This is something that’s been on my mind for a long time, and because of some things I’ve seen recently, I figured I’d address it (and I really hope I won’t be the only one).
Storytelling is an art form. It’s something a writer creates, sometimes from a single thought that strikes late at night and develops haunting whispered, “What ifs?” until they’re forced to turn those thoughts into stories. Sometimes those stories end up being some of your favorites (and sometimes least). Regardless of how you feel about them, that’s all stories are– worlds created by people with great imaginations.
As a writer, I base my character’s backgrounds on the type of story I’m writing. For me, it just has to make sense. When I set out to write The Player, I knew I wanted to write a story about a European football player. I knew that at some point, this guy would go to New York and fall in love with a girl who wasn’t in his social circle (and never would be if he hadn’t met her and fallen for her). The girl lived in Washington Heights and since I have family in that area, I figured she would be Dominican. I’m Dominican, but I’d never written a Dominican character before this. Why? Because I didn’t feel like it. It’s that simple. I’d written Iranian characters, French characters, white characters from Irish backgrounds, Puerto Rican characters, Cuban characters, African American characters, but never Dominican. After I released that book, I got a few heartfelt emails from Dominican women thanking me for “finally writing a character they could relate to”. Some of them even went as far as asking me to continue writing Dominican characters. I told them I’d consider it.
Like most writers, I write characters that fit my stories, and sometimes Hispanic characters just don’t fit. This is true for all authors, regardless of their background. Sometimes the worlds we create have white people in them. Sometimes they’re black. Sometimes they’re green. Sometimes they’re insects (*ahem* Grasshopper Jungle). It’s not up to the reader to decide what color, race, or background the people in these books should be. That task is up to the author because it’s their creation, not ours.
Not all white people are racist, but some are. Not all black people are racist, but some are. Not all Hispanic people are racist, but some are. I could go on and mention every single race and say the same thing about every single one of them because there are no exceptions. The point is, if an author writes a character that makes racist comments, it does not mean that the author is racist. You can sit there and try to argue it six ways from Sunday and you’d be wrong because YOU did not write the book- they did. There is absolutely no discussion there. If a character happens to be racist and whatever they are doing/saying is gutting you, the author probably did a good job writing them (and whoever raised you did a good job with you).
There is a big difference between reality and fiction, and I cannot stress how important it is to draw that line. It’s something every parent should do when their child comes home asking to buy Call of Duty or whatever other mass shooting game is hot on the market. It’s something we need to do when we’re reading books that we fall in love with, whether they be romance or thrillers. Christian Grey and Jamie Frasier are incredible, but your loving husband is better (most of the time).
There are times when we need to stand up for people, like when we see people rioting a group just because they’re different, or when people are looting places of worship just because they don’t understand their beliefs. Those are things that nobody, regardless of religion, color or background should stand for. Those are real life issues that require real life action. They require us to stay empathetic and help others understand that there is nothing wrong with being different.
On the other hand, there are times, like when a fictional character calls another by a derogatory name when we need to reassess our anger. Yes, the author wrote the line, but they wrote it channeling *that character*. I don’t think Stephen King wants to be kidnapped by a passionate reader. I don’t think Dennis Lehane wants to be locked up in a secluded mental institution. I don’t think James Patterson hides in closets until he can kidnap and kill unsuspecting pretty girls.
I can pretty much guarantee that no author is trying to romanticize or make derogatory comments seem like they should be accepted. I, for one, cringe when I see certain terms used, but if the story is set in the 1920s, I don’t expect whites and blacks and Hispanics to be sitting in a restaurant together and I expect their dialogue to sound realistic.
I’ll finish this long winded blog post by asking you to look at authors the way you look at your favorite actor. Separate the person behind the keyboard from the characters they write. I understand that readers want variety in their books. We want characters from backgrounds we can relate to, and I promise you that there are authors out there who write the types of books you’re looking for, but it is not our job to dictate their stories or their characters. And it is certainly not our job to bash them for writing the ones they write and attack the readers who like certain books. There is an ocean of books out there. Shelve the ones that upset you and go find one you enjoy.