Over on Ficlets, John Scalzi has a very interesting interview with David Anthony Durham, the author of a new fantasy novel, Acacia. I want to move to Fresno and have this guy for a Creative Writing teacher.
However. I have an issue with characterizing whites who do not make their worlds racially diverse as racists. It’s disingenuous to accuse whites of inadvertent (and not so inadvertent) racism since many whites live in a “white world”, and don’t really know the difference. For example, I live in Southern California. It’s a racially mixed bag. Lots of everything everywhere. So, how many friends of color, or any race other than white do I have? Like, two. Not because I avoid places where races mingle, I just don’t really make friends that easily, and I have to have some commonality to really open up to people (like comics or Star Trek). I’m sure I have plenty of commonality with people of all races, but the things I enjoy; scifi, fantasy, gaming, Rush concerts, etc; don’t pull much of a diverse crowd. It’s a lot of white males, and a fair portion of white females, with a small population of diversity.
So, according to Durham, I am racist, because I don’t live in the brown world he describes, and don’t write about it? He doesn’t live in the white one I am in, so maybe I should be offended that he isn’t just writing white characters. OK, well, of course not; I should be offended if he was JUST writing white characters, because, if you didn’t know, he’s not white. If he was just writing white characters, he would be selling himself short, and just writing to sell instead of writing to tell. (Hey, I like that. I’m using that again somewhere.)
But how many gay friends do I have? Almost all of them. I wonder how many gay people are in Durham’s novel. I wonder how many gay friends he has. (Well, he works at a university, so I’m guessing he has a few.) I wonder how many people are crippled in his book. I wonder if there are any people who have developmental deficiencies. I wonder how many women are in charge of armies, or ships, and are not just from a matriarchal culture, like the Amazons. How many polyamorous groups? And if any of these things are represented, are they negative or positive?
Most of my characters are clear. That’s because in many cases race is not important. Their race is whatever it needs to be to allow the reader to identify with them. I also include many gay characters in my writing, something that most writers don’t, and when they do, it’s generally as twink fairy-boys who flit around and lisp, or are conflicted by their desire for the hot prince who is in love with the hot princess (from a different kingdom, of course.)
You can’t write what you don’t know, and when you do, it just sounds stupid. Durham says that whites are a minority in the world. OK. But they may not be a minority where the story is set. Not having racially mixed characters is not racism, just like not having sexually mixed characters is not homophobia, or polyphobia. (It’s a word … now.) But pointing it out and using it to condemn an otherwise worthy writer, well, that’s just not being fair.