We Have to Better About Writing the Other

 I’ve had some writers who say to me ‘I’m white, I grew up in (insert location here), I know nothing about other cultures/races/societies, I’m not as ‘lucky’ as you are to have experienced these other things.’

For this I’d like to refer them to this artice by Nisi Shawl: Transracial Writing for The Sincere. I personally have never experienced living in China, or Japan, but that would hardly stop me from writing a story either set there, or with characters from there. It takes honest research, and tons of it. Truthfully it’s probably easier to do a story based on stuff I know and have experienced, but I’m into stretching myself as an individual and as a writer, so I regard the world as my oyster.

So can anyone else, I believe.

The other odd objection I’ve heard a few times from some authors, but not responded to, is market doesn’t like it. They’ve tried to write a story, or a novel, and it either hasn’t sold or once out gotten dim reviews or low sales. Therefore, non-white characters have no market.
I’m a bit dubious of this claim. It floats around Hollywood too, so here is my reply:

Notice that Nisi doesn’t just call it transracial writing, but transracial writing for the sincere. Just tossing in an obligatory black men on a space ship in a story because it’s February isn’t sincere transracial writing. I think readers sniff insincerity a mile away. Besides, if you’re making a character who’s of a different race out of mere obligation, can that author really be putting their all into the work? I think a project like that would be tainted. And the righteous outrage afterwards is just annoying as a some wannabe’s outrage at their stunning work not selling. It’s a conspiracy, they howl.

Ok, maybe it’s true, and maybe it’s going to take work of extra calibre to get people to sit up and take notice of a black SF character for it to sell. But how sincere can someone be if they just throw up their hands? How far can any social cause, or even personal cause, get if someone gives up that easily? Do we give up the first time our story gets rejected? So why in this case? How sincere is someone at transracial writing if they do give up this easily?

Besides, we’re spec fic writers, correct? How in the world can we expect to create and explore ‘alien’ societies, mind-shattering experiences, new thoughts, looks to the possible future, if we can’t even begin to try for an honest, sincere attempt at transracial writing?

Just some thoughts. Just some challenges.

Addendum. The potential writer should at least consider reading Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl.