Happy start to Black History Month!
Note: I would like to note that all content expressed in this post comes from a matter of personal experience living in the United States, I don’t mean to offend any cultures and if I do, feel free to call me out in the comments since it’s crucial for one to be mindful of everyone’s experiences. This isn’t a white-hate post and I respect all backgrounds.
Ah yes, an opinion right from the source…
If you would ask me this question a couple years ago, I would have been like “hey who cares, it’s fiction anyways!”
Now, I’m not so sure if that statement can justify white authors writing about black protagonists (POC in general but I’m using black people as an example since I’m black). I still sort of believe that white authors can write about who they want, but I think they have to put in a lot more effort and research since it’s a different culture who has faced oppression and still is today. They would have to do it right, something I feel can be complicated.
I read a book years ago (I’m totally blanking on the name it was like freshman year of high school, you’re the real MVP if you know what book I’m talking about) that a white woman wrote. It features a black female protagonist and a white love interest. This romance made me extremely uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable because not that they are an interracial couple but the fact how they got together. It was a love/hate relationship but instead of cute flirtatious teasing, the boy was pretty racist. He would make comments about her skin color and he didn’t defend her when his friends were making harsh remarks because she was black. Yet, love wins and they develop feelings for each other and all her problems are solved.
I was like no no no! This seemed weird and wrong to me. I don’t get how someone can just ignore the fact that they are racist. The whole, “love can change someone” is bullshit to me. As a black woman, I don’t think I can personally easily forgive something like that. Honestly, now the book seemed like the classic “The white saves the black” / “The blind side” situations. When the couple get together, no one talked shit about her or her skin color.
Flash-forward to now. More book reviewers are now dedicating their reading to #ownvoices. I wonder if a black author would have wrote that book. Would she/he would have used racism as “love” devise. Or would he/she have taken a different approach at a very sensitive topic and would have been more credible since he/she would have most likely faced racism in their lives?
I was reading what from a white author’s point of view, who thought that this is a healthy interracial relationship looks like (well in my opinion and who is coming from a family full of interracial marriages, this isn’t healthy).
This has made me hesitant to read from white authors who have POC protagonists (black specifically). It has put me off from reading The Help and Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves –which sounds similar to the book I read years ago.
I know there’s arguments on how a authors should “look past the race” and be “color blind” but I feel that’s silly. It’s denying the oppression POC has faced, denying their experiences and assimilating to popular culture. I really hate the colorblind excuse.
I would also like to note that black authors who write books with black protagonist are always going to be accurate. I don’t believe that you can’t discredit them because it’s their experience, their culture. Yes, I might read in a black POV that is different from my experience, but that’s because black people face different experiences, but they are all valid. A white author writing about their experiences are therefore not completely valid since they never had a black experience.
In reality, authors can write about whoever they want. However, when it comes to sensitive topics and comfort, I think reading from a black author that’s about black people is better for me personally. It’s more legitimate and the experience itself is more authentic. I love that white authors are adding more diverse characters to their stories, but I feel reading in an #ownvoices perspective is worthwhile.
What do you think? Can/should white authors write books with black protagonists?