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International Blog Against Racism Week
me in springfield
innie_darling
Hi, everybody!

I will probably fail at saying what I really want to say, but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. I still consider myself new to online-dom, so I don't know much about International Blog Against Racism Week, but I'm seeing quite a few posts related to it, from my own flist and beyond (it's kind of staggering how much more I see on the days I code the newsletter). And while I applaud the spirit behind such weeks and days - taking time to think through what very often goes unnoticed or internalized is never a bad thing - I tend to feel about them like I do about philosophy classes: okay, I get the idea, what do I *do* about it now?

This is not meant to be a slam on the people who are writing beautiful character assessments of their favorite characters of color or the people who are taking the time to analyze history and point out how it still affects the present. It's simply meant to say this is how I'm trying every single day to think about these issues in a fannish context, because that's pretty much all this journal is for. I do think about racism every day in real life, in large part because I am a non-white person, in fact 100% Indian in terms of heritage, though I consider myself completely an American. But if the point of my online space is fannish content, as it seems to be for many of you too, then let's translate IBARW into fannish terms.

So, next time you write a Supernatural story, consider making an OC (a victim of the week, a confidant, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, an armed forces buddy of John's, a cop, a priest, a villain, SOMEBODY) a non-white character. Or write something using one of the non-white characters the show has already given us - Missouri, Cassie, Gordon, Henricksen, the doctors from "Faith" and "In My Time of Dying" who told Sam that Dean was dying, the Native American man from "Bugs" who called Dean a liar, George Darrow from "Crossroad Blues," et al.

I've done this myself a few times, and I can't say that response has suffered for it. I wrote a story from Cassie's POV. I wrote a story that sent the boys into a real town in New Jersey with a significant Indian population and gave them a case with elements of Hindu mythology. Four of the nine girls Sam has his one-night stands with in one of my stories were non-white. And my boy Ben is non-white too. Those were the stories I wanted to tell and these were the characters I wanted to tell them with. It's easier for me to create non-white OCs than white OCs, but that doesn't mean I won't do both, or that I think I shouldn't write the Winchesters just because pretty much nothing in their experience matches up with mine (aside from having a family that is very important to me).

Hopefully that made some kind of sense.

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Where possible I try never to physically describe a character. I prefer to let people's imaginations fill in the blanks.

My worry is that if I create a character from outwith commonly accepted western culture, I'll either get the details wrong or I'll be accused of putting the character in there to pander or patronise people.

That never-describing-a-character is kind of another way to achieve what I'm talking about, which is to have non-white people inhabit the same fictional world as white people, without making a huge production of it. As I said to black_regalia above, I ended up taking out all descriptions of a set of characters in one story because their anonymity was the point, but I still knew who these OCs were.

As for your second point, I concede that it's a valid fear, and one that came up a lot in the course of me getting my degrees/starting out as a professor. A lot of people (white, mostly) felt that they lacked the credentials to teach African-American lit or Asian-American lit, or something like that. But no one would ever tell me (Indian-American) that I am not qualified to teach British poetry. You know? Every time I write a fanfic, I worry that my idea of what lower-middle-class white American boys are like is completely off because I don't have much in common with them. But people are people, so I just bite the bullet and go for it.

I suppose if one takes that view my school should never have included classic Russian novels on it course - and I wish to God it hadn't.

It's not that I haven't written characters of another race or culture, but I do find that have to take extra care to present them as people rather than well-intentioned ciphers. Marianne Jean-Baptiste said once in an interview that she'd always wanted to play a baddie, but no one offered black actors those roles because it wasn't PC.

I do beleive that there isn't anything that can't be researched, but again, I try to keep within commonly accepted western culture whatever background I write for the character. I feel safer that way. I'm quite happy to write non-white characters - though I don't bother describing them unless it's relavent to the story. My OFC in my SPN verse has only ever been described as way smaller then Sam, blue eyes, long dark hair and athletic. I can think of several Bollywood actors with green eyes and two American black actors with blue eyes

When you write a white, middle-class character, you're keeping inside a culture you see around you. I see Americans trying to write a culture they don't knw for say Torchwood or Doctor Who and it's little details that trip them up (We don't use gas kettles! We use electric kettles! We do not have washing machines in the basements of apartment buildings! Every flat will have its own machine in the kitchen!)and I worry about that I write, say a Muslim character from Iran.

There was a point to this reply, but my kid won't stop annoying me and I'm supposed to be packing for a holiday I don't want to go on.

Want a postcard?

Your points make a lot of sense. I do think it's important to allow your non-white characters to be as three-dimensional as the white ones; they should be allowed to be villains too, and I think that will help fend off accusations of pandering or patronage.

You're absolutely right, too, that the descriptors you offer can be read in various ways, and it's interesting to think about that responsibility being placed with the reader rather than the writer.

I see what you're saying, too, about writing a culture that's all around me. That's indisputably true, but I still do feel like an outsider looking in. One reason I'd love to see more non-white characters in fanfic is remembering myself as a small child, reading books in which I could not see myself at all unless I stretched. And there are ways to check if you're getting fanfic, at least, right - betas, communities like little_details, talking to friends, family, acquaintances.

Aww, I hope you have an unexpectedly good time on your holiday! Normally, I'd say yes to a postcard, but since I just spent the last week gathering up old postcards and birthday cards for recycling, I'm scared to start the process all over again.

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