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Identity, Race, Representation, etc.

Last year I lamented any time I was in a writing slump for more than two weeks, which makes it kind of strange that I haven't yet posted about the block I've been having for the past six or seven weeks.  Partly that's just due to the usual: babies, work, sleep deprivation, and so on.  Partly it's due to a severe second-guessing game I'm playing.

When I start a story, my first goal above all else is to write something that I find compelling and worth people's time.  My secondary goal is to make sure that whatever messages or values go with that story are viable and worth spreading, even if I don't have an explicit moral in mind.  My third goal is to pepper in as many not-white-men as possible.

It's that third goal that's been tripping me up lately.  It's the kind of thing that, ten years ago, I would have had no qualms about doing.  "Well, obviously, there needs to be more diversity in literature, and I might as well be part of the solution!  Aren't I a great liberal for thinking this way?"  Nowadays, I basically still feel that way, but I'm so much more aware of the ways in which folks like myself can naively do more damage than help.

Fair and accurate representation of women and minorities is still a huge problem.  When I create characters who are women or people of color, that helps with the "fair" part - but I'm not always so sure about the "accurate" part.

It could just be that I'm overthinking it.  Like, I know the solution isn't, "Oh, this guy needs to talk more black or else he doesn't count."  Stereotypes aren't helpful.  But I'm also pretty sure that I'm not black, so there's gobs and gobs of nuance I'll never be able to capture as a white guy writing a black character.  That shouldn't invalidate the character - it just makes me wonder how appropriate that character is and how much help I'm actually being.

If the worst thing I can do is to continue to demonize or trivialize minorities, then the second worst thing I can do is to condescend to them with bad characters.

It seems the best solution would just be to listen more, so I'm trying harder this year to break out of my comfort zone and look at more blogs / news sites / podcasts created by women and people of color.  So far, it seems like I really am overthinking it.  As simplistic as it is to say "we're all the same" - which is kind of a bullshit way to avoid talking about race - there is a bit of truth to it.  The main message I'm hearing is that people want to be valued for their personality over the stuff they were born with, and that doesn't change anything I've been writing to lately.  Nobody's really coming out and going, "Surprise!  I totally enjoy institutionalized racism and acting like a stereotype!"

I guess at the end of the day what it comes down to is that I want my stories to be liked and I want people to feel respected.  Somehow, that very concept has become taboo in the last few months.  People are treading carefully on very basic principles of humanity and I guess I'm just feeling that blowback.  Hope I snap out of it soon. I hope we all do.