Saturday, September 06, 2014

RMFW Workshop on stereotyped characters

This Sunday, author Mario Acevedo and I led the workshop, Deep-six the Stereotypes - Writing Characters from Another Culture. Below are URLs with more information about the described topics. Even writers who didn't attend the Con might find the info useful. While they relate mostly to spec lit, they're applicable to all lit.

Sherman Alexie: "Yes, there are white folks who write well about Indians. Tom Spanbauer and Craig Lesley are two of them. Here's my official statement on the matter: White folks, I don't care if you write about Indians. You don't need my approval, advice, or opinion. Do your thing. Put that wise old grandfather in it. And maybe some talking animals. And a very concerned white person who wants to save the Indians. Just don't expect me to read it." Alexie once told Bill Moyers, “I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian.” [Because he's been surrounded by whites all his life, everywhere, providing him with plenty of material for building characters.]

The great Chicano poet Dr. Ricardo Sánchez "Chicano literature can only be written by Chicanos" and "only Chicanos understand the nuance of the Chicano way of life."

Award-winning author Manuel Ramos: "Anyone can write anything he or she wants. Go ahead and include ethnic characters in your book so that it has the feel of authenticity. Throw in Spanish swear words. Make your protagonist a single, Latina female because your agent assures you that is what the NY editors are looking for - but be ready for heat if you get it wrong. Stereotypes, subtle racism, paternalism, and naiveté are products of bad writing. Call the bad writing cultural appropriation or exploitation or simply "another rip off artist passing himself as brown and trying to be just as greasy as us regular meskins."

From my presentation: "Independence Day, Armageddon and Deep Impact are just three of the movies that are offensive and inaccurate in their exclusion of a Latino presence. In these films, the American military is depicted without one single Latino character. The only Latinos in Independence Day and Deep Impact are stereotypical Mexican farm workers (one of the three prevalent stereotypes of Latinos in television and motion pictures, the gang-banger and 'illegal alien'). In Los Angeles, where the majority of America's motion pictures and television programs are produced, the population is 44% Latino, so, finding a cast shouldn't have been too difficult."

Author Samuel Delany's historic essay Racism and Science Fiction. He details and explains how a short story was rejected by a notoriously bigoted editor because the protagonist was black. "The famous sci-fi editor of Analog Magazine, John W. Campbell, Jr., rejected it, with a note and phone call to my agent explaining that he didn’t feel his readership would be able to relate to a black main character. As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, prejudice will remain a force—until, say, black writers start to number twenty percent of the total. . . ."

Author N.K Jemison's WisCon GoH Speech. "Trigger warning: I’m going to refer to rape, harassment, racism, and other forms of bigotry and abuse in this speech. Also, profanity warning. That’s sort of standard with me." Jemison has written considerable material about writing and non-white characters.

Protocols for Producing Indigenous Australian Writing has many relevant points applicable to U.S. writers. [Do U.S. writers have anything similar? Maybe we need for than one.]

My main points about avoiding stereotyped characters:
1. U.S. minorities are not one homogenous mass. Please don't ALWAYS use one black or Asian character and feel that that diversifies your fiction.
2. Brown does not equal brown. Hispanic is a 70s federal government term that many do not identify with. Latino may not be much better. Do your research about your specific setting and recruit a beta reader who's from there.
3. Use the Spanish of people from your setting. A Spanish-language, beta reader from the Univ. of Barcelona may not be what you want. Maybe your Chicano or mexicano neighbor would be.
4. Many Chicanos consider author John Nichols to be an honorary Chicano because of how he portrays Chicanos in the trilogy that began with The Milagro Beanfield War.I'd recommend this as a great example for Anglo authors. [Another author that Mario and I recommend for how he writes outside of his culture is Warren Hammond in his KOP series.] 
5. Conflict. When's the last time you gave your heroine a mexicano to interact with, one that wasn't just a drug dealer or a homeboy in a Cadillac, hiding an Ouzi under his hoodie? You want conflict? Have your white hero fall in love with an undocumented female who's shot, wounded and arrested by Border Patrol. Or, would your hero ever accidentally join a Ferguson protest and have to deal with the cops? Whose side would he join? Widen your cast of characters beyond your comfort zone or life experience. Then deal with it.

More info:

A Day of Latino Science Fiction - about workshops I, Mario Acevedo and other Chicano authors led earlier this year. Sponsored by The Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies at the Univ. of Calif., Riverside.

If White Characters Were Described Like People of Color In Literature. Satire on why not to use food-terms to describe a non-white character.

Alternate Visions: Some Musings on Diversity in SF

How To Write The Other - a literary retreat.

A Whitewashed Earthsea, How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Inclusive Reviewing: A Discussion (on Strange Horizons)

People of Color in European History. A great site about how PoC are excluded from classical or ancient history. 

A Strange Chicano at a Stranger Con. My reports about five panels I participated on at the 2013 WorldCon.


Spic vs spec -Chicanos/latinos & sci-fi lit. My series on the issue.

Project Hieroglyph and people of color. How I don't see the new SF Project Hieroglyph as taking on one of the biggest weakness of the genres.

Another World Waits: Towards an Anti-Oppressive SFF by Daniel José Older. Another Chicano's perspective. By una puertoriqueña, archived reviews of books, movies and programs and how they depict Latinos.

The Carl Brandon Society - a largely black organization to help build awareness of race and ethnicity in speculative literature and related fields

If you attended this workshop or have further questions, please contact Mario Acevedo or me.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. Rudy Ch. Garcia, Chicano spec novelist of The Closet of Discarded Dreams.

1 comment:

Eileen Gunn said...

Hi, Rudy,

Great list of resources! Thank you.

Two/three more you may be interested in:
Writing the Other, by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward - Classic book on the topic (from about 2005, still in print, still selling like hotcakes). Shawl is a writer with an incredible ear for dialogue. Her short story collection, Filter House, is an excellent example of the subtle use of dialogue (not dialect!) to reveal a speaker's age, cultural history, economic status, prejudices, and personality.

"Shame" by Pam Noles - A personal essay from 2006 by a remarkable writer and thinker, about the issue of the whitewashing of Le Guin's Earthsea
books in the film.

In looking up the URL for Shame, I noticed that Noles also wrote a
5-part essay about Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's Golliwog characters, for
which she received death threats, courtesy of the extremely hostile
environment in the gamer/comic community. I will read it ASAP.

Again, thanks! I will be teaching at Clarion West next year, and your list will go in my assignments for the students.