International Blog Against Racism week
July 17, 2006
From my friend and fellow-YA-Author Justine Larbalestier, I learned about International Blog Against Racism Week.
Here are the instructions:
1. Announce the week in your blog.
2. If you have an livejournal account you can switch your default icon to either an official IBAS icon, or one which you feel is appropriate. To get an official IBAS icon, you can make up of your own or go visit Oyceter's blog and pick up one of the general-use ones she’s put up. (As I did)
3. Post about race and/or racism: in media, in life, in the news, personal experiences, writing characters of a race that isn’t yours, portrayals of race in fiction, review a book on the subject, etc.
4. Go here, and post your link in the comments.
So here's my post:
I come from and live in a largely white culture. The neighborhood I live in is a melting pot of Italian American, middle-Eastern and and African-American, more recently invaded by an influx of caucasian WASP or Jewish families with a little more money than the older neighborhood crowd.
I have friends of varying shades of skin, but my closest friends tend to share my background, ethnically -- which is Jewish/Christian, middle-class, and white.
I say this because I try really hard in my writing to IDENTIFY my protagonists. To situate them racially and culturally. Not to assume, as many fiction writers do, that white and middle-class are the default positions in the world.
Because they are not.
In The Boyfriend List, white Roo goes (on scholarship) to an expensive prep school in Seattle. Race and racial tension is not a primary focus of the book -- it's about a girl having major boyfriend troubles and panic attacks. But I tried to write about the racial make-up of a school like that as accurately and inclusively as I could. Roo has a misunderstanding with an Indian American boy when he overhears her talking about how he smelled when they kissed and thinks it's a racial slight. Her therapist turns out to be African American, and she registers surprise because she pictured someone white.
Characters are Japanese American and Indian American and black South African -- because those are populations of people (in addition to caucasians) that I've encountered in prep school and at Vassar (where I went to college), and it was important to me to depict the environment accurately but also not to write as if the differences between them didn't exist. Not just racial differences, but cultural, religious and economic differences. They DO affect teenagers in high school, even in a priveleged and relatively harmonious environment.
In Fly on the Wall, which is set in a New York City public school, there was a lot more freedom to show people of a huge variety of backgrounds without risking being untrue to my setting. I had, for many years, a close friend of Chinese heritage, so I used her descriptions of her family dynamic in combination with my imagination and my own Jewish heritage to create Gretchen Kaufman Yee. I think non-white characters -- PROTAGONISTS, especially -- are underrepresented in teen comedies. Usually the central characters are some variation on white. I wanted to stretch myself and also make a small dent in that situation. I think it's a good thing, when reading, to project yourself into the head of someone who looks different than you do. It's one of the great things fiction can offer.
A couple recent YA books that aren't primarily about race but which center on non-white or mixed race protagonists: Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee (for younger teens); Bad Kitty by Michelle Jaffe; Magic or Madness, by Justine Larbalestier. (There are others, no doubt; I'm just not thinking of them right now!)
I write comedies. I know I'm not changing the world, here. But I do try to represent race truthfully and inclusively.
tomorrow, back to ridiculous quizzes and BOOK JACKETS!