Along with three other talented authors, Amy T Matthews, Renee Dahlia and Nicole Hurley-Moore, I recently had the honour and pleasure of sitting on a panel at the Romance Writers of Australia’s annual conference.
The topic of discussion on the panel centred around the issues surrounding diversity in romance specifically, and the wider media and entertainment landscape generally.
The genesis of the idea of the panel was a number of hotly debated posts within the RWA member’s Facebook group in 2018. Without going into detail about specifically what was said and by whom, suffice to say that I was left demoralised and disappointed about many of the opinions expressed, and just how far conversations around diversity and representation have to go.
Hurt, misconceptions, and accusations abounded, so it seemed like a good time to bring the issue to the fore in a wider forum. We were granted a one plenary slot at the #RWAus19 conference, and away we went.
With Amy acting as ‘host’ and facilitator, the remaining three panel members spoke to different aspects of the diversity debate. As the other panelists have shared their inputs – Renee’s here, and Nicole’s here, I’ll share just mine.
I don’t care what people write. I honestly don’t. I’m happy for white writers to only write white characters if that’s what they feel comfortable doing. Better that than books crammed full of tokenism and/or stereotypes.
We write for pleasure (I assume). Writing is a career choice we’ve made because we enjoy it, rather than simply paying the bills. That being the case, writing should be fun. Shoe-horning ethnic characters into writing as a box-ticking exercise isn’t fun. Tokenism isn’t fun. Writing full of stereotypes isn’t fun.
On the flip side, if you’re not a person of colour, but you have a burning desire or need to write ethnically diverse characters, I’m not here to tell you not to.
However, I am here to tell you two things:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on that basis, necessarily saying that’s a reason not to do it. What am I saying then? I’m saying that if you’re going to enter the fray under these circumstances, you need to do so with your eyes open.
I’m saying that as an a white author, writing ethnically diverse characters, you’re coming from a place of privilege – white privilege to be exact.
What does that mean? It means that it will be incredibly difficult to capture the hearts and minds of your characters when you’ve never come close to seeing the world through their lens.
If you’re interested in reading more about white privilege, I urge you to check out “My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest” by Lori Lakin Hutcherson. And as you read, just know that these examples are the tip of the iceberg of one person’s life. Just know that most PoCs will have reams of stories similar to these. So much so that most of us forget more than we remember.
The big thing to note here about the P word is that it isn’t an insult or an accusation of racism, but a fact. As a white person you’re born with it. It’s like a gift with purchase where if you buy a product you get something else free. In this case you bought nothing but were handed the gift of privilege at birth.
Back to the fateful Facebook post that sparked the idea for this panel in the first place. One of the things it dramatised for me was how dreadfully out of touch many people are with what it’s like to wake up every day and not be white in a country that favours being white.
And therefore, how unlikely it is for most people in this room to even come close to being able to accurately represent people from backgrounds other than their own. There are so many nuances to our PoC experiences that wouldn’t even occur to you, that the likelihood of making an accidental though well meaning faux pas, as extremely high.
Like what? Find out exactly what in Part II.