weighted. It’s a heavy topic. Some people are okay with being responsible for doing that justice. I’m just not. I don’t want that responsibility. I’ve had this impression that I didn’t have a choice about it. That the responsibility was mine whether I wanted it to be or not. But now I’m saying I do have a choice.
And another thing? Growing up, I didn’t want to be looked at as a black woman. I just wanted people to see me as a woman. Period.
As a kid, I wanted to be seen at as “Candice the dancer.” Not “Candice the black dancer.” Now, I couldn’t care less how you look at me, because I’ve grown thick skin.
Even were I to write a black character and not touch on black history at all, it would make me feel like I was calling the character black but not doing enough to prove his/her/Their (for my Queer babies) blackness to people. And that’s messed up too. Should it have to be proven?
Well, what’s the point of saying your character is black if that’s the only time you’re mentioning it? How is his or her racial identity important? How does it affect the story? SHOULD IT affect the story? Why is it significant enough to mention? Is it enough for readers to know that the author branded his or her character that way? These are serious questions.
My MC’s name is Cash. Let’s say he’s black. (He isn’t—he’s actually a hazel-haired cutie from Texas—but for this, let’s say he is black.) Without knowing much about Cash, do you have an opinion about him already?
A black kid named Cash. Picture him.
Now, let me just inform you that Cash does music. It’s his thing. What kind of music would you assume he does? Rap? That was your go-to, wasn’t it?
If not, you’re a better person than I.
I don’t want the responsibility of having to write a black character and having people expect me to name him/her Jamaal (Jenna Black does this—writes a black love interest named Jamaal. Gives him tattoos, baggy pants and cornrows) or Keisha Johnson.
So in that regard, I’d be caught between a rock and hard place. If I do write the character and gloss over the racial details, I’m doing it wrong. “I’m ashamed.” I’m “white-washing” the character. Which is dumb and totally ridic.
So the reader can easily forget about the race detail if they wanted to. They can easily replace it with blond hair and blue eyes or sharp Asian features, if that were their prerogative.
If I write the character and go race heavy, have the character experience racism, have the character celebrate Kwanzaa, have the character be from some uber urban city, sag his pants, wear cornrows and drop the “G’s” off the end of his words, then I’m still doing it wrong, because THAT’S NOT ALL BLACK IS TO ME.
They say “being black” is an ideology. But I digress, because that’s a whole other pile of shite we are NOT about to cover in this long ass post.
My name is Candice Amanda Montgomery.
I’m a classically trained dancer.
(I think) I do an excellent British accent when frequenting public establishments.
(Ask me to do the accent for you, I will).
I’m Pansexual and proud, but my family’s not hip to that yet.
I love anime and manga and boba.
I love indie rock and alternative music.
I curse like a goddamned sailor.
I am a writer, above all things.
Oh, and as an aside? I’m black too.