I did it again: I made a book about race. This shouldn't be surprising as every book I write has POC and LGBTQI characters and while I don't always go into the story thinking about these topics as being center-stage, they always come up and are always there, possibly because I'm always thinking about them & possibly because these characters are my family and friends. I live in a world of passionate, creative, intelligent, diverse people in every sense of the word and when I tap into my inspirational reservoir, there they are.
I don't know why it surprised me this time, but while writing today's WIP scene about shopping (oddly enough, there's always shopping in my books, too, even though I loathe shopping*), I didn't realize that this would be SCENE as opposed to a bridge between scenes. My MC has been talking about everyone around her being a different race than hers, how they already don't trust her and she doesn't trust them, and when the shop girls are one color and she's another, I realized this might be a Thing for her and that the feelings she might experience might be very different from the feelings I had originally envisioned. Her experience might not be my experience. Or maybe...diving back in my mind to my most squiggy, uncomfortable moments...maybe they were. I went back and confronted it--the racism, the discrimination, and the reverse-discrimination--thinking about how it feels and how it feels to have feelings you're not proud of or realize the pride you had at thinking that you didn't have feelings might not outweigh the shame of discovering you have them. I stumbled into a mirror of my own inherent whiteness, bumping my nose against the glass and getting a splash of cold clue water. I wrote it out and went off on a tangent, but it might be an important one. I don't know what to think of it yet, but I'm rubbing my nose and taking a better, closer look.
The brill Fozmeadows tweeted Saying "I don't see colour" is another way of saying "I don't see racism". And while I like to think of people first by their first names, the sound of their voice on the phone, the things we like to do in common, or their most defining characteristic--artistic, funny, creative, passionate, silly, inventive, crazy--I would be side-stepping reality if I discounted how their race/sex/gender/religion/sexual orientation or socio-economic status shapes who they are. By ignoring color (or any of the other less immediately focused-upon characteristics of their character) I'm conveniently erasing things that "don't matter" to me but matter a heckuva lot to them. And since that person matters a heckuva lot to me, then I guess it *does* matter. Respect is often defined as the Golden Rule, roughly translated as "treat other the people the way you want to be treated," (or the way you want them to treat you) but I believe respect should be more focused on the other person, i.e. "treat other people the way THEY want to be treated." Just because I think getting a Panera gift card is the best gift ever doesn't mean that you do. Maybe you like Starbucks. Or Dunkin Donuts. Or a gas card. Or flowers. I don't know, but if I want to honor YOU, then I might try to know you well enough to find out. Refusing to even acknowledge the elephant in the room is nearly as bad as inviting it to the party.
And then I did the same thing in my WIP.
So here I am telling on myself as a white, Jewish American liberal heterosexual married woman: I might not be able to walk a mile in everyone's moccasins, but I am keeping close the wisdom of SCBWI's Mitali Perkins, Anne Sibley O’Brein, Richard E. Peck and others to concentrate on writing the HUMAN experience** because that is what we share, what resonates as real, and that's, ultimately, what matters.
Do you write characters whose race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or social class is different than your own? Does any of this sound familiar or is it a breeze if you don't over-think it? Have you ever been confronted by your own Muse's thoughts on the matter? It may feel squidgey, but that means I'm pushing my own envelope, to which I think to myself: "Good!"
* Unless it's groceries or baby clothes or having to do with theme parties.
** Unless they're elves, gnomes, dwarves, aliens, dragons, etc. but you get the idea.