So I’m back on the topic of writing about diversity — but this time, on the response of many white authors that I’m seeing due to critique of their work and how their representation isn’t as good as it could be.
By now, I’ve written about this topic effusively. If you’re writing about a marginalized group, the bare minimum you can do is your research. Be empathetic, do your research, then hire sensitivity readers to make sure you get it right. Research, by the way, should be every single writer’s basic tools: if you can research about writing science fiction and how many bullets can kill a person or how many hours is a flight from America to Europe, you can also do your research on writing people from marginalized groups. This is basic craft. And to be a good writer, you need to know craft.
To be honest, I kind of hate this argument of craft. Because arguing with ‘craft’ means that you have to completely discard someone’s identity in honor of craft. The thing is, I don’t care whether you are a bad writer or you don’t know any craft. I care that you can be writing a very harmful stereotype that actively hurts marginalized people.
That being said: white writers, NO ONE is telling you what to write and what you can’t write. What marginalized voices are saying is: PLEASE BE CAREFUL while writing. Beware of stereotypes that can hurt. Don’t appropriate culture. Above all, question yourself: am I the right person to tell this story? And if I really want to write it, can I write it in a way that makes the story truthful and free of harmful stereotypes?
Honestly, it’s that simple. What baffles me the most, however, is the response to critique that we’ve seen for the last month or so on the part of white authors.
There’s a Brazilian saying that goes like this: “say what you want, hear what you don’t want”. It’s a nicer way of saying “talk shit, get hit”, probably. The thing is, POC writers are critiquing work from white authors about representation. And how that representation can be harmful. I’ve talked here on the blog about the representation of “The Love that Split the World” and how it can perpetuate the notion that Native families are broken. I’ve talked about a whole lot of other representation that can be harmful to other POC, LGBT and disabled people. Basically, marginalized voices are pushing forward (as they should!) for better representation in books and movies. It’s usually a very thought-out critique of the work, pointing out the problems with it.
What I see instead of people trying to learn from their mistakes, is people COMPLAINING THAT THEIR WORK IS BEING BASHED!!!!!! I just don’t understand how the concept of a critique can be turned into a “bashing of my work” or “I’m being attacked”. Take a seat. For real.
NO ONE is bashing any work. They’re pointing out problems. NO ONE is telling you what to write. They’re telling you to be careful. NO ONE IS BEING ATTACKED. In a world where marginalized people have been silenced for so long, I’m sure white people are just at awe that they are being criticized by doing shitty work. Marginalized people have been oppressed for ages, and in publishing, often put aside in favor of white authors whose stories are “universal”. Like our stories just don’t have the appeal and no one will ever understand them. All we’re asking right now is for good representation, and if you can’t take criticism on how you’re writing POC, should you be really writing them at all?
At the heart of this post is how you should deal with critique. Remember how no author is ever supposed to answer to a review? Yeah, take it that way. If you’re a white author, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to react in case you’ve been called out on harmful representation in your work.
- STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Do not engage the person in any way. The critique probably comes from a marginalized person, and let’s be real, marginalized people are so often targeted on the internet for speaking out. Don’t RT them. DON’T SPEAK TO THEM.
- Think about the critique you have received. Try to see the problem. Maybe if you’re butthurt on having your work called out, think about how you can actually perpetuate harmful stereotypes that get people KILLED. It’s not just an offense. It HURTS. Real people out there.
- If you need to understand what happened, try to call a POC friend. Understand if they don’t want to explain it to you. We have explained this so many times already, it’s a question of listening and looking for the right places. If you’re trying to do better, we’ll understand, and we’ll be glad to help. If you do not have any POC friends, what the hell are you doing writing POC people anyway?
- APOLOGIZE. This is a very important step, don’t skip it. The best way to acknowledge you’ve made a mistake and you are willing to do better is to apologize for it. Don’t try to defend yourself (again, you’re not being accused, this is not a court), but simply give a heartfelt apology.
- LISTEN AND LEARN. Listen to what POC are saying. Learn from their experience. And above all,
- DO BETTER. Try better. We aren’t perfect and everyone is prone to failure, but all you have to do is keep trying. Do better. Get there. And if you fail, return to step 1.
I’m tired of white authors claiming they’re being attacked by POC. I’m tired of having to run this subject to exhaustion every day on twitter. It’s very tiring to have to fight for the right to exist, and to be honest, I don’t get one fifth of the shit the Black women in my timeline get. So don’t throw in some white tears when your work gets criticized. Because when you do that, you flip the table once again — instead of concentrating on the representation, you’re concentrating it on yourself and your feelings. And no feelings are ever more important than those of the people you’re hurting.
Because honestly? This critique is not about you. It’s not about you. It’s never going to be about you.