I’ve always written white characters because that’s what I was so used to seeing for myself. So, that was like the rule! I remember with the 3rd book in the Eternity Series, I put an Indian man in there and a black man and I felt good for doing it. But what did it matter when all the important characters were white?
But then, I admit, you worry about how to do it as a writer, too. Is this racist? Stereotypical? Inaccurate? Just plain weird? How can I write black or Asian characters without getting it wrong? It feels like a lot of pressure. This year, all my books have featured non-white characters as the main cast, but I have found myself being very careful with how I do it.
Only recently did I read a book with a black main character. This was The Hate U Give and then The Children of Blood and Bone. These books were written by two amazing black authors, and they finally opened my eyes to the fact that yes, a book can be amazing and have a black lead.
How sad is that? That I’m only just realising this.
I noticed maybe last year, or the year before, that only black or Asian characters have their skin colour or ethnicity described in books – because it’s not the norm in literature. A character is presumed to be white, but if they’re not, then their skin is described as dark or their hair is dreadlocked or they are “of Jamaican decent” (etc.). Isn’t this sad, too?
And I don’t even know much about my own history. It wasn’t taught in school. They taught us about the second world war about a million times, but not black history. It’s taboo, I suppose. Too difficult to discuss?
But why? It’s real. It hurt and it shaped our world just as much as the war – well, more so, because slavery lasted longer, so did the aftermath; heck, there are still some openly racist places out there.
We can’t just blame the education system, though. They may not have taught us, but what about our own curiosity? Our own ability to learn about black history? Do we young black people discuss our history enough? Or at all? Do we know the names of the giants who made our world a better place to live for black people? Are black parents teaching their black children about their heritage?
Not nearly enough…
How can we do better?
Ask questions; be curious! It’s good and encouraged that you ask questions about black history and black lives. Instead of getting upset or angry if a black person says “that was racist” or “that was wrong“, why not just ask them what was wrong with what was said or why it offended them. UNDERSTANDING! Ignorance is not your friend.
Black people: hating white people does not fix your pain; it does not correct the injustices; it does not fix our world. You can’t meet hate with hate.
Read, watch, search, ask – learn about the history that you’re so scared to learn about (whether you are white, black, Asian, or other). Black history is all of our histories.
Don’t assume you know anything about someone just because of their skin colour. This is 2018 and it’s time to wake the f*ck up. Skin colour, country, religion, or accents doesn’t mean anything at all. Simple. Done. End of discussion.
Educators: don’t just share one history or one side. If you are an influencer, educator, or parent, ensure that people know the history of black people. Make sure you know it, too. Speak about the amazing men and women “of colour” who have helped make the world a better place for black people.
“Positive stereotypes” can be just as harmful. Not all black people are: fast, like chicken, can cook well with spices, have skin or hair that you can touch, are strong, have big penises, are good at arguing, use cocoa butter, or any other that you can think of. Get rid of any preconceived notions right now.
Black is beautiful. Whoever said a black girl/woman or boy/man or other cannot be beautiful? I grew up feeling ugly compared to my white, blue-eyed, blonde-haired friends – but I was just as beautiful. Wherever these notions about black being less-than came from, I don’t know, but it needs to be abolished. Now.
The same goes for black being dumb. Bringing it back to Tomi Adeyemi as an example, she is the author of a New York Times Best Seller (Children of Blood and Bone), which will be made into a film, and she attended Harvard University. As if I even need to give an example, but she is a brilliant one among many. Black is beautiful, and so are their minds.
Creators of the world: put black people into your narratives. Heck, put Asians in there too! But do it right. Black people aren’t the funny, loud friend character; or the poor person; or the sassy angry girl.
They’re doctors, authors, artists, travellers, architects, entrepreneurs, fashion designers, directors, actors, accountants, teachers; pretty girls, smart girls, smart boys, pretty boys, popular boys, geeky boys, geeky girls, gay girls, gay boys, and so much more.
If you want to write an accurate narrative within our world, then you need these characters because open your eyes, black people are all of these things and more in our world.
I want it to be known that I recognise my ignorance. I am ashamed of myself for not knowing enough. I have “black history” listed on my list of topics to research. I have some books (but not enough). And I’m lucky to have my grandparents (who came over to the UK from Jamaica) with whom I can discuss this topic, too.
And I shall.
In this day and age, there is no excuse for ignorance.
So, what will you do?