Underrepresented Writers

Alright, so I’ve whinged in the past about how I feel about ‘person of color’ as a term, the particular context being that a noticeable number of magazines, anthologies, and even whole publishing companies use this term even though a) white is a color, too and b) okay, I know what they meant, but seriously Eastern Europeans are a minority too and guess what, Middle Eastern and North Indian upper classes tend to be pretty fair (Disney’s Jasmine is, realistically, too dark).

Anyway, what these guys are attempting to do–and sure yes this is commendable enough–is to represent more traditionally disenfranchised groups in writing.

The funny thing about this is that, looking at it, writers are still a rather homogenous group. Specifically in terms of access to education and books.

Have you ever seen someone get printed in all the magazines who isn’t currently attending school, doesn’t already have a degree, or doesn’t read a lot on the side? Let me be the first to admit that I don’t do more than skim bios when I’m looking at all these things, but I have yet to find one that reads ‘so and so dropped out of high school and works fifteen hours a day to support his family of eight.’ They tend to go something like ‘so and so went to college at X University (never a community college) and currently lives with a cat.’

So I am seriously wondering, what exactly is ‘disenfranchised’ about a well-educated, well-off (kidding, most full time writers are broke) person who just happens to have a different racial background than the next guy on the left?

It’s sort of like saying this penguin needs to be treated differently from the other Adelies because he’s melanistic.

My parents, and this attitude is quite common in Asia, are so hardcore about education that we moved just so my sister and I would go to a better school district. Even though I grew up lower middle class, I always had access to a good public library–something that is severely lacking in any area where vandalism is a common problem (the kids I was tutoring on the South Side of Chicago didn’t get to do a biology project because someone had broken all the slides on a weekend; I’m pretty sure they would have been just as screwed if they were white)–and, on the other end, I was so well-prepared for school that I got bumped up two grades.

Honestly, the only thing I have ever felt discriminated about in my life is being a vegetarian, because wow half the restaurants in America suck at having more than one token veg item on the menu. (Although the walnut-quinoa burger I had today was delicious. It’s hard to complain through a full mouth.)

Anyway, I don’t like being told that my racial background, which has never been a problem for me, is somehow a handicap that has to be compensated for with extra-special publishing opportunities. Especially when it comes from someone who’s doing it because they feel bad for being white. ‘Check your privilege’ smells like a 21st-century take on the ‘white man’s burden,’ and I was hoping that would have died with colonialism.

You know what? Writers are privileged. I can’t think of anything more privileged than being able to sit on your bum writing stories, not even technical guides or articles, in your spare time. ‘Supernatural,’ a show starring two (extremely attractive) white men with only the occasional minority, does a better job on that front–one of the lead characters has a GED.

Is this an excuse to use a Jensen Ackles GIF? Yes, yes it is.

Is this an excuse to use a Jensen Ackles GIF? Yes, yes it is.

Am I saying that minorities aren’t underrepresented in writing? I actually have a hard time making sense of the race thing because, hello, an English publication should be predominantly filled with authors who have native English speaking backgrounds. It is much easier to get English stuff in India than it is to get Hindi stuff in the US, but, seriously. More than one language out there, dudes.

I think sexual minorities are a lot more underrepresented than they should be, primarily because sexuality has up til recently been a taboo subject. BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ is the only show I can think of with a character into S&M in a non stereotypic or fanservicing way (and Jacqueline Carey, who’s turned into the archetype as far as S&M in pop culture books go), and as for transgender/transsexual representation…’Glee’ does it, but the show is so heavy-handed on LGTBQ issues and so weak on everything else that I have a hard time giving it credit. Just the way they fail to credit the original artists for their mashups/derivatives.

Anyway, it seems to me like the reason so many publications jump on top of requesting work by (or starring, which I’m more okay with) “people of color” is because it’s so easy. I mean, look at my name. It screams not-white. Not to mention that there’s nothing taboo about listing where you’re from, while adding something like ‘I am a bisexual domme’ to your cover letter would probably fall right into the TMI zone. (Or TMZ, if you happen to be famous.)

What I would really like to see publications do, if they are so hell-bent on getting a better swathe of humanity represented in their work, is actually take the time to reach out to disenfranchised people who didn’t have so much access to books in their youth and be willing to take the time and energy to help those people produce awesome material.

I think I can safely say I’m in the minority (ha, ha) on holding this opinion, so I would love to hear from the rest of you. Debates make me happy, and the comment on my ‘person of color’ post actually did give me a new perspective on the issue.


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