I intend for this to be a short post, so I won't ramble off like I usually do.
Ever since the casting decision for The Hunger Games was released, fans of the series have been questioning the racial identity of Katniss Everdeen.
Some say she's bi-racial, others say she's Caucasian, and some just don't care.
Does it matter? Yes, I think it does. Race is important. America wouldn't exist as it does today if race wasn't important. People that brush the casting decision off as being no big deal get on my nerves.
And I'm rambling so I'll get back to the point.
Race is a delicate issue. How people write characters of other races is very important. Unless specified, most readers will assume that your characters are white.
Just a few days ago, a beta reader read over my story and assumed that a character was white up until the point that I said they were black. They told me to mention my character's race earlier in the novel. Did this bother me? No. I know that people make assumptions. But see, they're just that: assumptions.
(Actually the character in question is half black, half white but that's neither here nor there. Is mulatto an offensive term to use? Can someone please tell me?)
I never focus on eye color or skin color because I hate writing character descriptions. However, I don't want my readers to assume that all of my characters are the "default" race because I don't say otherwise. You can say that it isn't important, but to me, it's very important.
I could go off on a tangent and describe my childhood reading experiences as a black kid reading mostly about white kids but that would bore you. So instead, I'll leave it at this.
Don't write about race in a heavy handed way. Don't beat me over the head that a character is black or Hispanic or Asian because they talk a certain way. In fact, Hispanic isn't even a race, but that's for another time.
Just write a character. And if you can, tell me that they aren't white. Let me believe that characters of other races exist outside of the stereotypes presented in House of Night and Glee. It isn't that hard to write a non-white character.
I discussed Toni Morrision and Alice Walker a few days ago with someone on GoodReads. We both agreed that Toni Morrision is the superior writer. I'll show you why.
Read this story. Now read this story.
Toni Morrison writes a story that revolves around race without ever mentioning the characters' races. Pretty brilliant right? Alice Walker hits you over the head with racial stereotypes to prove a point that I don't quite agree with.
I know that the majority of authors are white. But that's no excuse for writing tokens or simply choosing to ignore more than 25% of America. We exist and we read your books.
Racial ambiguity is only an excuse. Don't use it. You don't have to be afraid of writing a non-white character. I've seen too many comments from white authors saying that they don't write non-white characters because they don't know how. Really?
I've written many characters that aren't black. In fact, I've written for just about every major racial group.
Try writing a character first. Then write race second. But don't ignore it because it does exist and it does matter.