Today we have a guest post from Sarah Toussaint, author of books such as Freeing the Beast and My Secret Lover. I wanted to invite her to talk about a big issue in the writing community; diversity in literature.
Obviously, diversity in books is important. No matter what type of books you write or what type of writer you are, this just can’t be denied. But despite this, some writers will not even try and most of the excuses they come up with for not writing POCs and non-straight characters in their books are feeble at best, and we can all see through them.
Look, I get it, that for some, writing about different races or cultures can be intimidating. But so is writing about other things. For example, the first time I, myself wrote a fantasy short, I was so nervous about it. I had never written about dragons before or other types of fantasy races and animals.
But I did my research; I read a bunch of fantasy books and made myself familiar with the different styles from a diverse group of authors.
Another common excuse I hear from writers who refused to include POCs in their books is “backlash.”
But the thing is, you will always receive backlash, no matter what you do or write about. Not everyone is going to like your work. That is a hundred percent true. You will ALWAYS find someone who either hates or dislikes what you do. So, using this as an excuse makes absolutely no sense. If every author worried about the backlash in order to or not to include something in their work, no one would write a single book, no one would take a single bound.
I’m an avid reader of Romance. I have to be, not only because I love it but also because it is the genre I mostly write. I realized a while ago, that I’m really fucking tired of reading about the same straight, white, blonde girl falling in love with the same straight, white and tall hero.
I have legit grown to a point where I’ve become nearly desensitized to Romance now, easily my favorite genre, because of the same type of characters I’ve read over and over again in it.
Writers need to step up their game and write different people in these books.
It’s always the generic white girl with the generic white alpha-male hero with the giant cock.
I don’t enjoy it anymore.
I expressed this exact feeling in a romance book-centric Facebook group and some authors commented that they don’t know how to write non-white characters.
So, that’s why they don’t…
I followed with,
“I don’t understand why authors say they don’t feel comfortable writing about characters of other races…
Just write the characters…
They are like any other character, except with a different skin color
I hear this “afraid to offend” thing a lot from writers.
When you really take the time to think about that excuse, you’re like, “huh? if writers are afraid to offend, how do they write anything AT ALL?”
It’s not a good excuse. Obviously.
You don’t need to do much not to offend people or to offend people. You will offend some people whether you try not to or not.
But there are some things writers who DO write POCs in their books and you can tell how they’re doing it wrong on every level.
They tend to equate a POC character’s race as a personality trait, or an abundant stereotype because of their race. It’s obvious they’re writing that character in just for the diversity, and that’s not what anyone wants, especially real life POC’s.
Look. We don’t want books to mention race. I cringe when books do so. And for some reason, those books who mention race, the main characters are NOT white and they are written by white authors.
Because generally, in real life, when people fall in love or go on adventures or whatever, race nearly NEVER plays a factor.
It’s so fucking messed up that these authors think that if there is an interracial relationship, race will play such a big role in it and that it’s all they will talk about and what their lives with revolve around.
When these writers write their white heroines, they don’t go,
“she is FULL FLESH CAUCASIAN, like VANILLA ICE CREAM, with long black hair and wide blue eyes just like CAUCASIANS.”
The author will most likely write this:
“She has soft, pale skin, long black hair, and wide blue eyes.”
See? Simple. Just to give you a visual of the person you’re reading about.
So why can’t the author do the same for the black, Asian or Hispanic characters lol?
Me? If my character is not white and I’m writing a description of her/his looks, I just describe it like I see it in my head.
This is me writing a vague description of a black heroine:
“She has soft brown skin, long brown hair, and wide hazel eyes.”
But this author over here writing for the same heroine is like:
“Beautiful BLACK GIRL! Has chocolate creamy skin LIKE MILKY CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM AND COFFEE TO SHOW HER HERITAGE!!!! Long black DREADS TO SHOW HER HERITAGE AND WIDE HAZEL EYES TO SHOW HER HERITAGE!!!!!! Oh and she’s BLACK AND THIS IS ALL THIS STORY IS GOING TO BE ABOUT BECAUSE HER IDENTITY IS BASED ALL ON HER SKIN COLOR!!!!!!”
Like, um, what…?
I can literally feel how uncomfortable the author felt writing these words.
For example. I was reading this contemporary romance book with an interracial couple in it.
I have stopped reading those for a while. I always get so uncomfortable because I can always feel the exact moment when the writer is OBVIOUSLY trying too much as they’re writing about the POC character…
It’s like they don’t see POC every day in the grocery stores, or the sports games or the fucking clubs they go to. Everywhere!
I can always feel it.
I really liked this book I was reading, and it was going so very well, but I knew a part was coming, where it was going to get ruined for me.
And it did.
The hero is smitten by the heroine.
Never met someone as amazing as her.
The fucking usual…
And just like every heroine in contemporary romances, she is smitten as well, but insecure about what he thinks.
And this is the point in the book where if it was a white heroine, she would just speak her insecurities for the first time to the hero and he will discourage her doubts, right? And they will kiss and marry and live and bang forever.
And the white heroine’s insecurity is never about her race, right? It will probably be something cliched… Like a physical scar,
or her dark past, or a secret she’s been hiding from him…
But in this book, ladies, and gentlemen,
The black heroine,
Guess what it was…
I’ll give you a minute…
Just one more…
Wait, you ready?
IT WAS HER RACE!
This author literally made the heroine worry that the hero was not gonna like her because she was black!😭
Up until that scene, the book had not even hinted at any of this issue before from the heroine. The story wasn’t even close to being about race.
Let me try and paraphrase the scene cause I can’t remember the exact quotes in the book:
“I just, I mean, I’m not… I’m black. And I just…”
“No! I would love you even if you were purple green or blue. Don’t worry, my love.”
Like WHAT THE FUCK!
I cringed so HARD, my teeth exploded!
The story’s main conflict wasn’t even about race…
IT CAME OUT OF Nowhere!
Like, I would have understood if the book took place in the fucking fifties or earlier and the main plot revolved around the fact that the world wasn’t “accepting” of their relationship because of their different races.
But this fucking story was a stupid contemporary romance, the setting is fucking LA and the main conflict was some bitchy ex who kept sabotaging their love…
It was just as generic as any other contemporary romance out there with white heroines!
Like, I can’t anymore. I can’t….
So. Please, please, please!
I am begging y’all, non-POC writers out there.
Write POC characters with the same standard that you write non-POC characters!
You know why you can and should do it?
Because I’M not white and if you were to read a book of mine with a white heroine in it, you wouldn’t know I wasn’t white.
You know why I can?
Because I live in a world where white people exist.
You live in a world where POC exist… So trust me, if you just don’t define the character you write by his/her race, except if the specific plot calls for it, you’ll write a perfect POC character.
That’s basically all it takes to write a POC character.
It’s not that special…
Establish the story like you would if it was a white main character…
That’s literally it.
And if you’re worried about writing about the POC’s family or background and you worry that you are not familiar with the experience of black families or Hispanic families etc…
I see y’all American authors over here writing about the Irish experience.
Your Irish heroes are on POINT!
Because you did your research about Irish culture.
So what’s so difficult about writing about a Chinese heroine who grew up with a Chinese family or have a Chinese background.
Same for a Dominican heroine or an African heroine.
Like seriously, people.
Y’all are over here writing about a white British hero worth falling in love with, but you can’t write about an African-American hero, when your president was literally an African-American man?
(Shout out to Barrack!!!!)
Most of you have never even been to England but you’ve managed to master the British lingo for your heroine to have a white British guy to swoon over…
But I bet your neighbor is an American black man. lol
I see you people writing your white Scottish heroes, minus the skirt,
(if you don’t count Outlander….shout out to Jamie Fraiser!!!! Woot Woot!!)
As if you once lived the Scottish life and had that first-hand experience with Scott people lol.
Don’t pretend now that you can’t write about people that may as well live in your own freaking backyard, cause they’re so close.
Now, I’m ready for the hate mails.”
Sarah is a Radish Fiction writer of romance, contemporary and YA books, and also the co-founder of Stylos Authors.