Writing Characters of Color (for white writers)

So by now it’s pretty obvious – especially for those of you who checked out my boudoir photos earlier – that I am white. Like, very white; the kind that’s see-through for most of the year. (Living in the Northwest doesn’t help, but hey, my Nordic skin can soak up even the measliest bit of vitamin D from our cloud-covered sun!) I grew up in a majority-white neighborhood, went to school with mostly other white kids, and even now most of my friends are, still, white. That’s the way White privilege has manifested for me, thus far in my life.

Which brings me to the subject of my blog post today. How can I, as a white writer, create authentic, powerful, believable characters of color?

As a fiction writer, I get to create worlds. Whatever I imagine becomes real on the page; people spring to life; stories unfold. With so much possibility at my fingertips, I am always tempted to push the edges of the mold. The old advice says: “write what you know.” Been there, done that. To challenge ourselves, we must sometimes write about what we don’t know. But carefully, respectfully, and with humility vis a vis our own limitations. It’s no coincidence that the majority of my protagonists are white – (with the exception of the Ancients, which features women who lived so long ago our modern conceptions of race and culture have no meaning) – because that’s my default “safe zone.” As a white woman, I can confidently write a white, female character and say, yes, I have been fair to her; she is not a stereotype, not some fetish; no one will say “oh, she’s acting that way because she’s a typical white American girl.” (And there’s White privilege again, right? The idea that a person’s actions belong to them alone, instead of as a representative of whatever cultural or racial group they happen to be part of… but that’s a whole different conversation.)

But as a creator of fictional worlds, I don’t want to be stuck writing only characters like me. (Of course, all a writer’s characters are somewhat like them. They are pieces of ourselves, refolded and adapted, but still us at the root.) I want to explore other perspectives, other ways of life. (Other love interests, too, since erotica is my thing!) Plus, I don’t want to live in a monochrome world, so why should my characters to do so? Fiction should reflect life on some level, and our world – thank God – is becoming more beautifully diverse, more multicultural and blended, every day. Can I, as a white writer, do that authentically?

This blog post is more about questions than answers, really. The only thing I can say is that each character must be an individual. Wherever they come from, however they look, they must be more than what’s on the surface. (Plus, skin-deep characters are boring as hell. We need soul, if readers are to care about them.) Interracial erotica has its own category on most sites, and there are plenty of readers looking for that. But real issues arise if “interracial erotica” becomes “racial-stereotype erotica.” It’s okay to have a preference – we all do – but once again, that character had better be a real person behind his/her fascinating physical qualities. (Plus, seriously? The “Big Black Cock” thing is totally passe. Also, silly. I can personally attest to the fact that you don’t know what you’re gonna get until you unwrap the package. And I’ve been around the world enough to have a fair-sized sample set from five different continents… ahem, moving on. Sorry, Australia. I never made it down there in my single days, but I’m sure you gentlemen have plenty to offer!)

Now I know I will never truly understand what it’s like to be a person of color. Just like I’ll never really understand the inner workings of a man’s brain… which is probably okay with me, on second thought. But I hope I can make an honest, sensitive, and respectful attempt to create characters who represent diverse cultures and backgrounds. I’m not brave enough – yet – to go all in and try to incorporate some real issues into my stories. Maybe someday… For now, at least I can assure my readers that in my stories, each character is a real person. Unique and wonderful, because of and in addition to their outward appearance.

I’ll keep writing what I know, and how the world really is. But I’ll also do my best to write what I want to know; and how I hope – and believe – the world can be.

*

(Fellow writers, I am hungry for your thoughts! (Especially writers who consider themselves a person of color…) Do you think we’re getting anywhere close to the mark? Or does erotica just perpetuate the normalization of White culture overall? What a conundrum! Erotica authors are only a small piece of it, but everyone can do their part to contribute – or fight – the status quo.)

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17 thoughts on “Writing Characters of Color (for white writers)

  1. This really resonated with me! I’ve been trying to tackle more diversified worlds without lazily writing what I’ve seen before on TV, in movies, in other works of literature which, I’ve come to realize, is typically racist and two dimensional. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by! Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it a lot… trying to figure out what I can do to change it. Hey, changing the world through erotica sure sounds more fun than some other ways! (Or at least giving it a go. 🙂

      Like

  2. This is incredibly apropos because I’ve been wondering about that very thing myself! As someone who, like you, has made an art form out of rockin’ the Casper, I’ve definitely found it difficult to even contemplate writing characters of color into any of my stories – and for very much the same reasons. I worry that, due to my lacking experience and interaction with other races – not on purpose, mind you, but my background is very similar – it might not translate to an authentic character. But at the same time, while that old adage certainly stands true, I also believe that an avid, active imagination can lead a writer to broaden his or her horizons and capture – indeed, captivate with – experiences that one has not actually lived through. Since the subject I mostly write in – romance – is erotica-adjacent, I especially relate to your desire to give your fiction “soul”. I was just thinking about that the other day when I wrote a blog post sort of defending – or, to some extent – excusing my own chosen genre. But I feel that both romance and erotica are incredibly misunderstood and misrepresented as genres of fiction. So often, badly written examples of both give people the impression that it’s written exclusively by bored, lonely housewives and/or single women with too many cats. And the resulting characters fall flat, so that you just end up with either a boring, predictable love story – and I use the word love rather loosely in this context – or something that reads like bad porn. Without a deeper, more soulful component, it would be impossible to do justice to any fictional character, if you ask me – regardless of color. I find your blog extremely insightful and helpful – keep it coming 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind words! It always feels good to hear other people grappling with the same thoughts, trying to figure it all out. I’ll do my best to keep the good stuff coming! (And, you know, keeping it fun & sexy! That’s my goal. But hey, I’m human too, and sometimes this blog is pure silliness.) Keep up the great writing, yourself – I look forward to catching more of your blog in the future as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love is a universal feeling. So is lust. A poor white woman can feel oppressed. A dark-skinned man can feel the pride of a king. This is true in all times and places, the feelings are the same. How did it feel to be an Irish immigrant woman in America in 1890? How does it feel to be a poor Native American near the Black Hills in South Dakota, knowing that these lands that were once sacred now are a tourist attraction? What does it feel like to be a wealthy woman from India, knowing that many like you suffer in poverty? How does that feel different from being from a poor white neighborhood, getting a scholarship, and making it big on the stock exchange after college?

    I guess I’m not trying to make a point here, just asking a bunch of questions. I cannot pretend to represent the experiences of anyone but myself, and the further outside of myself that I go, the more likely I am to become an ass. Yet I write to experience otherness (and sameness). As an author of erotica, I want to feel things, and many of those things are supposed to take me beyond my boundaries. I wonder if the problem is exactly that we focus on skin color and cultural nuance to define otherness. Because despite that, I see sameness. Inside, I can imagine (or I think I can) the feelings of a homeless man, or a real estate mogul, or a Viking slave girl. Because I know how I would feel in that situation. I might see events through a cultural lens but my feelings about them, I guess we probably all share those.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The “big black cock” fetish IS pretty offensive. It plays on all kinds of stereotypes like penis size and the fantasy of “otherness”. As if a black man is something different from any other kind of man, which reinforces deep divides in our society. Black-on-white erotica especially emphasizes this sense of “otherness”. All of my progressive sensibilities prickle. This fetishizes a history in which a black man having sex with a white woman was so taboo it could cost him his life.

    That being said, black cocks are a big fantasy of mine (pun intended). I know it’s all hogwash, 100% of the blacks-are-bigger stereotype is backed up by no science at all. But there’s something so beautiful about dark skin contrasting with white and pink. My belly feels tight just thinking about it. And while I’m fantasizing, I want him to be big. I mean, why not? Not all of my erotic characters have big cocks, but many are on the larger side, regardless of race. Since I’m the goddess of my imagination, all the guys will be well-endowed. They’re lucky to have me as a benevolent deity. 🙂

    (On a personal note, in reality I prefer average-sized men. Even this gets me sore the next day. But in my fantasies I like big guys. They fill me up, beyond full. Again, the difference between fantasy and reality. Is it possible to write sexy, small-cock erotica? I’ve never thought about it, but I’m guessing it can be done. Maybe I’ll try a short (chuckle) story just for the hell of it.)

    And I also love the idea of a dark-skinned woman making love to a very pale man. I don’t know why I love that, but I do. Also skinny vs. full-bodied. Sometimes I imagine a fat man with a very thick penis having sex with me (and in this fantasy, I’m the very skinny me of my late teens). I don’t know why, but the contrast does it for me.

    I like to think of this in opposition to the ugly stereotypes above. I want all the skin colors and body types to make beautiful music together.

    Liked by 1 person

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