Lisa Yee (lisayee) wrote,
Lisa Yee

A Rambling Rant on Race and Writing

It started with THIS. A call to the public to post why we need diverse books. So I did this and posted it on Twitter and Facebook . . .

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Then some of my Facebook friends asked me a question. And I posted that, too.

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I was heartened to see how passionately people felt about this subject, and how many shared their thoughts. And now, here are mine . . .

As one of my editors, Cheryl Klein, noted in the Facebook comments, I have written outside my race multiple times in my novels Absolutely Maybe, Warp Speed, and others. Hell, I have written outside my religion, my sex, my sexual orientation, my political beliefs, my geographical upbringing, my height. Why? Because I am an artist, not a autobiographist (is that a word?).

I am not an Asian author. I am an author who is Asian. There is a difference.

I believe that it is every artist's right to determine what they create and not have that dictated to them. I've heard that I've let readers down because my books were not "Asian enough." WTF? One critic wrote that I had missed the mark because my middle school characters did not discuss race. Um. No.

Being Asian doesn't make you an expert on all things Asian, any more than researching does. I've written three books for American Girl featuring Asian Americans. Each time, we also consulted with experts on things like Chinese school (because even though I am Chinese, I never went to one).

You have to get it right -- whether you are writing about your race or someone else's. This also goes for religion, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ownership of particular breed of dog, everything. There is nothing more insulting to a reader than if a writer gets things wrong. You will instantly lose your credibility, and your readers will abandon you, and some people will think you are stupid.

It is arrogant to think that just because you sympathize with someone or something, that makes you an expert.

Don't automatically assume you know exactly how someone else feels. Because you don't, any more than I would know exactly how a LGBTQ kid or a Holocaust survivor feels.

Do not presume -- but do dare to imagine.

And then talk to people. Talk to people who know more than you do about your subject. Talk to them in person. On the phone. Through emails and letters. Googling is not enough.

As for needing/wanting more authors who are POC (and by the way, I hate that phrase - People of Color, but I suppose it's not as bad as what it really means -- PWANW a.k.a. People Who Are Not White) yes. Yes, we need them. Yes.

Why? Because there is an innate knowledge that one can gain from experience, from living a life one writes about. But more than that, look at this. Look at this again. And again. This upsets me . . .

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When I was growing up, there were no Asian American authors I knew of. I had no role models. There were no books about people like me, a third generation Chinese American girl growing up in the suburbs. The most famous Asian American I knew of was Connie Chung, and she wasn't a writer. So, yes, we do need more POC authors, and more LGBTQ authors, and more diverse authors.

That's not to say that one cannot write outside their race/ethnicity, but it is to say that the numbers of POC authors are dismal. We need to encourage publishers, book buyers, readers, to be less exclusive and more inclusive.

Phew. This has been a long rambling rant, and I've probably contradicted myself several times over. If so, it's because I am still trying to figure things out.

So, can a person write outside their race/ethnicity?


Do we need more POC authors?


And I done with my rant about race and writing?

Yes. For now.


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