Disney’s Real Life Book Review

I purchased this book the same day I met my editor. She was having a book signing at a Chapter’s in the area and at the time I had no idea she would become my editor! I just thought she was really nice and her books sounded fantastic.

That day I was also lucky enough to be shopping with my Nana, who like me buys a lot of books and had about three or four gift cards on her. Basically, Nana gave me the go ahead to go nuts and buy as many books as I wanted (within reason), so I decided I’d try some new series. Her store was massive and carried a lot more of the graphic novels and manga’s than the location near me at the time. The new locations near me are…gorgeous! We have so many books in those sections now.

Anyway, one of the book I grabbed my Real Life, which I thought looked kind of cute. I liked the art style and the fact that there was a diverse cast of character’s. I also thought the synopsis sounded really good. As you know my TBR continues to grow daily…so it took me until 2021 to actually read this book that’s been glaring at me from the shelf for these past few years.

Now, I want to start off by saying that yes, I liked the idea but I have some critiques because I was disappointed by how certain things were implemented. My main critique is is with the diversity, the same thing that I was excited about.

The book follows three girls, Amber, Alice and Andrea, who all have a crush on Thomas, a guy who seems to have popped out of thin air who looks exactly like the fake profile they made on Real Life, an app that’s almost like a combination of facebook and instagram. Amber is black or mixed race with black. I was never really sure as she has red hair and green eyes and the reader’s only see her mom. Alice is white, blonde hair and blue eyes and then Andrea is Asian, specifically Japanese as her last name is Tanaka.

Left to Right: Amber, Alice and Andrea

As I mentioned when I first saw the cover of this book, I was excited because it gives the illusion that these three girls are a close knit group of friends. They’re all happy and smiling together doing this really cute group pose. However, when I started reading it quickly became clear that these three girls were merely playing into negative racial stereotypes, mainly Amber and Andrea.

I’ll start by discussing Amber. Amber falls into the mean black hottie trope, which is used so often in television that it gets on my nerves. I have yet to watch a show where the black or mixed girl is portrayed as shy or gentle or clumsy. I wanted to like Amber but every time I thought “she’s not that bad” she did or said something that seriously rubbed me the wrong way. All I kept thinking was how it sucked that this rude, bratty girl was the only representation of a black female character in this entire book. If she was contrasted by another character who was well…to put it plainly nice, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much. Another thing that continued to happen with her character, is that her complexion changed constantly. I don’t know about anyone else, but my skin colour definitely doesn’t magically switch between races because I’m mixed race? If I suddenly went all pale, I’d definitely go check in with a doctor or something. The inconsistency with her skin tone was extremely frustrating. In the first chapter alone, there are several instances where her and Alice are the exact same colour.

Next Andrea, who was equally messy. Of course, the Asian girl is the honour student, grades driven, super smart, nerd. Like I haven’t seen that a million times. At least she has a secret love for art. I preferred her character a little more than Amber’s and it was only because there were other Asian female character’s that she could be contrasted with. If those other girls weren’t there I would have went, “Oh look the Asian Nerd Trope.” Sadly, there were points where Andrea, like Amber was just…mean.

Lastly Alice, who ends up being the most likeable character. She’s the one that I found myself rooting for, why? Because she was nice. She’s the target of bullies at her school. Mainly cyber-bullying and her brother who attends the same school, doesn’t do anything to stop it. He’s actually annoyed by her and treats her like a burden. Her parents want her to play volleyball for her dad’s team. She’s good at it, it’s about the only thing she’s good at, however she has a love for theatre and wants to act in the school play. Alice is portrayed as a hopeless romantic, hopeless klutz and a hopeless dork…and yet, you like her character because you HOPE things will turn out well for her in the end.

Alice is also contrasted by other female character’s who look like her, and males too. Contrast is important when you have a diverse cast. Why, because not all people are the same. Not all jocks are the same. Not all nerds are the same. Not all theatre kids are the same. The. Contrast. Is. Important.

This story is in England and from what I’ve heard (and have seen on BBC) it’s very multicultural, so for two out of three leading ladies to fall into these typical racial book/film tropes is ridiculous. There’s no excuse for it. It’s no wonder that the book received 3.5 stars on Goodread’s. Like, this story could be really good but it’s hard to ignore how these girls were basically created by using a checklist. Not only that but there was also racist imagery in the book of one of the girls with buck teeth and slanted eyes, dressed as an “Eskimo” in Alaska. That’s a huge nope. How did that get the green light in 2018?

There’s no excuse for how Amber and Andrea are portrayed, nor for that imagery. It’s frustrating seeing these negative, racial stereotypes used constantly. It’s as tired as using the Dumb Jock or the Mean Cheerleader. I knew a few cheerleader’s back in high school and, I’d say 80% of them were the sweetest people I have ever met. I only have good things to say about them! They were down to earth, cared about their friends and stood up for their classmates when they saw something wrong.

I’m not saying that I think Alice should have been portrayed differently, I’m just saying that it would have been nice if the writer’s actually give Amber and Andrea a chance! I really tried to like them. I did…but by having these two girls just act as stereotypes, it really took away from the story. I don’t even know if I want to read the rest of this series. I’m so disappointed.

As for the rating…I’m stuck between 2.5 and 3…mainly because there were elements of the plot that were interesting but the thing that drew me to this book in the first place felt like a huge slap in the face once I started reading.

I’m going with 2.5

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I don’t care if it was 2018, this book fell into the category of diversity baiting…and I can’t even express how much I hate that. Proper diversity is showing a variety of character’s of different backgrounds who compliment and contrast one another. They don’t play into racist stereotypes, they are 3 dimensional. These character’s actually get backstories, have families and hobbies…like, why is Amber so mean? There was no reason other than “She’s the Queen Bee.” Really? That’s it? It’ not a defence mechanism? She just bosses people around and acts like a spoiled brat because she can? Andrea, likes to study and everyone’s always talking about how she’s going to get the Nobel Prize some day. She’s so smart! People call her a nerd. Like at least they gave her the whole bit about her mom trying to set her up with all these random guys but still…”I don’t have time for boys. I have to study.” Seriously?

I’m glad other reviewers felt the same way about these character’s. When I started I really thought “give it a chance maybe it’ll invert the tropes or something” but no. Nope. Not at all.

Anyway, that’s my rant. Looking forward to seeing REAL diversity in YA books going forward.

“Google is free!”: My Response to Bookish Realm’s Reflection Livestream.

Tonight I tuned in to Bookish Realm’s livestream, where she broke down and discussed where we’ve come as a community–by community I mean the reading community–over these past six months.

It wasn’t an easy conversation to have. Tears were shed…and I have seen many tears from these wonderful creators, writers and reviewers. Too many tears. 2020 should be nicknamed the Year of the Tear. Anyway, her final point in the live–one that I thought as she was saying it–was that “Google is free.”

To summarize, she was talking about how when people act like they don’t have any access to books by BIPOC authors. Which to the BIPOC creators and reviewers is an absolute joke because Google is the easiest place to start. To prove it, I decided to do a quick search, one that was recommended by her: romances featuring a black couple.

Well I googled and although there are a lot with interracial couples, I am annoyed at how few books being promoted are ones with two happy black people in love.

To clarify I’m mixed race. Black Mom. White Dad. I’m making this clear because despite my–well to myself–clearly mixed features I did have someone on Twitter assume I was white. Like damn, I know I need a tan but you don’t need to rub it in!

Anyway, I know what its like to see your family being poorly represented by the media. The reason why I’m annoyed with the lack of promotion of two black characters in love is because despite trying to do better…which I do believe they are, they’re still putting focus on this idea that in order for this black female character to achieve happiness she needs to marry a white man. Which is a whole other thing that I don’t even know how to unpack. I don’t even known if it’s my place to unpack that…I’m the product of an interracial relationship and I’ve been in interracial relationships. It doesn’t mean I’m an expert. This type of relationship is the norm for me. However, I still want to see HEALTHY relationships between black couples being portrayed by the media in books and on television.

I like seeing a happy family, living life, raising their kids…but for some reason the media likes to shove black trauma pieces at us instead. Don’t they know you could have a love story like Cory and Topanga but with BIPOC characters?

I wish I could remember exactly what she said on the stream about this because it was so perfect. It reminded me of a tweet I saw about how this girl wanted to see a romance film featuring an interracial couple where one of the love interests wasn’t white, for example Indigenous and Caribbean. There are relationships like this in the real world and yet I haven’t seen them portrayed anywhere. Actually I lied, that one show on Netflix with Devery Jacobs has her character dating a black actress in the second season. Sadly I can’t remember…THE ORDER. That’s it. Campy horror, wevewolf show that screams Canadian horror so bad…that I can’t help but love it. I love me some campy made in Canada horror shows haha. But there, like…it wasn’t difficult for them to portray this type of relationship! So to that girl who tweeted that, stuff is out there. Just have to find it and then promote it like crazy so more of it gets made!

And that leads me to my next point, as readers we need to do better in what we choose to read and promote. As Bookish Realm said, we should track what we read and compare numbers. How many BIPOC authors have you read in 2020? How many do you plan on reading in 2021? If you’re like me and read a lot of manga are you going to try and find manga and comics made by BIPOC artists?

I’m aware that conversations about race can be uncomfortable, but I’m a person that honestly learns better through having discussions with others. Respectful, open discussions where each person feels like they are being heard…because discussions can make us vulnerable.

The discussion tonight, had a lot of people in tears because there is such a strong need for change and yet when it came down to it, six months later things remained ultimately the same. I don’t want another six months to go by without seeing some sort of change. Especially when so many people in this community have been working their butts off to create a place where all of us feel welcome, safe and loved!

I truly believe…and maybe it’s because I’m kind of an optimistic daydreamer type of person…but I want to believe that each little change we make can create an overall greater change for the community.

Now, here’s what I found in my quick Google search:

A lot of what I read romance-wise is shojo so I’m not too familiar with these authors…however, O magazine posted a list of the 30 Best Black Romance Novels.

I also found another list called 20 Romance Novels by Black Authors to Read this Summer.

On the Goodread’s list I see more books that I recognize. I’ve seen them on display in bookstores or a friend or family member was reading them. I’ve seen Make a Scene haha. Pun intended.

I honestly think, and this is because I don’t really read Adult Romance genres…or I should say read romance but it’s usually the sub-genre (unless its shojo then it’s all romance, first love blah blah blah)…I’m going to challenge myself to find more comics, manga and webtoons created by BIPOC that are like the ones I enjoy reading already. Superheroes and romance are my main loves with comics (especially magical girls!). I’m going to try and research this a little tonight and see what I come up with!

What Are We Allowed to Write? – An exploration of writing diverse characters and stories outside our own experiences

I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion in the writing community lately in regards to “what characters” and “stories” we are allowed to write. This has been an ongoing conversation for years but lately, I’ve been seeing this come up again and again since May and it is pretty obvious that it stems from topics and issues being expressed by minority groups (in Western Countries).

Many seem to respond to this discussion with their guard up, rather than approach it with a level of understanding. I get it. I do. However, I think that it is important to have these conversations and learn from one another, versus brushing them off and going, “Well I’m gonna write whatever I want because it’s my story! Screw you!”

Approaching it with that attitude will not make you a better writer. I understand being protective of your work, but if you plan on sharing it someday you need to be aware of what you are presenting to your audience.

After seeing these Tweets, it came to my attention that many people aren’t aware of the articles which address how to write COC (characters of colour) when you aren’t apart of that group. There are a lot, in fact I myself am going to be reviewing seven of them. Many of the comments on these articles held that same hostility towards the subject.

I want to be very clear, that this is in no way an attack on your writing or on you as a writer, but instead a means of education which I think we can all benefit from as a community.

The first article I am going to be reviewing has a more controversial title:

It’s 2019. Why are white writers still writing black characters?

The author of this article, Fiona Snykers, begins by talking about an article they wrote back in 2013 regarding the same subject: should white writers be writing POC? Their original article titled, White writers writing black characters – a form of literary blackface? is also relevant to the conversation, and although there may be a few of you who feel these titles are a personal attack, it is important to understand where Fiona Snykers is coming from. There is a reason that they chose to write not one, but two articles on this subject, one in 2013 and another six years later in 2019. So, let’s delve into their thoughts about this subject by starting with a brief summary of their earlier article from 2013.

White writers writing black characters – a form of literary blackface?

The article begins with Fiona Snyker addressing this topic, as being redundant, since it seems as though it is always popping up in the writing community (in this case specifically among South African writers).

“When white writers are questioned about this issue, their reactions range from the exasperated to the downright tetchy.”

Snyker, 2013

I myself have seen similar responses to this topic, where some either shy away from having diversity in their work at all, and others argue that because writing is a creative process, they should be allowed to include whichever characters they want, and tell whatever stories they please.

“The standard liberal response is that fiction by its very nature is an exercise of the imagination. Writers make imaginative leaps all the time to create the characters they populate their fictional worlds with.”

Snyker, 2013

Snyker then adds one of the most popular answers to this discussion, that I myself have seen:

“Taking this prohibition to its natural conclusion, no writer would ever be permitted to create a character outside of his or her precise social, political, racial, cultural, economic, religious, and gender circumstances. This would obviously be undesirable, and lead to boring, one-dimensional books. Therefore writers should be left in peace to create whatever characters they like.”

Snyker, 2013

In summary, the most popular argument is, “If we can’t write what we want then books will be boring. Just let us do our thing!”

Snyker however, goes on to talk about how white South African authors go about creating black characters in a way that they believe “is a form of literary blackface” and gives an brief summary on the history of blackface. They then go on to, what I believe is the main point of their 2013 article.

“Black stories are best told by black writers — this needs to be said. Whites already dominate nearly every aspect of South African cultural life, so for them to be putting words into the mouths of black characters seems like an act of arrogance.”

Snyker, 2013

Statements like this seem to cause a lot of discourse within the writing community. I’m sure a few people tried to pitch the old, “but men write women and vice versa” argument to themselves when reading this quote. However, I think it is important to try and understand Fiona Snykers thoughts and feelings, even if you disagree with her statements.

The emphasis in this quote, and something that I think people tend to misinterpret is “Black stories are best told by black writers.” Stories that belong to POC, meaning their experiences.

I had this conversation the other day with my sister, where I used a book that I read back in elementary school as a way of explaining this discussion. This book was written by a white, adult man and in it, the young female character gets her first period while at school. The novel talks a lot about male and female puberty, however I have always found it bizarre that an adult man was writing about about periods as if women are excited to get them. I had already had mine the year before reading this book, and I can tell you I was not in tears because I was “excited” it came. I was upset, I felt sick and I ruined my white leggings forever. He got that and many other experiences very…very wrong.

Did he write female character’s incorrectly? No.

Did he incorrectly tell a story about getting your first period? Heck yes!

This is exactly what people misinterpret with these statements. There also seems to be a misconception that these arguments are only coming from white SJW (social justice warriors) and that is not the case at all. In fact, I would argue that if you have been told something is problematic in your writing or about your character by a white person, they might have already educated themselves on the subject and are honestly just trying to educate you as well. Now, of course I believe that there are proper ways to provide others with constructive criticism, but that is a tale for another day.

Going back to Fiona Snyker’s 2013 article, they go on to talk about how they view the race relations in the US and how they feel it is much further along than in South Africa. They bring up early 20th century American authors like Herman Melville and Mark Twain, who wrote black characters in stories that are widely remembered to this day. They then go on to discuss the Black Consciousness Movement, in which white writers were heavily criticized for attempting to write “black voices.” This movement however, seemed to die down not long after, according to Snykers, who provided two examples of works that came out soon after these discussions.

“More recently, it has become acceptable for white artists to depict blackness again, as novels like The Help and films like Django Unchained demonstrate. Kathryn Stockett and Quentin Tarantino hardly got off scot-free for their presumption, however, but the public outcry was more muted.”

Snykers, 2013

They end this first article of theirs with this lovely quote:

As Zukiswa Wanner, one of South Africa’s most prominent young black writers, has said, “No-one should tell a writer when to write, what to write, how to write, where to write or indeed, who to write. It only ever becomes a problem if your character does not sound genuine to people of his/her demography, which is just a mark of bad cultural research or writing on the writer’s part and can’t be attributed to race.”

Snyker, 2013

Ending on that note, I am now going to move onto Snykers 2019 article, It’s 2019. Why are white writers still writing black characters?

In this article, Fiona Snyker reveals that they themselves are a white author, and have recently released a book with a black character, “It is 2019. Why am I still writing black characters as a white author?” They discuss how many works have been pulled before publication due to discourse around this subject.

Let me start by repeating a point I made in my piece from 2013 – the best people to tell black stories are black writers. This is at the heart of the #ownvoices movement in YA fiction. It makes intuitive sense. Someone who has lived through an experience is always going to have a more authentic insight into it than someone who has picked it up secondhand through research.

Snykers, 2019

If you are unaware of the #ownvoices movement, I think it is important to do a little research on it and see what people using this hashtag think. Here is a definition of what the hashtag means:

“#OwnVoices is a term coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis, and refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group.”

Going off of this point, Fiona Snyker then goes on to discuss the intimacy that comes with writing a first person narrative. They argue that although some writers believe their characters take on a life of their own, that writers need to be aware of what they are putting on the page.

“Writers can (and undoubtedly will) continue to write what they like. But they will have to accept the consequences of the choices they make.”

Snykers, 2019

Snykers then adds, “In this age of social media, readers are no longer the passive consumers of content they once were. They now have the ability to let writers know instantly and in no uncertain terms what they think of their work. If a writer has misrepresented some cultural issue, or trodden clumsily on someone’s sensibilities, they can be called out in the most public way possible.”

This is something that I feel we have seen happening a lot between the end of 2019 and going into early and now mid-2020. Authors like JK Rowling being called out for their tweets, or Amelie Wen Zao who was accused of all kinds of problematic behaviour on social media before her debut novel even released.

Fiona Snykers statement, resonates heavily with our current situation as a community.

“If readers or reviewers come back to tell us we have got something disastrously wrong, we have to be prepared to take it on the chin, and resolve to do better next time.”

Snykers, 2019

This last statement in Snykers article, is something that I think all of us in the community should remember, no matter what story we are telling. We should look at the constructive criticism we receive and try to do better next time.

Now moving on to the next article, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew,

How to Write Characters of Color as a White Author: No thanks

This article just so happens to have some very critical statements about earlier mentioned author JK Rowling:

“Really all I know about her these days is that she’d hop on twitter and come up with randomly generated factoids, like how that guy who played Harry in the films was Chinese all along, Hagrid has joined ISIS, and the snake? She’s Korean now and Joanne K.”

Sriduangkaew, 2018

Yikes.

They go on to talk about, the very reason that I am writing this post, this ongoing discussion of if people should and how they should write POC characters. They then go on to criticize the way in which these discussions go about on social media:

“They want simple resources: they want blog posts and easy rules (‘Don’t compare skin colors to food items!’). They won’t read post-colonial theory or race theory, because that can’t be boiled down to ‘Don’t do X, do Y!’ and those texts might force them to confront uncomfortable subjects. They’ll also regard ‘POC characters’ as interchangeable, such that they ask Asian people for ‘permission’ to write black American narratives or they throw Japanese and Chinese and Korean cultures together into an orientalist fantasy mish-mash (the name ‘Cho Chang’, anyone?).”

Sriduangkaew, 2018

All points that I feel are valid when it comes to this subject, especially since the first articles I reviewed were written by a white South African author about this topic. I myself have also witnessed some of these poorly executed forms of “research” among the writing community both online and in person. Although I myself have never read Harry Potter, I am familiar with the examples they give from Rowlings work and have seen extensive complaints about it from a variety of different people of ALL races (especially in recent weeks).

Sriduangkaew then goes on to make a point that I think is very crucial to their argument:

“And they will never read fiction by a writer of color. At the very first sign of being asked to do so, they will clam up, disengage, or go on racist rants about being abused.”

Sriduangkaew, 2018

If one does not even attempt to engage with fiction written by those who have experiences different than our own, how can we expect to write an authentic portrayal of said group of people in our own work. How often have you seen others go on the defensive, versus being open to discussion about this subject?

From my experience, I have been in threads where there is a great about of hostility versus actual listening, engagement and willingness to understand. Again, this is not to attack anyone, my goal is to help educate others on this subject and provide them with articles that they themselves can and I believe should be reading. Why avoid this subject or be hostile towards it, when it is so crucial to how you perform your craft? Instead of approaching these subjects with hostility, perhaps take this criticism into consideration.

Should we read works by people who do not look like us, or share different world views/experiences? Absolutely.

Do we actively seek it out? No, I don’t believe we do…much of the time it is a conscious decision.

I know for a fact that I probably wouldn’t have watched Bollywood Films or Asian Dramas and anime if it hadn’t been for the friends I had growing up. I probably would have still watched Bruce Lee films with my Dad, but these other genres, and stories that I grew to love, were introduced to me by childhood friends. I tried different types of curry, not just West Indian, and learned that patties, samosas and perogies are all delicious, and almost variations on each other. I would not have learned these things or been as open to these discussions in the writing community if I had not been friends with people who were different than I was.

Although this is a very simple example, it highlights Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s point. Sriduangkaew then goes on to argue that the reason why some writers become so hostile toward this discussion, especially when asked to read works by POC, is because “deep down, they don’t actually see people of color as people […] when told ‘Try reading this author of color’, they feel cornered. Minorities are supposed to be lesser, not their equals or, god forbid, more accomplished than they are.”

They then share a Tweet from JK Rowling to emphasize how a lack of engagement and understanding is extremely problematic within creative communities:

This makes me very uncomfortable, and I definitely agree with the response from Ken Cheng.

“There’s probably something to be said about the way fandom has idolized Rowling herself for so long, even though her racism has always been blatant in the text […] It’s just that, for whatever reason, people wanted to believe Rowling was a great ally, a true champion of minorities, even if evidence for any such thing has always been at best tenuous and at worst outright imaginary.”

Sriduangkaew, 2018

They go on to further elaborate on why it is important for authors to read works by POC, stressing how a lack of understanding can create problematic narratives.

“Another factor that contributes to these writers’ refusal to read authors of color, I expect, has to do with authenticity or rather lack thereof. Writers like to feel original, profound, insightful, and white authors want the most to feel that about what they believe is their insight into racism,” Sriduangkaew writes before giving an example of a non-Muslim person attempting to write what they believe is the experiences of a young Muslim woman and then giving another example of problematic behaviour.

What happens when something they read by an author of color doesn’t at all align with the racist stereotypes they know and love? Pasty Becky insists all Dominican men are wife-beating alcoholics and all Latinas are fiery-tempered in her Young Adult book; books by Latinx authors that don’t follow the same line will of necessity disturb her, upset her racist notions, and most likely she’ll call them inauthentic — that she is more objective, somehow, and knows their culture better than they possibly can.

Sriduangkaew, 2018

They use this “Becky” as an example throughout, with another example, where Becky attempts to write a novel about growing up in Singapore, going over how some choose to ignore the stories already written by POC about their own experiences, and instead refuse “to recognize that Singaporean writers know anything more than she does, because conceding to writers of color as a greater authority about their own culture impinges on Becky’s very sense of self.” (Sriduangkaew, 2018).

Sriduangkaew calls out the writer’s ego, without holding back, and although some may take offense to some of their statements, I think that it is important to reflect on them and ask yourself, why such statements are being made in the first place. If this subject continuously emerges, then clearly there is an issue that needs to be addressed within the community.

They finish off with this, which I feel really hammers in the overall purpose of their article:

It’s not that white authors should never write characters of color, period. But if you have to pester people of color for praise and attention? If you refuse to ever read authors of color? If you demand free research and free resources and never actually follow up on doing your own reading? If you aren’t humble enough to recognize that you have a lot to learn and that people of color will always know better than you? If the only thing you can think of is that Pakistani girls are defined by honor killings and Latino men defined by being domestic abusers and black people defined by the ‘inner city experience’ and Chinese women defined by foot binding? If you don’t understand why some stories are not yours to tell?

Don’t bother. You’re not doing anything good and you’re not bringing anything new, and self-respecting people of color have no reason to read your fourth-rate racist sludge.

Sriduangkaew, 2018

At the bottom of their article they have linked further reading for anyone who is interested.

Their final statement is one that I have seen a handful of white writers make, however I feel that they may have misinterpreted the difference between telling someones story and having a diverse set of character’s. If you look closely at the examples Sriduangkaew gives, they very clearly highlight problematic behaviour, and the authors ego which, I would say, all of us in the community have some form of. No one is perfect, and we all are capable of making mistakes, however by not even trying to better ourselves, we remain ignorant, and that is when people dismiss apologies made by authors or celebrities who continue to display poor behaviour, despite claiming that they have changed. Audiences now have more ways of publicly calling out ones poor decisions, and can even provide several examples from the past and present, as to why they believe someone has or has not changed their ways. It is important to take careful consideration when crafting our characters, regardless of their race, gender, religion etc. It always has been important, but previously it was much more difficult to hold others accountable. Now, they end up on “trending pages” and with things like cancel culture, most of us know that seeing someones name appear in the “trending” page is rarely a good sign.

Now, lets move on to the next article…er book actually.

Writing POC 101

This non-fiction book was posted to Wattpad by talkthepoc, which highlights problematic behaviour within the Wattpad writing community when it comes to writing outside ones race, and how certain characters are portrayed.

The book is divided up into chapters which cover specific stereotypes that have been attributed to different races by the media, specifically in literature. Each chapter heading indicates which race they will be discussing, and the tropes within them, all written by members of those groups. I didn’t read the entire book, but I will be going through a few chapters to summarize them, as well as looking at the comments.

Mainly I am interested in who chose to engage with this book, especially after reading the last article by Sriduangkaew.

The introduction to the book begins by highlighting the fact that many books that try to include a diverse cast, seem to do it as an afterthought, and that POC in these books often feel like stereotypes versus people.

After reviewing the comments, many of my fears seemed to be true, much of what is said in writing community groups (in person or online), flood the comments.

Some comments are the age old:

I just want to know why poc authors can write stories with white characters but white authors can't write stories with poc characters? They all say they feel uncomfortable...

And others are more honest:

*nervous laughter*


I literally came here because I friggin do that
*Looks at all the chapters* 

*Cries bc I'm everything* 😭😭

I personally appreciate the honesty. These people came to read this book because they clearly know that they need to be open to educating themselves on how to portray these types of characters in a way that isn’t harmful or problematic.

Many of the things highlighted in this book remind me of the article that was written by Asha Bromfield, where she talks about how POC are written off as the “black friend” or simply put in as an afterthought to meet some sort of diversity quota. I have seen her in several shows, and much of the time her character along with other characters of colour, are merely written as accessories. A lot of the recently conversation surrounding Riverdale, which Asha was on, highlights her points and the points made in the introduction of this book very well. I recommend looking at the portrayal of POC in popular shows like Riverdale, and which negative stereotypes have been attributed to them.

As this book, Writing POC 101, points out very early on, writing a diverse cast is not about meeting a quota, nor should it be an afterthought. This comment highlights that well and compliments the opinions many have on the subject:

It's not an excuse to not write POC characters because you're scared to portray them incorrectly or in a racist manner. If you can't do the small amount of research required to write a non-white character, you're not doing it because you don't know how, you're doing it because you don't want to.

There is a wealth of information out there. If you're serious about writing, you have to get serious about research and character development too.

The next article we will be looking at is from Vulture’s, Lisa Shapiro, written last year in 2019 titled:

Who Gave You the Right to Tell That Story? Ten authors on the most divisive question in fiction, and the times they wrote outside their own identities.

This article is similar to the first that I read, where one discusses this topic, who is not necessarily a member of the group they are portraying. I think that it is an interesting read, because it offers several different perspectives on the subject, highlighting both successful attempts and utter failures.

In the young-adult fiction world, a number of books have been pulled in advance of their releases for clichéd and problematic portrayals of minorities.

Shapiro, 2019

Shapiro goes on to write how this argument continues to go back and forth, with one side claiming “that only writers from marginalized backgrounds should tell stories about people who share their cultural histories” (Shapiro, 2019), while others feel that this would be a form of censorship.

Again, I would argue that there is a difference between telling the experiences and stories of another group versus having a character who is a member of that group. As we saw before, without doing any research at all, these portrayals can be harmful, and more often than not receive a lot of backlash.

The authors interviewed for this article each gave their own thoughts and perspectives, such as doing things like sensitivity reads, looking through tumblr and blog posts for information, and even wrote about things like “cross-racial longing.” Is all of this good advice, not necessarily, but are these experiences which people can learn from when approaching their own work? Definitely.

An excellent quote to ponder from this article comes from Monique Truong,

The tension is, why do we do it? Do we do it for ourselves? Does it make us feel better? Are we rescuing a bird or something?

Monique Truong

If people choose to write outside of their race, why? Does it contribute to some sort of savior-like notion, that we are doing a great justice by including POC in our narratives? Are we simply writing these characters to get a pat on the back or are these characters present because that’s simply who we chose to write about?

I find some of the comments made by the authors in this interview odd…for example, describing writing other races as a supernatural experience, because to me that sounds like, someone doesn’t think POC are human. The statement is merely dehumanizing, and problematic as it does fall under a form of micro-aggression. Do I believe this author or authors in this article who made similar statements are suddenly evil racists? Absolutely not. They are simply growing, and learning, and I believe by participating in this interview and sharing their experiences, they help educate others on this type of thinking. They are allowing for others to realize perhaps, things that they themselves have thought when writing outside of their own race.

The next article we will be looking at was featured in the Washington Post by author Laura Lippman:

Is it ok for a white author to write black characters? I’m trying.

Laura Lippman a white author, had read aloud from a book they had written which included a black character, who happens to also be a ghost during an event. They go on to discuss how surprised the audience was when it was revealed at the end of the passage that the character was black, and if Lippman had received permission to write such a character.

“The issue of writing across racial boundaries had been very much on my mind, but I didn’t know how to answer those questions, questions not unlike ones I had asked of several African American writers earlier that year.”

Lippman, 2019

Lippman goes on to talk about current issues over the years, where books have been pulled from publication because of appropriation, especially in YA genres. They go on to discuss how “Publishing is disproportionately white” referring to a 2015 survey that was done on the industry, where 80% of employees across the industry identified as white.

American fiction, like American film, has a “magical Negro” problem, in which black characters often exist primarily to encourage the white protagonist to realize his or her potential, as in “The Help,” which Roxane Gay memorably described as “insulting to everyone.”

Lippman, 2019

This goes to say that there are similar tropes with POC being otherworldly or supernatural beings, something that I pointed out earlier when reading the last article. It dehumanizes POC, and adds to this idea that people who aren’t white aren’t people. I often think about the blind-black or Asian character’s who seem to be all knowing, or that one woman from the Matrix that tells Neo his destiny. These character tropes, as Lippman states, are problematic and harmful.

Lippman then goes on to talk about their experiences when engaging with POC when going about writing their newest book. Lippman says that they regretted making themselves “the centre of the discussion,” when approaching the black community. Despite people being mostly polite when answering her questions, Lippman soon came to a shocking realization:

After years of mocking stories that assuaged white guilt, I became as ridiculous as the protagonists in the books I had derided. Here I was, an earnest white lady, asking outstanding writers — writers working at a much higher level than I’ll probably ever achieve — to comfort me, to tell me I was one of the good guys.

Lippman, 2019

This self-realization is extremely important, and really emphasize what Monique Truong was getting across. It also adds on to points made in earlier articles as well as the honest comments circulating the Wattpad book Writing POC 101. When someone realizes their own thinking, and how it contributes to an issue at hand, they finally open themselves up to a willingness to learn. It’s important to remember that no matter how old we get, we are capable of learning, of engaging in thoughtful conversation and of changing our perspective. Yes, social media does allow for others to hold us accountable, but our flaws are what make us human, and by accepting them we can learn from them and change for the better.

Sure, white novelists could “stay in their lane,” as I saw one social media scold frame the issue, but given the overwhelmingly white state of publishing, won’t that mean more overwhelmingly white stories? Surely that’s not the solution. The long-term fix, instead, is a more diverse publishing industry across the board, which should give rise to more diverse writers and more diverse books.

Lippman, 2019

This statement, is in fact one that I am seeing more and more, and as Lippman pointed out earlier in the article, their novels are Baltimore based, an area which is predominantly black. They cannot ignore an entire group of people, who make up the majority of the city that they both live in and write about.

In creating this wide-ranging cast, I took a lesson from one of my heroes, Donald Westlake, who once said, “I became a novelist so I could make things up.” So I did that — but I also asked that my novel be assigned to a sensitivity reader.

Lippman, 2019

Lippman finishes the article with the fact that, although she believes authors don’t need permission to write from other perspectives outside of their own experiences, they should however “be open to being told that they have failed and, in the worst-case scenario, caused real pain.”

The next article that we will be exploring is,

7 Casually Racist Things That White Authors Do

written by Mya Nunnally. In this article, posted on Book Riot, Nunnally begins by commenting on the backlash they received from how the article was titled, “yes, I realize it is not all white authors” before continuing on to the main article.

I’ve been reading for a long time. Before I committed to reaching out and finding more authors of color to read, I read a bunch of white authors. Heck, they make up the majority of published writers.

Nunnally, 2018

Nunnally then goes on to talk about the lack of representation in books as a whole, especially when there are novels that take place in settings like New York City, which has a diverse demographic. It is something that in 2018, when this article is written, is shocking to readers. It doesn’t reflect the world around them.

It’s hard to explain the importance of representation to someone who doesn’t understand. But it’s like not having a good parent to look up to. You don’t have a positive image of what you can be. When you’re a young child of color and all around you are stories and movies and television about white children, you internalize the idea that hey—maybe my story isn’t as important as theirs.

Nunnally, 2018

They talk about novels were, POC are introduced using the colour of their skin, which contributes to this false idea that being white is the default position, when in fact this isn’t true. This contributes to the quote above in a different way. A person is not their skin colour, and often this thinking is what creates such harmful stereotypes in the media.

Nunnally goes on to talk about how many authors describe people of colour by using food, don’t research peoples dialects or culture, write stereotypes and include characters like “the white saviour.”

I really could do without another book/movie/anything where the white person saves “the Natives” because they can’t fend for themselves. This notion has a long, bloody history. This was the idea that many oppressors subscribed to: that it was the White Man’s Burden to save the savages. It led to assimilation and colonization across the globe.

Nunnally, 2018

This quote is actually something that was discussed in a couple of my university courses. We talked a lot about The White Man’s Burden, and the effects it had on peoples perception of others. As Nunnally says in their article, this way of thinking has done so much harm and damage. Nunnally gives film examples which play into these ideas, ones that were made very recently, such as The Avatar, Pathfinder, The Last Samurai, and many others.

It infantilizes people of color and gives them no agency or respect.

Nunnally, 2018

The final article that I will be reviewing is by Mo Black titled,

Yes, You Should Be Afraid to Write “Diverse” Characters

This article begins by talking about the two-sides of the argument.

Mo Black summarizes them into two bullet points:

  1. It is MANDATORY to include at least one character in your main cast of every identity that exists otherwise you’re a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot literally enabling fascism and strangling puppies!
  2. If you’re not a certain identity, you are disallowed from ever writing a character of that identity in any of your work, and if you do you’re a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot literally enabling fascism and strangling puppies!

Although, they approach these perspectives with a bit of sarcastic humour, they are aware of the seriousness within the topic. They give an example of how people react to this discussion…one that I have seen more times than I can count in Twitter threads:

People are so sensitive these days that someone is always going to find a reason to get offended over your work. Forget identity and just write characters as you see fit. If anyone gets offended or approaches you with reasons why your work is “problematic” you can tell them to go right to hell.

Black, 2019

They go on to talk about how writing has a direct effect on readers, readers who come from all different backgrounds, with their own experiences and world-views. When authors don’t take any of that into consideration, it is as if they are choosing to completely ignore their audience.

Writing is a transfer of an experience, from you to your audience. It makes no sense to focus on your side of the message and not care a single bit about the receiving end.

Black, 2019

They go on to say how, authors cannot be there to explain each and every single one of their intentions to their readers. That the only thing that matters in the end, is how the readers interpret what is on the page.

You should be writing your characters as if each one is a fully fleshed out human being. Never include a character in a piece to fill some sort of quota, act as a token for a larger group, or act as a mouthpiece for large sections of the population. Diverse characters don’t need a “reason” to exist in the story at all, as diverse people don’t need a reason to exist in real life.

Black, 2019

This is something that I myself have written about on my blog. Writing people and not stereotypes. As Black states in the article there are men who write wonderful female characters, and women who write wonderful male characters, and includes a great quote from George R.R Martin, “Strangely, I have to say this as sort of a weirdly radical statement, but women are people and they’re driven by the same desires that drive men.”

Black goes on to explain that “[our] idea of what a person is is shaped by [our] experiences, and [our] experiences are shaped by [our] place in society, [our] life, and [our] identity.” By acknowledging this, we are able to deconstruct our thinking and learn from it.

Black then goes on to create two fictional authors in order to provide some examples. Both authors are the same age, one is named Lisa and the other is named Todd. Their lives are fundamentally different, however on the same day they both decide to write a novel, and write all their characters as “people.”

“But Todd and Lisa have vastly different ideas of what people are like. Todd wouldn’t be faulted in thinking that the human experience is cynical and isolated and that trusting others is dangerous and hard to do. Lisa meanwhile couldn’t be faulted for thinking the human experience is social and warm, that friendships and connections are a given in life, and that it’s these that protect us from the cruelty in the world that lies beyond our bonds.” (Black, 2019).

Black uses this example as a way of explaining that

simply “writing humans” is not enough to fully understand how to write diverse characters

Black, 2019

Black continues using both examples, and elaborates on if Lisa were to write about a black boy, being a white woman, “she runs the risk of at best misrepresenting life for people in that situation and passing that misrepresentation on to an audience that doesn’t know any better, or, worse still, codifying the harmful misconceptions and biases readily available in the world around her into her book. Again, she wouldn’t need to be a Nazi or a bad person to do so, but it could still happen unless she’s aware, honest, and makes an effort to not let that happen.”

Black then goes on to explain how if a character doesn’t necessarily meet certain expectations, that it may not be an issue, however this can still falter. Many of the examples Black uses relate to men writing women and vice versa, but the same ideas apply to writing outside of ones own experiences. Mainly it goes back to that example I gave earlier about an adult male author, writing about a girls first period inaccurately.

This isn’t about dipping into to stereotypes. Rather, it’s about understanding the types of experiences people in marginalized groups share….Getting this balance right is what creates authenticity.

Black, 2019

Black then goes on to give advice for authors on how they can approach this issue, suggesting beta readers and also stating that there may be times when a certain story isn’t yours to tell. In this instance Black means that, the experiences might be too far removed from that of the author, and therefore, it may be best not to write at all. Black explains how readers can clearly see when an author is in over their head, and that beta readers can help an author when it comes to avoiding problematic tropes and other issues in their work. They also include one poor and one excellent example of how to write a diverse cast of characters, from works they’ve read.

This was the last article I read, and as you can see, there are many different views on this topic however the majority of people writing about, writing POC in fiction, seem to have one thing in common.

Many believe it is important to educate oneself, research and engage with works written by POC. All points, that I myself agree with. It is important to be willing to set our egos aside as writers, and to learn about other peoples experiences. I have seen so many poor examples of representation across the board, whether than be film or books. These poor examples, should and can be used as a means for learning to do better. By not having characters present to meet some sort of quota, and by not generalizing a group of people.

The entire conversation is controversial simply because no one seems to actually want to engage with it at all. Instead of reading more books by POC, some authors continue to write poor representations of POC in their work. Instead of learning from mistakes made by others or being open to criticism, some authors brush it off entirely, and go on the defensive.

In order to grow as a writer, one needs to be constantly learning both from their own mistakes and from those made by writers they read or read about. In order for the community to evolve in a positive way, we shouldn’t just tell people to, “screw off” when they point out issues with certain portrayals in our work, especially when it comes from a place of concern. Instead, we should listen to our readers and be more aware of our decisions and our own experiences, and how those have an effect on the ways in which our work is interpreted by our readers.

Hello! – June 16th

I haven’t updated my blog recently…mainly due to the heartbreaking events that have been happening over the past few weeks. It didn’t feel right to post novel updates or do character collages. I felt that it was better to amplify the voices that needed to be heard at the time.

These events also made me reflect on my work, and how I can use my platform (although it isn’t very big), to educate people on the importance of diversity in the media.

I have been complaining about the lack thereof, for a couple of years now and before the tragic death of George Floyd I had been writing and planning post regarding diversity in books. I noticed that within my older work, despite having mainly white leads, there have been themes of injustice, not feeling like one fits in, prejudice and racism. Topics that I unintentionally included, and was writing about as a teenager…that I never thought to reflect on until becoming an adult. I think that in the back of my mind, as a visible minority in my community, and being mixed race, these were things that were constantly happening to or around me, that instead of speaking about them openly, I ended up expressing them through my art. A lot of my older stories explore things that I sometimes struggled to understand…emotions that perhaps at the time I didn’t know how to work through.

Do I put myself into my stories? No…I don’t think so. However, I cannot deny the correlation between things happening in the world around me and themes that appear in my books.

Injustice and racism play a huge role in my debut novel…along with discussions of police brutality. I wrote this when I was in high school. I have cops in my family…however, I am a POC. I am fully aware of how people view black people. I have had family members racially profiled. When I started this novel, I was being bullied at school and called all kinds of derogatory names. I brushed it off, but it still hurt…and somehow those emotions manifested in a place of creativity. It actually made me realize how deeply racism affected me growing up.

At seventeen I unintentionally wrote a series where one of my main characters is a visible minority, who is profiled and mistreated because of he’s different. He is forced to change himself to fit into someone else’s standards in order to “protect” himself, and has to act a certain way so people don’t “fear” him.

This series has definitely grown up with me in many ways…but I can’t deny that this character and his experiences are a reflection of how I felt at the time, when I was made to feel…different because of my hair, and my skin. Things that I couldn’t change or control. I understood and related to his frustrations while writing because it was something myself and many other people of colour have and continue to go through.

Realizing this…makes it a bit painful to write. I’ve been working on another novel while my debut is off with my editor, but everything in this series seems so much heavier than I initially thought…I had no intention of writing a story like this…but it seems I’ve been telling stories of injustice and cruelty my entire life. Somehow…pain seeped into my space of creativity and transformed itself through fiction into something that I could handle. In a way…it’s almost a blessing that I’ve been able to use my creativity to express these types of emotions…despite being fully aware of it.

The world is definitely changing…and I think this change will be good. I don’t want my children to have to bury those feelings of frustration and pain so deep that…years later they realize it manifested in their art.

On a less…depressing note…I’ve been working on some really fun voice over projects lately, and I’m really enjoying myself. I’m also finally able to buy makeup, which I haven’t done in…wow…I have work, so I actually want to use some concealer and what not. I’ve liked taking a break from wearing makeup, however, I also miss playing with all the beautiful colours and seeing what types of looks I can create. Honestly, I think Valentines day was the last time I did my makeup. My skin was really clear at the time, so I only used a bit of concealer. Being single on Valentines Day was so fun. I’ve been single every Valentines Day…so far though? I don’t mind honestly. Most of the time I was either in school or working, and I just like the holiday because I have an excuse to wear lots of red (like Christmas).

I’m rambling now, but I really just wanted to end my blog post with something a little less gloomy. I’ve been on and off social media as well because I’m finding it’s been taking a bit of a toll on my mental health, and because my job requires me to be very energetic, I don’t like to feel sad before I get in the booth.

Please remember to take care of yourself, stay safe, wash you hands, and be kind to yourself and others.

Art, Media and Representation

I’ll be honest, I haven’t done any writing today. I forced myself yesterday, with everything that was going on…and it stressed me out.

I still want to write today, and I do plan on it, but for today’s blog, which I am posting very late in the day, I thought it might be better to share some videos that I feel are important.

These videos highlight why I feel it is important to have diversity in art and the media.

I want to show perspectives from all sides, not just my own. Things that affect my friends, family and my community…and how harmful the lack of diversity in the media truly is, and why as artists we need to take this into consideration.

This first video talks about beauty standards in the Philippine’s, specifically looking at skin lightening and the impact it has on women. Clariz talks about how the media tries to make it look as though there are only “light-skinned” Filipino’s through their casting, advertisements etc…when 90% of the population has dark skin. Many of their stars and celebrities are mixed race (with white) or foreigners, and therefore have lighter complexions. The lighter skinned characters in their films and shows are portrayed as the leads, and depicted as having glamorous lives while the darker skinned cast members are often depicted as lower class.

This is extremely similar to how in North American media, mixed people and light-skinned people, are often cast to represent and portray POC (this includes Asian, Indian, Indigenous) on television…and how the lighter skin characters tend to have better narratives, whereas the darker character’s are portrayed as less than or negatively stereotyped.

This is a problem, and it really needs to stop. I hate seeing shows where the darkest female character is “rude, arrogant and bossy” and the writers pretend that she’s just “confident.” Those are negative stereotypes attributed to the colour of a character’s skin.

The art community needs to do better.

As Clariz said in her video, “The problem they have right now is that they just don’t have enough representation where people can actually see themselves on T.V.”

Something that resonates with what I discussed in my blog post on Writing Diverse Character’s. We writers are just as responsible as visual mediums are, for creating proper representation.

Something that myself, and my parents loved about Bratz dolls when I was a little girl, was that there was actual representation.

Now, although I love my Sasha dolls, when rewatching a Bratz Kidz film with my 8 year old niece, my niece pointed out that Sasha was very rude and mean towards her friends. Sasha’s character, was always bossy. This is a negative stereotype, that was used in a children’s television series, with toys (that I loved), that portrayed Cloe as this sweet, overly anxious blonde, in contrast to Sasha, who was much of the time a bully.

Sasha was also known for having great taste in music, and for being an amazing dancer. Also stereotypes. She could have been an animal lover, like Yasmin, or been into design like Jade, or dealt with severe anxiety like Cloe…but no. She was written as a bossy black girl, who has good rhythm.

If an 8 year old little girl can see it, how many other little girls do you think resonated with the animations version of Sasha?

Yes, I loved my dolls, they had the same skin tone as my mom and my aunts and cousins. When I played with them, they weren’t stereotyped like this. Since I had so many Sasha dolls (because it wasn’t easy to get dark skinned/tan Barbie’s at the time), I made them one big family of sister’s. The oldest sister, named Big Sasha always looked out for her younger sister’s. She helped them with their homework, loved their pets and she always bought them ice cream.

Like…they could have written her like that, but they didn’t.

I still love the brand, and the dolls because I loved having dolls that looked like my friends (one in every colour), but from 2020 onward, I don’t want to see these racial stereotypes in children’s entertainment.

Sasha deserved better.

The next video is by 16 year old Nana, who talks about what it is like being a dark-skinned black woman during black history month. She starts off by highlighting colourism, which was addressed in Clariz’s video on Filipina beauty standards (posted above), and explains how there are different privileges and stereotypes for people based on their complexion. As she says early in the video, “It took me a while to learn to love my skin,” which Clariz also said in hers when talking about how at age 11 she was bleaching her skin.

These are young girls, and Nana states this. I love when she points out how problematic this is:

“Why should I as a 16 year old girl in this ever changing society, have to learn to love their skin? That’s how you know how much colourism has impacted me, or has always been in the back of my head.”

This really hurts my heart.

I don’t think people understand that, for POC, these conversations, thoughts etc. are apart of their every day. It isn’t a trendy topic that just pops up on Twitter or on your favourite morning gossip show once every few months. These are ongoing issues.

Nana talks about how in her sixteen years, she has always know that lighter-skinned black girls are viewed in one way, and darker-skinned black girls in another. One being considered “better” than the other, and one only being celebrated because it is currently “trendy” in the media (this video being made around Black Panther’s release). She also points out how when you type #naturalhair on Instagram, you will get light-skinned girls with bouncy curly hair.

I know this to be true…and those girls are more often than not mixed race. I know this, because I myself am a mixed race girl, with this hair texture.

Girls with tighter curls and different textures are under represented on social media. Since 2018, this has at least improved a little on Google Search (Instagram unfortunately is still the same). You will however notice in this collage that I made of the first images I got that 2 of these women are mixed race.

You might also notice that each of these women have different hair textures! Which in my personal opinion, is a good thing, because it does show diversity, and what is natural hair for EACH of these women, and women who are like them. It allows for people to see themselves. Something that Clariz felt was missing in the media representation of Filipina’s.

I love how Nana throughout her video breaks things down from stereotypes and slight-derogatory compliments (i.e. “you’re pretty for a black girl”), and how harmful they are. Her video highlights why it is so important to listen to peoples voices both within and outside of your community.

This next video is by Sherliza Moé, where she talks about Colourism in Asia.

By this point, I’m sure you are seeing a pattern here. Sherliza however, speaks about how there is a misconception that Asian people who want to lighten their skin are trying to “look European/white” but in reality, this desire had been around long before they had been influenced by European and American media and beauty standards. Much like the European hierarchy, if you were rich, you were indoors and therefore less likely to have a darker complexion compared to someone who was working outdoors. Having a lighter complexion was associated with wealth, and having a darker complexion was associated with poverty.

“This is so ingrained in Asian people that we still carry these colouristic views today, but of course history is not the only thing to be blamed for colourism, but media is to blame too,” she says, before heading into her rant about Asian media.

I like that in this video she includes advertisements from of Asian and Indian actors and actresses, clearly stating how having a lighter complexion will help them win in life.

This is so harmful and damaging. In the one, women continue to mistake a man for being a servant because he’s a darker shade of brown. In another a woman who apparently used to be “African” (yep they did black face) completely changed races and became Asian by drinking some type of liquid.

Yah…I know. She was also talking to a grizzly bear, who wanted to be white like a polar bear. Yep. It was pretty messed up.

Her video highlights how this both effects men and women in these communities, as the ads constantly tell men that unless they are pale, women won’t find them attractive. For the women they take this one step further and say, if you’re not pale, you’ll never get married.

This is why proper representation is so important, and why Miwa Ueda’s, Peach Girl made me so happy when I was younger, because like…there was a girl with my complexion in a manga/anime, who had to learn to love herself because people constantly ridiculed her for having darker skin as an Asian woman!

Lack of representation allows for harmful stereotypes to continue to exist. I loved how in a lot of works by Miwa Ueda that she had character’s who were not “conventional” beauties according to Japanese beauty standards. These character’s often learned to love and accept themselves for who they were, and fought against negative stereotypes like, “girls with dark skin are easy” or “girls with dark skin don’t take care of themselves.”

I know it sounds ridiculous, but these are stereotypes that have been ingrained in peoples minds from the time they were children, along with this idea that if you are darker, you are undesirable, and that is wrong.

Sherliza discusses this in great detail when she breaks down Edward Avila’s video, and why she disagrees with him in his statements on why Korean people want lighter skin. She points out how he completely dismisses colourism, and instead tries to say that having light skin is a “personal preference.” Sherliza’s response to that was, “But why is it the personal preference?” and goes on to talk about how the media heavily enforces the idea that having lighter skin will make you more attractive, and will somehow make you happier. She even shows images that people made of celebrities, like Rihanna who were photoshopped to appear white, with comments on them like, “Rihanna would look so much prettier if she was white.”

This seriously emphasizes the importance of having more proper, diverse representation.

Edward makes the statement in his video, “Why do you have to be validated by the media or something we see on the internet?” He thinks that if it is bothering people to see a lack of representation they should just, not engage with it and get off the internet.

Sherliza responds infuriated and sarcastically, “If you are a tan girl constantly surrounded by pale ass people (you can go to 21:06 in the video), so you feel pressured, ugly, and depressed by that, then just go live in a cave. Disconnect your internet. If you don’t see caramel skin being promoted in your area then just don’t look at the media at all!”

She then points out that Edward himself, is Filipino, and decides to go on to talk about colourism in the Philippines like Clariz did in the first video I discussed.

She finishes off by deciding to expose herself, and talk about back when she was 13 and into cosplay and anime. She talks about how it was annoying to cosplay the characters “accurately” because many of the characters were (are) pale. “My skin tone wasn’t nearly as light as these characters and I used to dislike my brownish skin colour so much in the past. I remember even asking a friend to photoshop my skin lighter, so it looks better like…it’s so cringe worthy to think about the past. But yah, there was a lot of this going on when I was 13 to 14,” she says in her video.

She goes on to say how at age 16 she believed that makeup looked so much better and vibrant on people with lighter skin, and would secretly wish to be a few tones lighter. She mentions how during this time the only Asian makeup artists that she would see had light skin. It made her think she wasn’t able to wear certain colours or types of makeup. She said that when she stopped worrying about the colours not looking “right,” and found what worked for her, that she stopped obsessing about having a lighter skin tone.

She finished the video, by putting emphasis on having more diversity in the media. She says, “Hire people who are qualified for the job but give the brown skinned people, the caramel skinned people, a chance!”

To go off her last statement, I want to add that it is important to not only give them a chance at actually being present in the media, but that when they are shown, their characters aren’t written as negative stereotypes that are often attributed to people of their race or complexion.

I want artists, writers and film makers to be mindful when they are creating. How are they portraying the world around them? Are we having more repeats of Sasha from Bratz, a harmful stereotype which enforces the whole, “rude black girl” trope, or are our character’s more complex, and multilayered?

Are we writing Asian men with darker skin who are considered very handsome and attractive, versus poor, geeky or “ratchet”?

Do we show diversity not only by including other races of lighter skin tones or mixed race people in multicultural countries like Canada, England, and the US but those of darker complexions as well? Is there proper and mindful representation being done for people within those communities, or is the representation dangerous and enforcing negative stereotypes?

Each of these girls spoke about how from young children, we are conditioned to think this way by society, and how they had to learn to love themselves. This is not right, and definitely needs to change as we move forward.

I believe with proper representation, people within these communities will love themselves from day one, and people outside of these communities will no longer be fed and enforce these stereotypes subconsciously (or consciously in some cases).

I know that this post was a lot longer than my other ones, but I do hope that it helps you to better understand why it is so important for us as creators to make content where our audiences can see themselves represented.

Book Talk: Writing Diverse Characters

I came across this video, which relates to a few conversations I’ve seen circling the Twitter #WritingCommunity in these past few weeks regarding writing diverse characters (specifically POC).

This video is about 20 minutes, but I think that regardless of your race, it highlights the key issues regarding representation in media and how to do it properly.

When I saw certain threads regarding this topic, and please note that I am not calling anyone out, I was a little disappointed in the comments people made about why they avoided writing characters outside of their race. Many people felt it would be inappropriate to attempt writing a character outside of their own race because “they don’t understand the experience.” No one is telling you to write a story about racial prejudices. The questions were often simply, is your main character a different race than your own, or do you include other races in your work. The colour of your characters skin doesn’t have to be the main focus in your story.

In fact, I find it annoying (not always but a lot of the time), when a show or book put so much emphasis on the race of a character, versus their actual personality. It stunts character development and shows a lack of understanding.

I believe it was an interview that I watched this Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie, back when I took African Lit’ in university, who talked about how as she was a child she would read western books and all the characters were white. So she thought, that that was how it was supposed to be. Characters in books were white.

Here’s the video here:

As she states in this Ted Talk, it really shows how impressionable children are and also highlights and issue that I remember another author, Jenna Moreci mentioning on her Instagram, when she discussed some of the fan art she had been receiving of her characters. She mentioned in the post, that it frustrated her when people drew her characters who she described to have a deep tan and thick curly locks and brown eyes, were being drawn as pale, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. She was baffled by how readers completely ignored the character descriptions, and automatically interpreted the characters as white. She posted beautiful illustrations that she had created by an artist, showing how the characters looked based on her descriptions. Many readers were shocked to see that this character wasn’t white, and were confused because that wasn’t how they pictured him. Jenna didn’t want to make a big deal about race in her novels because the characters race was not essential to the plot. However, and this is just my interpretation as someone who participated in this conversation on her post, she and many others in the comments seemed disappointed by the fact that when an author doesn’t shove “otherness”…and I hate using that word in this case, but I will…and cram it down their readers throats, it goes completely over peoples heads because “western books are about white people.”

Unfortunately this isn’t uncommon. I myself grew up reading books about white people aside from my favourite Robert Munsch book and the ones I was forced to read during black history month.

Yes, I said forced, because growing up the only books at my school with black or mixed main characters were about slavery. Yep. You try being the only “black” person in your class during black history month, while your class is reading about slavery and relearning about Harriet Tubman for the millionth time. The teacher just turns to you and goes, “So what do you think about this?” as if you were paying attention. Dude, I’ve heard this same lesson for the first 8 years of my education. I tuned you out when you started saying “coloured folk.”

I’m backtracking a bit here, but I want to talk about the Robert Munsch book because honestly, it meant so much to me as a little girl. I saw myself as the girl in that book. The book was called Wait and See. The girl in the book, although both her parents were black (unlike in my own family), had bubbles in her hair and it was braided in two like Pippi Longstocking. She styled it just like me! I loved it so much that every time I would read it, I would pretend that I was her and I was making all sorts of birthday cakes and coming up with these absurd wishes. I’d even read it to my little sister and tell her that the baby in it was her.

Simply having illustrations with a character that looked like me, made me feel so happy, during a time where I honestly didn’t pay any attention to race. At that age race honestly wasn’t something that I paid any attention to unless someone asked me why one side of my arm was white and the other side was brown…to which I answered, “Because my Daddy has white skin and my Mommy has brown skin.”

Also, if you don’t know what bubbles are, because my sister and I realize that they’re no longer in style, here’s what they look like:

Honestly, I’m surprised these haven’t made a comeback. They’re so fun and cute! I loved doing mismatch colours. One side had orange and the other blue, or pink and purple.

Anyway, when I started to write my own stories, I like Chimamanda, wrote about white people, unless of course a character was loosely based on one of my friends. I honestly didn’t see a problem with it at the time, until my brother asked why everyone I drew was white. The drawings in this case, being of characters from the book series I wrote when I was in seventh grade. My only response was, “I don’t know…?” because it wasn’t something I did unconsciously. I simply wrote a story and imagined the cast of characters as white people. They could literally be any race at all, but they weren’t.

It wasn’t until I heard Chimamanda’s Ted Talk in University that it all came together.

Initially I don’t think I noticed it because I’m half-white and half-black. I don’t look at myself as a singular race. I never have. I embody two races and two cultures. Growing up I watched Full House and I watched Fresh Prince. I loved The Proud Family and Kim Possible.

One thing I often thought was strange was how in movies where characters had relationships like my parents, the two families always fought about race…that…that was just…honestly films with interracial couples that only focus on racial issues bother me. I haven’t read a novel with an interracial couple yet, but I have heard that sadly…it is often the same. I’m not saying that we should ignore these experiences, I’m just saying why can’t we have a romance where two people are of a different race or culture and not make the entire thing about race and culture. Why can’t it be your typical person A meets person B and they fall in love kind of story?

The other reason why I don’t think I noticed the lack of diversity in literature, and also the reason why I myself mainly wrote white characters growing up, is because that is what English literature looked like. As I said before, the only books aside from the Robert Munsch one, that I read about black people were about slavery. The only books that I read about Asian people…well at least here in Canada…were about David Suzuki. I’m not joking. It sounds absurd now with all the sudden representation in literature and film in the last 5 years…but seriously. Unless it was like manga, I didn’t read anything about people who weren’t white.

Now like I said, I’m not here to call anyone out. I’m guilty of doing this, but I am also fully aware of why people subconsciously write their characters this way. I can understand the concept of not wanting to tell a story that isn’t your own experience…however, being of another race doesn’t make your character who they are. There are so many different layers to this.

The hopeless romantic is still a soft hearted, falls hard, lives in their own fantasy world type of person.

The warrior is still strong, fighting to survive and constantly adapting to their situations.

Their race has nothing to do with these aspects of their personalities.

I also don’t think it is necessarily appropriate to purposely fill your novel with a diverse cast of characters, for the sake of it, or because it is currently “trendy” or what literary agents are looking for. And yes…I have seen literary agents and publishers specifically say they want stories with POC main characters. Being inclusive shouldn’t be a way to make money…but whatever.

What I’m saying is, by trying to force diversity into your work, you will end up taking away from the story. I’ve seen this happen and it completely blew up in the authors face.

What happens is you end up with a bunch of dangerously problematic stereotypes, which takes away from your writing and shows a lack of creativity.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, but how can I write people outside my race? And even if you aren’t thinking that, well…you’ve probably seen that question come up in writing circles or across the web.

The answer is simple, just write a character the way you normally would. Don’t suddenly make them crave fried chicken, or be obsessed with bubble tea, or love na’an bread. If you are writing a character, you write them as a person, not as a stereotype of a group of people.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching both of those videos along with videos about literary tropes and misrepresentation all across the board.

I also hope that you do understand that just because it seems “trendy” right now to have a diverse cast of characters, doesn’t mean you should write diverse characters for the sake of being on trend. In my personal opinion that can be even more problematic than not being diverse at all.

A favourite artist of mine, Shiroi Room isn’t black but she draws black characters. I have two of her illustrations and they are beautiful! The one I have in this collage is the “Party” one.

What I mentioned above still applies to other forms of art, not just literature. Just because you don’t know how to draw braids or twists yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. How will you learn if you never give it a shot?

All in all, I wanted to discuss this topic in regards to literature (and media as a whole), because representation does matter, and to me it is baffling that myself and other authors like Chimamanda fell into this subconscious mindset that all western literary characters have to look a certain way.

As I told my niece in a drawing tutorial I made for her, you can make your characters look however you want. They can even have purple skin and green hair.

Just treat your characters with care and consideration.