This morning, there was a guest post on YA Highway on Writing Race in YA. As I always do with these sorts of posts, I read eagerly, looking to see how people tackle this issue and what I might learn from them.
I was on board for the most part, although I will admit I bristled at the first point writer Nicola K. Richardson makes:
The “Not Quite Black” Trope
This happens quite a lot in movies and television. A Biracial character will be used as a stand-in for a Black character. This is done because some assume that white readers will be more comfortable with a character who shares half their racial identity and therefore is less Black.
Now I want to stress that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Biracial characters or people. But this tactic doesn’t work with readers of color at all. It also happens to other minorities, too. A perfect example is Taylor Lautner. He is NOT Native American, but because he had some in his ancestry, he was cast in Twilight. What exactly was wrong with giving a Native American actor a chance since Jacob is Native American in the books? The trope is what’s wrong. Readers of color want to see characters that look like them in books. It also does a disservice to White readers. I am quite sure that many of them won’t run shrieking in horror because they see a character of color.
Hold on just one moment. Can I just deconstruct something here? “But this tactic doesn’t work with readers of color at all.” If a biracial person doesn’t consider him/herself a “reader of color”, then what exactly would s/he call him/herself?
Here we come upon the crux of a biracial person’s existential identity crisis. We exist, people. In a world that tells us everything is apparently still “black or white”, our experiences don’t seem to count for much. I’m not discounting what Richardson says; I am sure that many people write biracial characters because it seems easier. You only have to worry about researching one half of the character’s cultural heritage! People can still identify with the white half! (I exaggerate, of course.)
So we can’t play in the “people of color” pond and we can’t play in the “white” pond, where can we play? We are whole people with whole experiences and while yes, many of our existential breakdowns consist of I am not white/colored enough, that is not all either. If the majority of the world looks at me and sees my ethnic half, what does that make me? If I lack the cultural markers of said ethnicity, but possess most of the markers of a white culture, what does that make me?
I’d like to think that makes me a person, thanks. (Forget about Jewish or Catholic guilt–have you ever thought about biracial guilt? I feel guilty I don’t speak Korean as well as I should, I feel guilty that I still feel the need to defend kimchi to people, and I feel guilty that I feel so tall and fat and out of place when I visit my relatives in Seoul.)
I know that this is only a very small part of what Richardson is saying about writing race as a whole. And I know what she meant. But I really wish she hadn’t brushed off a biracial person’s experience so lightly by implying we don’t count. We do. We have experiences that are unique from both a full person of color and a white person. I want to see us written well too. I don’t want us to be used by writers as a shortcut. We are not easy to write either. And I want to see our stories represented in fiction too.