Horse of a different color

I want to take the time to discuss writing ethnic characters. It’s the general consensus that all forms of media are dominated by primarily white characters. While I can’t offer explanations as to why that is, I can at least give my stance on it.

I’m a white girl. I grew up in lower middle class working family in a New Jersey town of about 25K. I had white friends, I had Spanish friends, I had African American friends, I had Asian friends. I’m not prejudice. There are so many rich cultures out there, and I love learning about them. But when it came time for me to decide on the ethnicity for my written characters, I admit that I went with primarily white. I never thought it was strange or that I was ignoring people. It was what came naturally to me (and the whole ‘write what you know’, while a bit more flexible now, might as well have been scripture in the early days). A lot of the books, movies, comics and games I absorbed while growing up also favored whites over any other colors. Looking back now, I can understand the definite lack of representation. Lots of media today is rich with colorful characters. The Walking Dead, for example. There’s no overt stereotypes going on in that show (I don’t consider Merle’s attitude toward non-whites stereotyped because he’s from the South; it’s just the way it is in the world he grew up in) Everyone looks, talks and acts normal. It’s refreshing. My fave character, Michonne, is awesome. She could be rainbow colored and it wouldn’t matter to me. I love characters for their personality, not their skin color.

I’ve never been against writing ethnic characters. However, the biggest problem I faced was portraying them accurately. Rather than rely on common misconceptions, it just seemed easier to omit their inclusion. This brings me to my character, Evelyn from Lifeline. From the moment I created her, I knew she was going to be African American. There was no ifs, ands or buts about it. While I’ve given her the physical aspects of Angela Bassett (fun fact- her middle name is Evelyn XD), Evelyn’s personality is largely inspired by an African American woman I worked with some years ago. Her name was Sonya, and she was great. Hilarious, smart, dedicated, driven, and a loving mother. She took absolutely no shit. She also suffered a great tragedy when her older son died from sepsis. When we were working together, she was still going through the malpractice suit. She used to tell me how she hated having to tell the story over and over in court. I don’t know what happened to her after I left the job, but I’m keeping her spirit alive in Evelyn. I even named Evelyn’s youngest son after Sonya’s boy.

Evelyn isn’t alone, either. For Renegade, my character, Autumn, is half Navajo Indian. A lead male character from an unfinished romance is half Egyptian, and a practicing Muslim. Variety is the spice of life.

In closing, I’d like to remind my fellow writers that we shouldn’t be afraid of including ethnic characters, so long as it’s done properly. The last thing a writer wants to do is piss off a particular demographic for poor/stereotyped representation. So remember: your Jewish character doesn’t need to be a penny pinching miser, your Asian character doesn’t have to be a crappy driver, your African American character doesn’t need to speak Ebonics, your Arabic character doesn’t have to be a terrorist, and your white character doesn’t have to be a beer-guzzling, trailer trash, bigoted asshole. We all have the same chances of being a generous soul and a hard-hearted son of a bitch.

 

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