Characters of color are crucial but are not a replacement for creators of color — Saladin Ahmed
The first time I became aware that I was deliberately including a character of colour in my writing was when I started writing The Raven Sonata.
The female lead character is Chinese/French-Canadian. Another female character is Chinese/Scottish-Canadian. Yes, I have a thing for interracial or biracial characters. I just naturally lean towards them.
Maybe deliberate is a strong word when it comes to my first fiction novel. I didn’t set to deliberately, to purposefully choose to have one of the lead characters be a character of colour. It just happened.
After that, I became more aware of the issue of representation in the arts and entertainment industry. I’m not sure what category writers/novelists fall into within the industry but I made a point to tell the stories that included characters of colour.
It was also during that time I became aware of how I really felt about representation. How representation affected me when I was growing up. I grew up in a neighbourhood and in schools where ethnicity was everywhere. But on TV and in movies, ethnicity in lead characters were slim to none.
Anyway, I won’t harp on that. I’ll leave that to those who know the history of representation.
During the writing of the second novel (don’t worry, I will reveal the title of the book when the time comes), I realized that none of my characters are ‘white’. But given the storyline and the setting, its not surprising that there isn’t a caucasian character. I suppose you could insert one, but why? I didn’t think it needed it. Also, it was a question that never came up.
I’d rather not think about the ethnicity of my characters but it seems I eventually have to. But I don’t think about it until I’m well into writing the story. That’s what happened when I was writing the second novel. My reaction to what I had done? I shrugged my shoulders, thought it was interesting and went back to writing. I didn’t care to ‘whiten’ anything. And in the same token, I didn’t vigilantly stay ethnic to avoid ‘whiteness’.
I think, for the most part (but I could be wrong), readers don’t notice these things unless they’re wired that way or taught to notice them or someone brings it up and then it becomes a footnote or a trivia question somewhere down the road.
I don’t put extra emphasis on ethnicity when I’m creating my characters. To be honest, my characters decide their ethnicity and who they are. They tell me and I roll with it. I may refine the small stuff but, on the whole, the question of the ethnicity of a character has already been decided for me.
Other factors go into creating a character, ethnicity is just one piece of the puzzle. But it is an important piece that shouldn’t be overshadowed by everything around it or overshadow everything else. There is a balance. What that balance is, I have no know idea. I go by instinct.
The stories I tell and will tell in the future, and the characters who inhabit and will inhabit these stories, are framed by my experiences, my hopes, my dreams and my desires. They won’t be to everybody’s liking. And I really don’t give a shit.
But as a person of colour (if one wants to think in those terms), I believe my voice should be out there, along with other creators of colour. How loud my voice will be depends on who is willing to listen. I can’t make people listen to me. I don’t plan on making grand statements. Too much responsibility. Plus, I’m not narcissistic enough for that bullshit.
I just have stories to tell. I have characters whose voices want to be heard. Like me, they’re happy to have the ear of one person or a hundred people.