Writing POC…and being white

writing POC and being whiteOkay, I hope I’m not stepping into a landmine.  I debated on whether or not I should even post this and it boiled down to this.

I wanted to. If I didn’t, it was because I was being a chickenshit.

And I don’t do chicken.

There was a blogpost the other day. I saw it on twitter. I’m not linking to it.  It’s a version of one we’ve probably all seen before…

White author asking…I’ve got this idea…POC heroine, how can I write her story and do her justice…fill in the blank.

FYI, this post is not about me trying to fill that quota of ‘writing diverse romance’ or ‘trying to write more diversely’.

I do not want to take any shine from authors of color…there are great ones out there and they don’t enough shine as it is. Check out a couple of my personal favorites, Farrah Rochon & Phyllis Bourne.

This is about white authors and writing POC. Because frankly, unless you want to whitewash your entire world, I think POC belong in the books we read.

I’ve written any number of books with POC and I’ve been doing this almost from the beginning.  I think my first really big character was Leandra, a black woman who I introduced in my Hunters series…inspired by Kendra, the vampire slayer, because she was awesome, thank you.  That was why I created Leandra–I loved this bad-ass vampire slayer and I wanted to write somebody like her.

Then there was The Missing.  One of my most popular books, even now.  The heroine was biracial, half-black, half white, grew up in the south and fell in love with a rich white boy.  Were they driven apart because his rich white parents didn’t like her blackness?

No.  They were driven apart because of her psychic abilities…see, Taige was psychic.  They fell in love as teens. It was a summer love sort of thing.  When Cullen was about 19…ish? Going by memory, his mother was murdered. And he blamed Taige, because he knew about her abilities. In his grief, he needed somebody to blame, and he thought she should have been able to save his mom.  Was he right to do that? Of course not.  But do things like this happen? Yes.  In grief, we lash out at those we love all the time. And Taige blamed herself as well.  They split up and it took them years to find each other again.

Then there was the follow-up book to that.  Black heroine, white hero.  The hero was an ass. Heroine loved him anyway.  He pushed her away because he saw that love and he didn’t think he deserved it–and he was probably right…again, he was an ass. I tell everybody that was the asshole’s book. It’s called The Departed.

Then The Protected.  The heroine is black.  The hero is Latino.  I emailed, long hard and often with a friend to get some serious Spanish cussing in that one, let me tell you. What drove them apart? Hero was an ass.  (See a theme here?)

Then there was Busted…one of my more recent books.  Heroine is black. Hero is white. Both are raising kids.  Color isn’t what comes into play here.  Is the heroine’s color part of her? Of course it. There is even a part where her aunt sort of tears into her…

“But . . .”

Angeline “No buts. I’m not saying it will be easy. You probably already have some challenges. Shoot, we still don’t live in a world where a black woman can marry a white man without people giving us the side eye. That’s one hurdle you’ll have to handle already. That he’s a public figure . . . that makes another one. But if you care for him, and he cares for you, those are just details.”

Just details . . .

“You make it sound so simple,” she said, her heart twisting.

What was driving them apart? It was doubts the heroine had. Not about their races, mind you…yes, she’s aware that race will be an issue for others, but her problem is one that comes from her past and whether or not he can get over it.

These are just a few of them.  I’ve got others.  I’m at the point to where I can’t even keep track of all my books. But there’s IF YOU KNOW HER and the love interest in my UF series, Damon, he’s half black, half…well (I’m not filling that blank in yet.)  Her best friend, Justin is about a quarter black, and 125% trouble, btw.

Is the character’s race important to them as I write the book? Absolutely.  I wanted to be as true to the character as I can and make them as real as I can.  I can’t be black, I won’t pretend to be, but I want to learn as much cultural information as I can when I’m writing.  When i first started out, I talked to my sister-in-law a lot.  She’s black.  I asked her if she’d mind if I asked her some things that would help me make the character more authentic–without trying to make this into a black woman’s journey. Again, I can’t write that. But I can write about a woman falling in love.  However, this is a woman who is black (or half black, depending on the book.)

There are things a lot of white women aren’t going to consider…a black woman doesn’t wash her hair as often as most white people. I say most, because if you’re curly-haired, like me, maybe you only wash a few times a week.  If your character has dreads, plaits, etc, there’s care that goes into them.  Hair is important to a black woman (and the guys), and i wanted to respect this.

Just like when I was writing the book with a Latino, I wanted to make sure I understood other cultural things. Some of the language, how this man might feel when he was put into the circumstance he was put into.

So…carrying on…how do I, being a white woman, write about black women or Latino women?  Why do I write characters of color?

I can’t write about a black woman’s experience. I can’t write about a Latino woman’s experience. I am white.  I have white privilege and I know this.

But I can write about a woman’s experience. I can write about falling in love. I can write about the struggle a couple faces, the ups and the downs. I can write about the fear a man might feel if the kid he’s been charged to protect is suddenly thrust into danger.

These are human emotions.

Not every I/R book has to have the I/R angst you see in so many of them…and I know this is factual because this is one thing I can write about with experience.  See, I’m involved with a guy. He’s not white.  How often has this fact caused angst in our relationship?


Yep.  We’ve been together for twenty-five years and the two of us have never had any sort of ground-shaking, earth-shattering dilemma about the fact that we don’t have the same skin color. I don’t think he fell in love with me because of my ivory white skin–okay, I do tend to redden easily.  And I didn’t fall in love with him because of his wicked, savagely savage Native American ruggedness.

We fell in love with each other for who we were–and we love each other for we are.

These are emotions.

I can write about emotions, because that’s what a romance writer does.

We write about that experience and if we don’t write people of color into our stories, then we’re whitewashing the world we’re creating.  The world I live in doesn’t have all white people.

I want the worlds I write to reflect the world I live in. Only better sometimes, with happy endings for everybody but the bad guys.

And that means I’m not going to write just white people. Because my readers aren’t just white.  And here’s one of the reasons why I think it’s the right thing to do…

This is a copy of a reader email-just the text, sans name, etc, because I’m respected her privacy.

Hey, I read BUSTED and I LOVED seeing a black woman as the main character. Thanks so much…it’s awesome getting to read books with characters that look more like me.

This is far from the first time I’ve gotten an email like this.

If an author thinks the road to take is not writing any POC in her books, then that’s up to her.  But the world isn’t white.  Too many things cater solely to whites and too many things are done to make whites more comfortable.

Too much romance is already hugely white as it is and considering how multi-cultural the reader and authorship is, that’s BS.

If you’re doing it wrong now…be brave enough to figure out what you did wrong, and learn from it. Avoidance isn’t learning.

So…there’s my two cents.

One Reply to “Writing POC…and being white”

  1. Thanks for a very interesting post. I have to admit that I’m rarely aware of skin colour when I read – I either love the main characters or I don’t based on personality traits (he’s an ass) and dialogue. It’s noticeable when something feels forced or wrong about the character, or their colour is being pushed in your face. If the difference between then is highlighted in an obvious way, I feel more aware of it.

    If however the author mentions that the skin is like bronze, or cafe au lait, or dark as ebony glowing in the moonlight / candlelight, you know they’re not white, but if the descriptions are good it just makes me want to touch (slight blush here). In my mind romance is romance no matter the colour of skin, and if the author is skillful enough to write a good compelling story (which you are) it’s not, and shouldn’t be, an issue.

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