Not too long ago, Jay Lake had a blog entitle Writing the Other that I stumbled across too late into the discussion to add anything valuable. So I decided to blog my response.

One of the first things we are taught as writers is to write what you know. Some writers wouldn’t dare write outside their race/ethnicity and probably shouldn’t. Unfortunately, I’ve read too many horror novels where “white author a” has inserted some black characters into a scene and I was left yelling at the novel “have you ever met a black person?” Which is what the conversation, in my mind, boils down to: creating well rounded characters. Stereotypes are not well rounded characters, they are writing short-hand. Characters who haven’t been fleshed out or researched isn’t good writing. If you are doing your job as a writer, you should be able to get into the heads of any character. If we weren’t capable of doing that, then we’d be left with stories featuring single raced, single sexed individuals, because you could only write your own race and sex. Plus, getting in each other’s skins, walking a mile in “the other’s” shoes, is how we get to know one another.

So race, class, sex, none of these are areas forbidden to us as writers in the characters we create. We just have to be aware that different races, classes, and sexes bring their individual perspectives to the characters. Which shouldn’t be a problem … for good writers.

Stereotypes are the domain of the hacks.

However, why end a blog here when I have all sorts of tangents to go down.

Some of this if fueled by white guilt. I’ve maintained that as we continue into this age of postcolonialism, we still have to deal with the lingering attitudes of both the colonizers as well as the colonized. Under colonialism, cultures were wiped out, the memories of our histories wiped out (and I say “our” realizing that this was something far from unique to the black story). However, I don’t see writing “the other” as some sort of maintaining of a paternal hegemony nor any kind of cultural appropriation.

Think about the general plot of most of the horror stories we read: middle class/blue collar white family suddenly finding an outside force interrupting their lives. If we want to move from telling the same stories over and over again, either writers have to write “the other” or “the other” is going to have to start writing more. I’m good either way, just do your job well. Then again, I see myself as a bit of a folklorist. So no culture is off limits to me as long as I do my research well and write the best stories possible. Of course, for me, “you people” are “the other” and I write you all the time (and no one has asked “have you ever met a white person?” Yet. Now I’m sure I’ll be deluged with those e-mails).

Granted, writing the other has led to some interesting reversals in my writing. Since I am a black writer and I write black characters a lot of the time, I’ve been playing with the idea of assuming the posture of the majority (this is more intellectual exercise than anything else). In the stories I read, white characters don’t announce their whiteness or make note that they were talking to other black characters. Yet, when “an other” enters the scene, race is automatically ascribed. (I know there is a Harlan Ellison quote about this, but I can’t recall it right now). I’d notice a tendency to “announce” the race of my characters in my own stories, something that never came up when my fellow black horror writers were discussing writing black writers. So, assuming the posture of the majority, maybe I should only announce the race of a character when a white person enters the scene.

For that matter, I’m trying to figure out a way to flip the idea of the magical Negro. However, that may not work as well since a white person redeeming the colored masses is practically its own genre. Though, maybe I could establish a recurring “magical redneck” trope. (Relax, I’ll dedicate a whole blog to the idea of the “magical Negro” at a later date.)

A last rabbit trail and I’m done. One of the advantages to being one of “the other” is that a lot of times, my perspective is that of outsider. I don’t worry about it because I see being an outsider as a universal: everyone has felt like an outsider at one point or another. However, I have noticed that when I write stories with exclusively black characters I often get this feedback: I felt like I was being preached at. I think this feeling, besides my tendency to get preachy, comes from the idea of how race is perceived. This comes down to the idea of race in terms of identity politics. White people, for example, don’t think in terms of race. It’s the luxury of the majority, the luxury of privilege, to not have to worry about how race plays into the equation of life. In a black worldview, most things are defined by race. So black characters talking about racism to one another, though germaine to the story, might come across as preachy to a white reader. Yes, these are horrible over-generalizations, but I think you get what I’m saying.

And I’ll allow for the possibility that I may be wrong.