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International Blog Against Racism Week
me in springfield
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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You know what's weird? I was planning on writing a non-white character for a long time (in the "Freakboy" series), and only just got around to the chapter that introduces him. Soooo, that chapter will probably be posted very soon.

Interesting timing, ne? It wasn't deliberate on my part, just kind of happened that way.

Neat! Meanwhile, I'm struggling mightily with a new white character (Sam's boyfriend in a future-fic) and trying to figure out how I'd research anything about him.

I heartily second this notion!

I was writing in a number of non-white OCs in my current WIP. Then I got, umm, sidetracked by Henricksen. Who has eaten my brain.

Vee pretty consciously populated Six of One with a lot of non-white characters. It's one of the reasons I'm exceedingly fond of the story.


Henricksen is very compelling, isn't he? I'm excited to see what you do with him and all of your OCs and canon characters!

Vee's story was amazing, and I appreciated how she just wove her non-white characters in, didn't fuss over them.

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.

Sometimes I find this kind of weird, though...

I mean, generally, when I'm writing an OC, I don't even mention race. It's kind of odd to go in and specifically say "Susie was black/hispanic/other non-white ethnicity".

I think it's part of that whole "white isn't a race" thing that--...crap >> I can't remember who it was now. Someone who is very articulate was writing about for Blog Against Racism. They were talking about how Caucasians don't really think of themselves as a race -- they see themselves as "raceless", which is obviously untrue. For instance, you never see in a fic "Susie was white".

I remember something interesting with this for "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" the movie, when Ford was cast as a black man. Everyone sort of boggled at it for a moment, and then realized the book never specifies a race for him, and the white readers had always just assumed he was white. Once they thought about it though, it was a non-issue -- clearly it didn't matter what race Ford was.

This is why I kind of get offended when race is included for no particular reason. Sometimes it's necessary -- I remember describing a character as 'pasty', obviously implying a race. There was this gorgeous older woman I saw walking along the road the other day, who was far older than me, but just struck me as the type of woman I'd completely fall in love with if I were her age, and one of the things that was so beautiful about her was the contrast of the dark dark brown of her skin against the silver grey of her hair. In that anecdote, the mention of race is necessary, because it was part of how completely striking she was.

But sometimes a friend of mine will be telling a story about something happening at work(or wherever really), and start with "This black woman came up to the desk and _____" -- and the rest of the story has nothing to do with race at all. All I can do is sit there and think "Why did you mention she was black? Why was that necessary? If it'd been someone who was white, you would have just said 'this woman walked up to the desk', not 'this white woman walked up to the desk' "

So, for instance, let's stay that "Route 666" never happened, and instead of being an episode, it was a fanfic. It would be important to the story to mention that the victims were black, and that Cassie is biracial, because it's integral to the plot of the story.

Let's say, now, that "Hookman" never happened, and instead of being an episode, it was a fanfic. And in it, Lori and her family are hispanic. Why mention that they're hispanic? Would automatically change anything that happens in the plot?

Sometimes I feel like mentioning race, just for the sake of mentioning it, is kind of offensive in and of itself. It implies that characters are white by default, and only a different race if specifically mentioned. It also implies that when someone isn't white, their race is worth mentioning, meaning that they are, in some way, defined by their race, as opposed to being defined as a singular individual.

This is very long >> I figure one of the things about Blog About Racism Week is starting discussions and talking about the racism inherent in our culture! And lord knows, I can't resist a discussion X)

Oh, I completely agree. I was actually going to include this in the post itself, but figured it would just make the post more confusing.

One of the most disconcerting things a story can do is to make a big production of non-white characters' non-whiteness. Like, if you're going to describe Jo as "blonde," don't assume the parallel is to describe Gordon as "black," you know? I think there are two issues at work here, really: (1) violation of POV and (2) making race a primary descriptor.

By (2) I mean the insistence on race as enough of a description, as if "black" or "Asian" or whatever is sufficient to describe a character, even though "white" would never function that way - we'd get a long description of eye color, hair color and length, etc.

And by (1) I mean the kind of POV violation that results in lines like, "I opened my big blue eyes and brushed my auburn hair away from my face." NO ONE thinks of her/himself in these terms. Figure out other ways to get this information across.

And it won't always be obvious when you are creating a non-white character. In an earlier draft of "Sunshine State," Sam's sex partners all had names and I'd thought up little bios for each of them. But I decided later that it was more important to the story to have them be as anonymous as possible, so I removed all of that information. *I* know that four of them were non-white, but nobody reading the story can tell. The point is not to parade non-white characters around, but rather to have them appear without it being a big deal, you know?

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.

Hey - I completely missed this whole debate. In part I am relieved about that because, well, my journal is for fannish things and I try and avoid the more political debates.

However I am pleased you brought this up from a fannish perspective. I would like SN itself to have more non white characters (especially as two of the main non white males are AGAINST our boys - we need more Missouri etc to balance it out) but as you say, we have quite a few to work with!

I think the fear of writing something from a POV that is not your own is something that holds a lot of people back. However, I have given a pretty good stab at writing from a blind person's POV (I like to think) and I am not blind, so I should give more thought to the race of the 'extras' in my fic (I am such a 'works in tv' person I always term them 'extras' in my head, because OFC/OMC doesn't always work for me. But anyway).

Thanks hon - this was interesting - and I hope we will get to talk about it in person sometime!

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