Writing for the Other et al. is an interesting discussion on ethnicity in fiction. There are two schools of thought about this: 1) write everyone as a person first, ethnicity second and 2) people are too complicated to be written as “persons”. I tend toward the second view since the first is rife with assumptions. You can’t assume that everyone has the same core values and definitions for what it is to be a person, and you can’t assume that ethnicity can be layered onto anyone the same way that you pick a hat to wear.
I’ve written in this blog before that I would like to be seen as a person first rather than as my background. Now, this does not mean that I want the reader to think that I’m just some nebulous voice box with some opinions snatched from thin air. I’m aware that everyone comes from somewhere. The background always has some sort of influence on point of view. I just don’t want anyone reading some fact about me, like my gender for instance, and then automatically assuming that I’m a certain way before I say or do anything as an individual.
I see it this way: A person with background A and another with background B have a range of experiences and personalities. Some of it overlaps. Some of it doesn’t. The stuff that doesn’t overlap isn’t superficial. Maybe on some level, the first person understands the experiences of the second person. But qualitatively, it won’t be the same unless the first person had actually experienced it in the same sort of circumstances–i.e. the overlapped section.
Anyways, I think writers should be aware of the complexity of depicting different ethnicities in their fiction but that they should also go ahead and write it all out on their own first. Don’t let others dictate what to write because of somebody else’s idea of what’s nice and just. Nobody’s ideas for nice and just are the same*. Get the story out and then let the fanatics for identity politics tear it up. Because let’s face it: no matter how the story turns out, there will always be someone who will nitpick even if it’s something as inconsequential as the kind of shoes a minor character is wearing on page 189.
*Of course, there’s the argument that there’s a baseline for what’s nice and just and maybe writers should keep that in mind. But where is that baseline? Is it fine for an author to include other ethnicities in any capacity? Must the author also strive for authenticity? How will we measure “authenticity” when people within an ethnic group have different experiences? Or will it only be acceptable if the author is also the ethnicity of their characters?