Thought Catalog

I’m A Black Writer, So Why Are My Characters Always White?

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As a young girl growing up, adopted by a white family, living in a predominantly white community and watching whitewashed media, I never had a role model who looked like me to admire. Obviously, this is very damaging for me as a child, because it taught me to look elsewhere for inspiration and gave me no idea of what black culture was, other than what stereotypes were portrayed in movies and on television.

I started writing very young. I always had stories in my head, and felt the need to write them down. By the end of high school, I had started five different novels, all with the intention of getting them published someday. Those projects got shelved during college, due to lack of time to work on them, and upon graduation and my impending choice whether to join the working world or go to grad school, I decided to get my Masters degree in creative writing, and pulled out my old stories to put together a portfolio for my application.

It was a great time to reminisce and see how much I’d grown in my writing skills, but a staggering trend stood out to me, which hadn’t caught my attention until this moment. All my characters were white. Even if it didn’t explicitly say this in the text, the people I had imagined in my head were very much Caucasian. I then began to analyze some new stories I had began writing in my yearlong break between college and grad school; all of these stories featured a white female as the lead, with a white male character as the love interest.

When I closed my eyes to imagine these fictional people, why were they always white? I am not white myself, and would’ve thought I’d write towards my own image (as many writers do use themselves as inspirations for their characters). So why wasn’t any part of me in any of them? I started to ponder this, whilst the many feelings of my racially confusing life started to float into my head. Even though on every form, I check off African American as my ethnicity, I truly identify as white, because that’s all I’ve ever known.

Looking in the mirror, and how you feel inside are two completely different things in my case. I know from my skin color that I am black. But I also know from how I was raised and by what I was exposed to in the media, I am white. I’ve struggled all my life to connect the two, and it’s always been a weak point for me, because I’m neither white enough for the white people, nor even close enough to being black enough for the black community. And this is why I write white characters, because it’s easier.

Since this revelation, I’ve consciously made an effort to make my characters reflect me as a person more. I’ve specifically created story ideas which feature a black or mixed race female as the main character, and focused my energy more towards writing plot lines that include the struggle that a person of color would go through in their daily life. When it was a white character, they didn’t have to deal with much, but adding the race element means I get to explore more conflict, which is something I know will help me grow as a writer. TC mark

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    I used to deal with this all the time, but in different ways. I don’t know if anyone has had the issue of genres being racialized, but I used to want to write fantasy and science fiction, which is apparently a “white” genre set. I think that’s absolutely ridiculous now, but that definitely stopped me from writing what I really wanted to for a long time.

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