You may have noticed from my little avatar, but just in case you didn’t, I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m not white.
Sorry if it came as a surprise. It’s so much a part of me that I don’t think about it on a daily basis. I certainly don’t stop to point it out, at least not until today. Even when I look in the mirror I don’t notice the color of my skin or the slant to my eyes. It’s just me. I’ve been mistaken for Filipino, Hawaiian, Black, Latina… I am all of that, and none of it. (Oddly enough, no one has ever mistaken me for English or Scottish, even though I’m also that and only God knows what else!)
Every once in a while someone will ask me where I’m from. My answer? Ohio. That is where I was born after all. Sometimes they’ll laugh, they think I’m toying with them. But originally, they’ll say, where are your parents from? Um, Nicaragua and Jamaica. Oooohhhh… Like that explains it.
The thing is, I’ve never claimed to be anything other than a first-generation American. My parents are both mixed race so in my opinion, there’s not enough of any one nationality in me to claim one race. That would be shortchanging part of who I am. When I fill out those forms that ask for ethnicity, I check every box except Eskimo. As far as I know, that’s the only one that doesn’t apply. But honestly, if an Alaskan native shows up on my doorstep and claims to be related, I’m not going to faint from surprise. I’ve got everything else. Why not that too?
But as a writer, what is my responsibility to represent people like me in the pages of my books?
I’ve been blogging for two years and never felt the need to talk about my race. People either like reading my posts or they don’t. I don’t think my race has anything to do with it.
In my books, I imagine characters who are not white, but I never say what any of them are. I don’t think I even mention skin color except in one story. And every reader thought from my description that the kid just had a tan. *sigh* In many of the stories I’ve read where they do mention skin color, it often sounds contrived. Sometimes through language or situations or names, you realize that the character isn’t white. That, to me, is the most natural way to integrate it.
Or through the cover. But that’s a whole other can of worms that I’m not even going to get into. Not today at least.
Because there are a lot of people like me. We were born in America, we see ourselves as American. We don’t have ethnic names, we just speak English (okay, yes, I speak Spanish as well, but ignore that for the moment!).
Do I have a responsibility as a writer to find a way to represent people like me on the page?
(And btw, sorry if you were expecting a different type of racy discussion, but I write middle grade. You can visit Stina if you want a more sexy topic 😛 )