Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A White Female Writer's Manifesto

There's so much in the social media and media landscapes about race, diversity, and social change. For the most part, I've remained silent while quietly reblogging posts in support of #BlackLivesMatter and #WeNeedDiverseBooks as well as a host of other issues in what feels like a too-quickly-but-not-quickly-enough changing world.

And it has felt right to stay back and not push my voice into the discussion - my voice isn't the voice that really needs to be heard.

I've also been struggling with issues of representation in my own fiction and whether including characters who aren't like me - white and female - is appropriately reflecting the world or co-opting someone else's story and voice. I have to admit that my first published novel had few characters who did not fall into the white-as-default problem. And it is a problem. If I wanted my work to reflect a world I wanted to live in, then I had to do better than that. I had to write non-white characters into my stories.

But to do that, I had to understand my own position and advantages. And I realized that I could articulate what I've been thinking about both to come to personal clarity and that it might be helpful for other writers and artists in my situation. So, for what it's worth, here is one white woman writer's manifesto:

  • I recognize that because I am white and because I was adopted into a white middle-class family, I started my life (okay, I was 5 days old) with a host of advantages that others - especially non-whites - did not, and,
  • whereas,  I admit that I was fairly blind to many of those advantages for much of my early life, and,
  • whereas, I admit that I read Atlas Shrugged when I was 14 and for a brief time, bought into the whole 'bootstraps' thing. (It was a mercifully brief time) and, 
  • whereas, I recognize that I have lived the majority of my life in a mono-culture bubble in neighborhoods that are nowhere near as diverse as the world at large, and, 
  • whereas, I recognize that as much as I try to be aware of my words, I am certain I have said insensitive things to people of different backgrounds than mine,

Therefore,  I will:

  • seek out diverse voices in all art and literature,
  • support the work of artists and writers from diverse backgrounds, especially in telling their own stories,
  • actively challenge racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, classist (etc) language when I encounter it,
  • actively work to include characters of all backgrounds in my own writing with sensitivity and care,
  • actively challenge the white-as-default narrative in my work and others,
  • actively listen and accept critical feedback when I make mistakes,
  • refrain from making anyone else's story about me, and
  • be an ally in any way that I can.

I fully expect that some/many will disagree with me. I don't speak for any entire class or race or gender here. These are my ramblings. And I also don't expect any cookies or pats on the head for this. It's simply what I needed to articulate FOR MYSELF, out loud.

I welcome your thoughts, with the caveat that any nastiness will be deleted.



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