Thursday, May 29, 2014

White Male Writers Writing "The Other": Damned if You do, Damned if You Don't

Honestly, I think the whole idea of inclusiveness in genre writing is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation for white male writers of genre literature. On the one hand, if you avoid including "the other" in your writing for fear of getting it wrong and offending, you may be accused of perpetuating the whitewashing of genre. On the other hand, if you are a white male trying to write about "the other", you might be seen as doing something disrespectful or dangerous, which may also offend. Heaven help the white male writer who inadvertently makes a misstep writing about "the other". That's guaranteed to offend.

I gotta say, I've been reluctant to write about "the other", because I'm afraid of offending someone. I don't want to write about cultures or societies I know very little to nothing about. However, not writing about "the other" might also offend. Then one might be accused of avoiding diversity. I suppose that accusation could get thrown my way, since my handful of published stories feature mostly white male characters. Of course, that is partly due to the fact that I'm heavily influenced by European medieval history and European folklore. Those are major interests of mine, and it shows in my work.

Heck, even talking about this topic can be a hot-button issue. Such talk can lead to trouble. I'm sure I've already said something that will offend someone. I'm sure there are some out there who will say I haven't a clue. Wouldn't be the first time.

This is one of the reasons why I feel happiest when avoiding it altogether and working on art for my stores. None of my customers seem to mind that I'm a 40-something white male artist concentrating on imagery associated with white European culture. They don't seem to have an issue with the fact that my art inspired by (mostly European) history, myth, and legend might be lacking in broader cultural diversity. I do the sorts of stuff my customers seem to want. My stuff sells. I make money.

Even so, I am starting to portray "the other" in my art. I've already begun building a body of work portraying women of fantasy in reasonable garb and reasonable poses (being something of a medievalist and historic arms and armour buff, I tend to avoid the whole "chain mail bikini" thing). One of my sci-fi artworks currently in submission limbo features a black male scientist/explorer/astronaut/aquanaut alongside a while female scientist/explorer/astronaut/aquanaut. I'm hoping that one will see publication sooner or later, even if it's in a micro-press zine.

BTW, at first glance, the fact that a white male writer with the last name of "Fay" wrote a tale inspired by Irish folklore might not seem like much of an example of writing about other cultures. However,
considering the fact that my mother's side of the family are Slovak-Americans and my step-father's family are Italian-Americans, I think I did a fine job of making "Father Ryan's Fright" feel like an authentic Irish tale. I'm sure I made some mistakes. After all, I was not raised Irish. My knowledge of Irish culture comes mostly from reading loads of Irish folk and fairy tales. However, I probably would make even more mistakes, including potentially offensive ones, writing about more diverse cultures or societies, since such things would be outside my realm of knowledge. I could read and research and expand my knowledge, but such knowledge could never be as deep as my knowledge of things I've been reading about for years (and years, and years). Call me someone unwilling to take risks, call me someone unwilling to stray out of his "safe zone", but I much prefer to write about what I know than what I don't know.


Rachel V. Olivier said...

Yeah. I hear you. I think, for me, find beta readers (or viewers) who can read my work and give you a thumbs up or thumbs down on how I'm doing when writing in other cultures seems to help.

Richard Fay said...

Sounds like a smart thing to do.