In this article, Cairo Amani brings to light an important topic in writing that has the potential to stir the pot: race (and ethnicity).
Note: The goal of this blog is to discuss issues pertaining to writing from writers of different backgrounds and experience; their opinions are their own. Still, knowing the potential for this topic to be a ‘hot button’ one, Cairo agreed to tone down the original post. Should you want to read the Full-Throttle Version (as I call it), you can find the link at the end of the post.
Breaking the Walls
The Importance of Black Speculative Fiction Authors and the POC characters only they can write
I’m going to start this article with a series of confessions:
I identify as a nerd.
I have never read Lord of the Rings, A Game of Thrones or Harry Potter.
I don’t intend to read them.
I don’t think you have to read LOTR to understand how to write a good Fantasy story.
Why am I making these confessions? There seems to be this idea that those books, among others, embody the essential goodness of the genre. I sincerely love Fantasy and I have no interest in these books. They’re great books and their authors have incredible imaginations. They have definitely opened doors for unexpected heroes, sex and violence among dragons and series that grow with readers. But at the end of the day, no matter how much I respect and admire them as fiction, those books were not written for me.
And, as a little black girl hungry for everything from Pokemon to Xena to Dragonheart, I was always left empty and feeling forgotten. I didn’t understand why Kendra Young’s brief stint on Buffy excited me so much. And later, I didn’t know why The Haitian on Heroes upset me so much.
Black people in Sci-Fi/Fantasy are rare. We are unicorns. And when we do show up, we aren’t often handled well.
I know you can name quite a few, Uhura on Star Trek (who was basically a black secretary), Abe Ellis and Aiden Ford from Stargate Atlantis, Zoe Washburne from Firefly—I’m sure you can name a person for all your fingers and toes. But the number is low—and never will the list of Black protagonists equal the list White protagonists. It just doesn’t happen. And why is that?
White is our ideal. It’s not stated outright but it’s strewn across our media. Light skinned or European models far outnumber POC on billboards, ads and commercials. If you Google Image search “Pretty Women” or “Beautiful Women”, your results are going to yield you women with light skin, light eyes and straight hair. If you see a Black woman, it is going to be Halle Berry. And these women are beautiful, no doubt, but they are dominating the idea of beautiful and the idea of normal.
Anyone in the media has the chance to normalize Black people. And yes, that includes authors.
As I said before, I love Fantasy but I don’t love it because of Elves and Knights and Damsels in Distress. And maybe, when you think about it, neither do you. I love Fantasy for the heroes who overcome incredible odds, for the creatures good and evil, for the weird worlds that people have explored. I love Fantasy because the genre allows for absolutely any outcome and possibility. Anything you can think of can happen in a Fantasy book. Why, then are Black MCs so scarce? Consider this: How deeply would your favorite Fantasy book change if the MC were four shades darker? The answer should be “not at all”.
My last confession is that my Blackness means a lot to me. I held myself responsible for representing Black History Month in my all-white high school, I was an activist on my college campus and even now, as I write, I make it a point to create Black Characters. Even with this being true, however, I don’t think every story with a Black MC has to center around that person’s race. In fact, we would do a better job of normalizing Blackness if that wasn’t the case.
I’m aware some things WILL have to change, because the Black experience is nothing without a little mention of prejudice, injustice or some sort of discomfort caused by race relations in the world. But that injustice doesn’t have to be the main plot point.
No one is going to write a Black MC like Black Authors. That being said, it doesn’t mean Black Authors should be the only people writing Black MCs. If you are nervous about writing a character outside of your race that means you should definitely do it. You might consider someone an “other” and you may not have enough diversity in your life. It’s an opportunity to learn about a new culture, a new experience and isn’t that a huge part of art in general?
If Black Writers don’t write Black Narratives into Speculative Fiction, Black Literature will fall into two categories: Literary Fiction and Hood Fiction. I will admit, I can’t stand “Hood Fiction”. Maybe I despise the truth it brings to light—that we have brothers and sisters whose day jobs revolve around drug dealing, prostitution and dysfunctional relationships. LA Banks managed to combine Urban Fantasy and Hood Lit in a way that wouldn’t infuriate me if someone found the book 200 years from now and tried to use it as a tool to understand today’s “Black Culture”. Yes, the dialogue was littered with unbelievable slang and the MCs were a Spoken Word Poetry group—but the main protagonist was also a Vampire Hunter. La Banks broke down a genre wall.
Octavia Butler’s MC from Fledgling is Shori, an eleven year old Black girl who falls in love with a 20-something White man in segregated US History. But Shori is a Vampire. Suddenly, what was almost Literary Fiction is Science Fiction. The wall is broken.
If Speculative Fiction is about daring to dream up a world where anything can happen, writing Speculative Fiction with Black narratives means you are daring to dream up a world where no one is surprised or disgusted that a book character is Black, because White will no longer be our default race. And now is the time; people are ready to geek out. Fantasy and Sci-fi themed shows dominate the television and these sorts of books are flying off the shelves. Black Authors can help normalize the Black Main Character. But everyone, in every skin is responsible for normalizing Blackness. We need to break down the walls.
To see the Original version of this post click here.
About Cairo Amani
Cai loves moleskin notebooks, considers Scrivener a Godsend, and enjoys meeting new people. She writes Speculative Fiction with QPOC main characters. You can find out more about her here: about.me/cairoamani and check out her blog: thehungrypage.blogspot.com