HomeReviewsInterviewsStoreABlogsOn Writing

Aint that the truth.

There’s a great column over at Dear Author about cultural appropriation in romance, go read and learn.

By the way, if anybody can figure out what the third commenter is talking about, I’ll give you an effing medal. Jesus H, that was some gobbledygook speak right there.

Anyway, I thought I’d highlight some of the more noteworthy comments:

I also used to love Joey W. Hills books. Of course her characters are all white too, with the exceptions of some of the pyschos or criminals.
Barbara B.

I can only assume that a creator of a fictional world makes that world the way she WISHES the real world could be. A world with no pesky brown or black people taint.

Barbara B.

For years I tried to sell a book about an Asian-American. At one point someone pointed out to me (either an editor or an agent, I don’t remember any more) that Asians didn’t read. What? Really? Finally sold it to an e-publisher … to favorable reviews. But after that, I’ll stick to writing about white people. Because that’s what seems to sell.
EilisFlynn

Sorry, let me just interrupt the comment quotes to ask if the term ‘bi-cultural’ is actually used to describe mixed race peeps these days?

But I don’t read a lot of novels with non-white protags. I don’t SEE a lot of them, either, though. But when I do, I am turned off if Race is the main character of the story, and not the people themselves. That might be MY white privilege showing, but I don’t like when a character is subverted into their “Race”, instead of being who they are.
RStewie

This is an interesting and important topic, and I’ve been enjoying reading the comments. But all I can say about Barbara B’s rather passionate post is – WOW! From “White people think that only their experiences are universal and thus relateable to everyone” on, it’s quite apparent there’s a lot of rage there. Complaining about racism and stereotypes with more racism and stereotypes. And no, I’m not a fan of Limbaugh or Hannity. Some things are universal.
JoanneF

JoanneF, you don’t get it, and you probably never will. Urrrgh.

Most white people write about white people because … well, they’re white. They know how to be white, they understand what it’s like to be white, and they can write convincing, believable white people who seem real on paper.
SW Vaughn

You felt the need to compare possibly getting some critical comments about your writing to GETTING LYNCHED? You really thought that was appropriate?

The above comment was from ‘Travis’ in response to some inane comment that ‘Alisa Neil’ made.

I don’t think Barbara’s responding with “racism and stereotypes.” On the other hand, there does exist a racist stereotype of the “angry black woman.” I’m sure you didn’t mean to invoke it, but I doubt that attempting to refute Barbara’s alleged racism and stereotypes by making a statement which could itself be interpreted as using yet another racist stereotype will help the discussion to develop in a calm and objective manner.
Laura Vivanco

Check this comment by ‘Lisa’ out:

What an annoying post. The only point of it that I can see is to try to make me feel guilty because I like to to read about white people in love. I’m sorry but I don’t have the energy to read with all my great sense of “white guilt” for the racial sins of the past, present and future. And I don’t think Handy is going to succeed in her mission, which is what, exactly? To convice the majority of romance readers (most of whom are not Ph.D’s in English and are unschooled in all this subtext) to feel pangs of conscience in their reading pleasure because the presumably white writer does not write with all the multicultural senistivity, talent, and skill of the typical English professor?!

Wow. Just…wow.

Moving on swiftly:

Many white people who read romance are on the outside looking in as well.
Caligi

Another person who obviously doesn’t get it.

Why are mixed race/biracial (black/white) black women always seen as the ideal alternative to writing a white character?
L

What does sadden me is this backlash against romances if they happen to feature Caucasion characters and written by a Caucasion. We wouldn’t be upset to see an Asain writing about Asian characters, so why is there so much offense to these authors writing what they know
Sabrina

What backlash is Sabrina talking about? Does anybody know??

The following comment from Jade Lee is rather sad:

After 3 books, Harlequin considers the experiement over. The sales were extremely poor. It was not the fault of promotion or marketing. I got a TON of promotion. It was also (according to senior editor Brenda Chin and the few who read the books) not the fault of the writing. The books were excellent. The problem? Her exact words were the “Jade Lee name is tainted as Asian.”

So, as of my April book, I will be writing for Harlequin as Kathy Lyons. Look for Under His Spell with a very caucasian cover then…

So…for now, Jade Lee will write historials set in Regency England with completely white people. And Kathy Lyons will write Caucasian stories for Harlequin. I am now deciding whether or not to put up my picture on my Kathy Lyons website. Is it even worth letting people know that I look and am half Chinese?
Jade Lee

That’s just too sad for words.

Maybe one day someone will convince me of it, but people have been trying since college and I still don’t find race that much of a factor.
Caligi

I’m amazed that anybody can honestly say that they don’t think that race is that much of a factor”, but whatev.

I found the following comment by ‘Jinni’ very interesting:

The guest writer is right, but they need to also acknowledge that a majority of the agents/editors are also white. Books I’ve written (I’m black) with white protagonists have had little reception problem. The books of my heart with black protagonists always get the same response – love your writing – couldn’t ‘connect’ with the characters.

Filters are a problem. I think the readership is more receptive than the people who choose what we read.
Jinni

But point blank, some readers would rather read stories of women who look like them, being romantically/sexually involved with a werewolf or a demon or a vampire who once again, read like men of their racial group.
Xica

This is really, truly a case of “Physician, heal thyself.” Until romance readers show they’re interested in buying books that don’t fit the established parameters (and in large numbers, not just niche markets), the homogenization is only going to get more pronounced.
Jackie Barbosa

I just read the transcript of a chat that a top paranomal author, who was basically giving away plots on her soon to be published books, and yet when a reader asked when one of her uber popular characters would meet a black woman, the author got so coy, you could hear a pin drop.
Xica

My guess is J.R Ward, she invented the term ‘cultural appropriation’. Just kidding. Well…not really.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating column, so if you haven’t read it already, I urge you to do so. The comments as per these conversations, are most enlightening, and not always in a good way.

38 Comments »

  • The 3rd commenter? I got confused after the X men and food references. I’m sure it all makes sense somewhere…on some planet…somehow

    ReplyReply


  • Maili
    October 28
    9:53 am

    Sorry, let me just interrupt the comment quotes to ask if the term ‘bi-cultural’ is actually used to describe mixed race peeps these days?

    As far as I know, no. It usually refers to a person (of any race) who grew up with two different cultures (and sometimes, languages) within a country.

    I think ‘biracial’ is the preferred term in the US? In the UK, it’s mixed race, but in the US, mixed race refers a person with more than two racial ancestries.

    Jinni’s comment:

    The guest writer is right, but they need to also acknowledge that a majority of the agents/editors are also white.

    I wasn’t sure whether to respond to that because I don’t know who’s who in the industry.

    But there is a number of mainstream romance editors who are Asian American. DA Jane did a head count on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, didn’t she? About seven, I think? Almost all are high-profiled or at least to me as a reader, they are. The best known editor name to me is Cindy Hwang because of her high-profiled involvement with launching (I think) Kensington’s Brava line. I thought there was another – Erica Tsang, but I was wrong. But anyroad.

    Edit:
    Yes, there is a Erica Tsang. She’s at Avon. 😀

    ReplyReply

  • I started to comment on JR Ward, but that woman’s books piss me off so badly that I just decided not to go there. She’s the Elvis of Romance, and frankly I don’t think we needed one, but whatever.

    ReplyReply

  • I guess I wish it was more clear what point the OP was making. That there aren’t enough POC in romance? That POC should only be written by POC? She seems to contradict herself by on one hand saying there are not enough heroes or heroines who aren’t white and then turning around and calling authors who write POC, but aren’t POC themselves, “white appropriation”. So what does she want, exactly?

    I have no issue with anyone’s point of view (whether I agree or not), I just really don’t like when that POV isn’t clear, and it’s incredibly unclear if the OP was actually making a point or simply taking the opportunity to rant. Which is fine, if it’s just ranting, I’d just like to know up front, I guess.

    ReplyReply

  • I can’t speak for the OP, but to me there’s no problem with whites writing the characters as long as they don’t do stupid stuff with them. There seems to be a compulsion to “otherize” people of color or have them behave in stereotypical ways. I’m really struggling with a series I love because the author has this problem big-time. Seriously? An old black man singing “Mr. Bojangles” in a barbecue place in Seattle AND tap-dancing? I have to skip a whole chapter in that book because that scene really makes me want to wall-bang the whole damned thing.

    ReplyReply


  • Maili
    October 28
    2:46 pm

    @Fae Sutherland

    My interpretation:

    More POC characters, more POC authors, fewer white authors using POC characters – until the balance (between POC characters and white characters, and between white authors and POC authors) is adjusted enough to make POC part of the genre fiction landscape as the norm.

    When it reaches that stage, white authors can then portray POC however they like without worrying about getting it right or offending anyone, because there would be plenty of other novels featuring POC around. No more ‘societal burden’ on white authors, too, and they can write under any name they want.

    In the meanwhile, POC authors can write whatever they want – and under any name they want – without dealing with race-related editorial pressures or/and restrictions. Their books also can be judged by the quality of their writing, rather than having their works being compared with the stereotypical expectations of a race or ethnicity; made part of a publishing experiment, or separated from other novels of the genre in a retail bookshop and/or library.

    Edit:
    Should point out that this, of course, doesn’t mean authors now can’t write whatever they want! 😀

    ReplyReply

  • I guess I just don’t see it as a race thing. I see it as a business decision. Writers write what sells. Publishers publish what sells. If somebody wants to change what sells (and hence change what’s written and what’s published), they need to look to the readers of the world. It’s Business 101, supply and demand. It might not be nice, but business never is and writing is no different. Money makes it all go round. If readers want something different, they need to make the people who buy the manuscripts hear that desire. And what talks loudest? Money. Buy the books that represent what you want more of that *are* out there, because nothing will ever change otherwise. (universal you, not specific you)

    Fair? No. But we all know how that saying goes.

    ReplyReply


  • Anon76
    October 28
    5:35 pm

    I must go read the whole thing before I comment. I know snippets are to entice, but I need the whole enchilada.

    ReplyReply

  • I think the reality is that until we as readers start putting books with POC main characters (h/h), written by POC on the best seller lists publishers aren’t going to take this discussion to heart. Money talks loud and clear.

    And this…

    An old black man singing “Mr. Bojangles” in a barbecue place in Seattle AND tap-dancing?

    is just obscene and wrong on so many levels.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 28
    7:31 pm

    calling authors who write POC, but aren’t POC themselves, “white appropriation”.

    Only if they do it badly (ie, without respect for the culture/person they are writing about, like the only reason to write a POC is because we’re ‘exotic’).

    My other issue with cultural appropriation/white privilege is white main characters in non-western lands, with POC characters perpetually in the background or as the villain.

    Eta: I suggest watching this video. It might make my point clearer? http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/652 (If I’d seen this before I wrote the OP, I’d have saved myself a lot of words.)

    ReplyReply


  • joannef
    October 28
    11:51 pm

    JoanneF, you don’t get it, and you probably never will. Urrrgh.

    Right back atcha, Karen. You don’t know anything about me or my life, or what I do or don’t get. I can only assume that you agree with Barbara B that, “White people think that only their experiences are universal,” since it was my response to that particular statement that you seem to be judging me on. I’d never make a proclamation regarding what “Black people think” or “Asian people think” because, first of all I’m not Black or Asian, and secondly, I believe that not all Black people think alike, and not all Asian people think alike; just as I know that not all white people think alike. Our life experiences are defined by more than just our skin colors, don’t you think?

    Sigh! At least I tried to understand and tried to be understood. Unfortunately, I’ve apparently failed miserably.

    BTW, Karen, I’ve always been a big fan of your blog.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 29
    12:40 am

    @JoanneF “White people think that only their experiences are universal,” doesn’t mean, “white people all think alike”. What it means is actually the opposite, because there are so many stories of white people that we KNOW they don’t all think the same way. Also because white stories are so prevalent, white culture becomes the default or “normal” culture, where people of colour are expected to be able to relate to white people and white stories because it’s all around them, but the opposite is not true. It’s kinda like how stories about boys are “universal stories”, and stories about girls are “girl stories” or “stories for girls”. It’s not stereotyping white people or racism against white people; it’s pointing out the issues of whiteness as the standard or default mode, which is where white privilege comes from.

    ReplyReply


  • joannef
    October 29
    3:06 am

    Thanks, handyhunter, for explaining in a non-pejorative way. I do, and have, understood your point from your original blog, which I very much enjoyed. My objection was never toward your article, but to some of the more confrontational (for lack of a better word) responses.

    I’ll also admit to not being comfortable with the term “white privilege.” I’d prefer “majority privilege” or something similar, because that’s what it actually is. Is it still called “white privilege” in Tokyo or Kinshasa? There are large swaths of the world, and lots of smaller ones, where white people are not in the majority, and I happen to live in one. And I’m not making it “all about me” as has been suggested. Yes, there are many advantages for white people – some more than others – in the USA and Western society in general, and obviously in the world of mainstream romance novels – and that’s wrong. I’m not an author, and I’d love to be part of the solution, but other than buying more AA romance novels, I really don’t know what more people like me can do.

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to try to understand what I’m trying to say, and explaining clearly. Sorry for being so long-winded.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 29
    5:30 am

    @joannef: My objection was never toward your article, but to some of the more confrontational (for lack of a better word) responses.

    I understand this reaction, but it’s known as the Tone Argument for a reason, because it focuses on HOW something was said, rather than WHAT was said. This shifts the conversation from the actual topic (race/privilege/cultural appropriation) and into what is the right tone to use and politeness — which is determined by the privileged (or majority). Sometimes even just bringing up a taboo-ish subject like race is considered impolite or angry/aggressive (see comment by Sabrina above; I think the “backlash” she’s talking about is the criticism of the romance genre for its lack of diversity, even though I wasn’t angry when I wrote that).

    It’s like it’s more important to be calm and as inoffensive as possible to white people than it is to fight racism or to be angry about it, even when it happens to some people on a daily basis. It’s like white people’s feelings are more important than POCs — because when you talk about race, you have to make sure you don’t offend white people, never mind the actual racism POC face (we’re not supposed to get hurt or angry about that for some reason (because it scares white people)).

    Is it still called “white privilege” in Tokyo or Kinshasa?

    Yes. This is due to that thing called colonization. There are 1.3 billion Chinese people in the world, and they haven’t had nearly the impact as white westerners have had everywhere. POC can be prejudiced against white people or other POC; this does not erase white privilege. (You can also be unprivileged in some ways – like gender, sexuality, class, disability – and still have white privilege.) You might ask yourself why white privilege is such a difficult term for you to use and why removing whiteness from the equation is easier to think about.

    I’m not an author, and I’d love to be part of the solution, but other than buying more AA romance novels, I really don’t know what more people like me can do.

    Not use the Tone Argument, for one thing. I linked to a lot of stuff on race in the first paragraph of my DA post; maybe read through some of it. Watch the video I liked to in comment #10, especially if this comment is TL;DR.

    ReplyReply


  • joannef
    October 29
    12:28 pm

    Actually, I did object to what was said – the actual words. They just weren’t your words I objected to. I really do not get how it is acceptable for any person of any color to say something nasty about another person of another color, when they could not possibly know them at all. I don’t get how it is acceptable to say something nasty about any entire group of people of any category (race, profession, geographical area). “Those people over there don’t care what anyone else thinks because they think they’re the only people who matter.” I don’t think there’s any “tone” that can sweeten those words, even though my mother always said “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” For the life of me, I cannot see how that’s a factual, correct, or reasonable statement. Karen Scott is right. I don’t get that and I never will.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 29
    1:22 pm

    @joannef: I don’t get that and I never will.

    You’re right. And you’re not the only white person who doesn’t get this, and for the life of me I can’t figure it out because I can’t see it as anything but willful ignorance. Until generalizing about clueless* white people (or, even getting mad at them) is not seen as bad or worse (!!) than actual racism, the tone argument is going to keep coming up. Being called clueless or privileged or part of the universal-white — what’s so nasty about that? How is that possibly MORE hurtful or offensive than racism levelled at POC? I mean, do you realize you are basically proving the point that “White people think that only their experiences are universal,” when you don’t get it to such a degree? *facepalm*

    *meaning some white people are not clueless.

    ReplyReply


  • Beverly
    October 29
    4:14 pm

    I am not saying I agree with Joanne, but you are definitely stretching to say (or even imply) that she believes generalizing about white people is worse than racism against people of color. I don’t see anything in her statements that says that.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 29
    4:33 pm

    I don’t see anything in her statements that says that.

    It’s right here: “But all I can say about Barbara B’s rather passionate post is – WOW! From “White people think that only their experiences are universal and thus relateable to everyone” on, it’s quite apparent there’s a lot of rage there. Complaining about racism and stereotypes with more racism and stereotypes.” And, “I really do not get how it is acceptable for any person of any color to say something nasty about another person of another color, when they could not possibly know them at all. I don’t get how it is acceptable to say something nasty about any entire group of people of any category (race, profession, geographical area).”

    Where “nasty” = “White people think that only their experiences are universal,” which apparently equals or is more of a problem than racism, which is the effect of being more concerned about tone over content and calling out POC for feeling angry/frustrated/etc over racism. Does [The Privilege of Politeness] help clarify the problem?

    (Er, Karen, apologies for taking over the comments.)

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 29
    4:59 pm

    Um, once more with feeling:

    The issue is that this is a silencing tactic – perhaps done unintentionally, but it’s silencing all the same. My OP is okay because I try very hard not to offend white people when talking about race this way (though I still offended some people). But the same consideration is not shown to POC when they’re (we’re) affected by racism. I know this and I chose to write about it that way; but I – and others – shouldn’t have to in order to have our words heard.

    By choosing to listen only to people who carefully construct their words to suit the privileged person or to be as emotionless as possible, that person is saying, “if you don’t tell me about the problem/your life/your feelings in a way that I want to hear it – and very carefully not blame white people in general for the problem because I am white and will take offense even though a clued-in white person would realize it’s not about me-as-an-individual (hence talking in generalities) – I’m not going to listen.”

    ReplyReply


  • Diana
    October 29
    8:28 pm

    Just adding my 2 cents… I enjoyed handyhunter’s original post, and very much agreed with her sentiments. I have hope that things are changing, but maybe it isn’t as fast a change as I, or others, would like. I agree with Fae and Tara Marie, too – if you want change, support books with POC protagonists with your dollars, pounds, euros, whatever… And if you’ve never read a book with a POC main character, expand your reading world, why not just try it? I have never understood why white people are generally so uncomfortable (or threatened maybe?) reading about non-whites; it just baffles me.

    ReplyReply


  • joannef
    October 29
    11:05 pm

    *meaning some white people are not clueless.

    THANK YOU! That was exactly the point I’ve been trying to make right from my very first post at DA. Had Barb B’s original post said “some white people,” “many white people,” or even “most white people,” I’d have been in full agreement and would’ve had no objections. It was the fact that she made her statement about what “white people think” without any qualifier, thereby stating that all white people care only about themselves, that bothered me. If you feel that makes me a racist, so be it.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 29
    11:42 pm

    @joannef: If you feel that makes me a racist, so be it.

    I didn’t say it made you racist; I said it made you clueless about the way racism and privilege works. I guess it’s up to you whether you want to be educated or continue being offended at generalizations of white people. I would say to examine why you feel it’s more important for white people to be seen as individual snowflakes than hearing what POC have to say, but I have a feeling that’s not going to happen.

    ReplyReply


  • SciFiGirl
    October 29
    11:43 pm

    ETA: Sorry Handy, I posted at the same time as you did. 🙂 This comment was made in response to Joannef’s comment.

    So in other words, it was the way she said it that made you ignore everything else she said rather than the point she was actually making as a whole? That sounds like the tone argument again to me.

    This is definitely worth mentioning again:

    By choosing to listen only to people who carefully construct their words to suit the privileged person or to be as emotionless as possible, that person is saying, “if you don’t tell me about the problem/your life/your feelings in a way that I want to hear it – and very carefully not blame white people in general for the problem because I am white and will take offense even though a clued-in white person would realize it’s not about me-as-an-individual (hence talking in generalities) – I’m not going to listen.”

    This is a great discussion. I’m surprised it wasn’t derailed MUCH (although post number 3 at DA tried) but mostly it stayed pretty on topic aside from the usual derailment and defenses (see above) to keep the status quo or make it about something it’s not.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 30
    12:07 am

    @AvatarSciFiGirl – no worries! And yes, it has been a surprisingly okay discussion! Much less fail than I was anticipating! \o/

    ReplyReply

  • I think generalization is something that tends to offend people, even if it is true about a good number of people. I run into this a fair amount when talking about womens’ issues, rape in particular. Men argue against the generalization of female experiences because they don’t believe it applies to them. It may not, but that doesn’t mean that for every truly nice guy out there, there aren’t dozens that objectify and harass women, for example.

    Fundamentally, people don’t want to believe they’re “like that”. They actually may well not be, but the problem is that you hear the arguments from people that are totally clueless and are “like that”. If the argument turns against generalizations rather than listening and learning from people’s experiences, then I think we’ve lost sight of the whole point.

    ReplyReply


  • Nora Roberts
    October 30
    1:02 pm

    I just want to comment on one point.

    I have two great-nieces who are mixed race. They are simply stunning. And to me, they look exotic. It’s not simply the gorgeous skin tone, but the features, the eyes, the amazing hair. These kids are just gorgeous.

    Their mother, my niece, is white–and is also, to my eye, stunning and exotic. It’s her bone structure, the long-lidded eyes, the gypsy mass of hair in warm, honey blond. She’s absolutely beautiful, but in a very unusual, eye-catching way.

    When I think, and say, this woman and these girls have exotic looks, I’m not insulting them. I’m admiring them.

    ReplyReply

  • I was just thinking, that most people mean to use “exotic” as a compliment, and not because they’re at a loss at how to describe a person’s looks because they’re different. I’ve always wanted to be exotic ;-). Alas, I’m more exhausted than exotic these days.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 30
    9:23 pm

    Re “exotic”: I’m cringing a little. Even if it’s meant as a compliment, even if it’s taken as a compliment… it’s still very, very Othering. It doesn’t mean anything except, “You do not look normal like a white person.” Maybe it’s supposed to be flattering, but I hear it as a “pretty for/as a foreigner” kind of way. Is it so hard to describe a POC without using that word?

    I’ve always wanted to be exotic

    Yeah. That’s the problem with cultural appropriation. People want the “exotic” part of it – the fun, pretty, cool, perhaps even a little dangerous – but none of the actual issues that come with being “exotic”.

    ReplyReply


  • Maili
    October 30
    10:43 pm

    @Nora Roberts @handyhunter @Gennita Low

    I do realise people do and sincerely mean ‘exotic’ as a compliment, but I’m not keen on the word.

    My cousin is a hazel-eyed dark blonde and I’m not, and we were constant childhood friends (or to be more accurate, rivals that frequently got in fist fights with each other).

    When people saw us together, they would say to us that she was pretty and I was exotic, or that she had pretty eyes and I had exotic eyes. At that age, I didn’t mind because it was a meaningless word, even though I abstractedly understood it just meant I looked different from my cousin.

    As I got older, I eventually realised people tend to associate exotic with foreignness and sex. You see it in advertisements almost all the time. A sultry-looking woman in a kimono or a cheongsam with a stupid pair of chopsticks in her hair bun, along with a come-hinder look and seductive smile.

    Because of that sort of thing, some people view “exotic” women as seductresses or potential boyfriend thieves, which can be problematic for some people, especially mixed race people who just want to be ordinary.

    A few months ago for a friend’s birthday, a blonde friend and I travelled together to the pub. She went in first with me closely behind, I heard some in the group greeted her normally. When they saw me arriving, some eyed me warily and shifted closer to their boyfriends or partners. (I wasn’t shocked because I’m so used to it, especially after dealing with it so often during my student years.)

    It’s quite rare to hear anyone associating ‘exotic’ with – say – a woman with the All-American Cheerleader look. Or a librarian in ordinary glasses, white blouse and tweed skirt. But dress one of them in an ‘exotic’ sexy outfit with hot smoky eye make-up, she’s exotic-looking and out to seduce a bloke.

    And of course, some men – married or not – hit on me because of my “exotic” looks. “Your exotic eyes are so sexy. Let’s go to a hotel room. C’mon, you know you want it.”

    That’s what ‘exotic’ means to me (and obviously to them) – an amoral seductress who would seduce a man with her ‘exotic’ looks and ways.

    I personally don’t consider ‘exotic’ a compliment because I just want to be an ordinary person, not a foreign-looking person. But when a person uses it on me, I do try to take it as a sincere compliment, not as a “wow, you must be very popular with men!” or “you must have a weird sex life! Hey, want to try some Japanese bondage with me?” 😀

    There are some mixed race people who thrive on the word, though. The kind that enjoys being different or unique from the norm.

    ReplyReply

  • I tend to look at some white and black men and women being exotic, so does that make me a cultural-appropriatist racist with Asian privilege since I’m yellow? Because there is such a thing as Asian privilege, in which “they” are the non-yellows, the “devils.”

    Since tone is a problem, I want to make clear that the above question wasn’t meant in any snide or snarky way. I just wanted to point out that exotic means different things to different cultures and it’s not just white people who see Otherness as exotic. As a compliment or otherwise. It is okay to be different. It may be difficult* to be different in some cultures, but that’s more to do with upbringing and personal beliefs, imho. At least, that’s my experience of it, having lived in several different cultures/societies (Chinese, Malaysian, European, American) and within different class/gender structures (privileged upper class/college educated/blue-collar construction worker).

    The disdain for the word “exotic” is probably more about personal experience than about describing people of color. For instance, I get called “cute” all the time, mainly because I’m short. I hate being called cute, but I don’t think people are insulting me because I’m a short Chinese woman. I think it’s just because I’m vertically challenged.

    Hence, when one grows up being called cute a million times, it’s just natural to want to be exotic now and then, and to admire certain traits in other people that make them exotic, be they white, black, brown, yellow, or strawberry-purple. Now, if I were described being short and exotic a million times, maybe I’d want to be just cute. My wanting to be exotic, by the way, is not a constant obsession; it’s more like, “damn, girlfriend, I wish I have hair/skin/legs/butt like yours.” 90 percent of the time, I’m pretty happy being a short Chinese woman. @Maili, I think those women probably saw a gorgeous woman and they all felt intimidated ;-).

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    October 31
    1:34 am

    I tend to look at some white and black men and women being exotic, so does that make me a cultural-appropriatist racist with Asian privilege since I’m yellow? Because there is such a thing as Asian privilege, in which “they” are the non-yellows, the “devils.”

    I think we’re not looking at privilege the same way? It’s not just about who’s the majority – or you’d think it would be Chinese people – it’s about who the power structure supports, so I think it’s a little different for a white character to “compliment” a non-white character for their “exoticism” vs. a character of colour to refer to another character of colour or white character as exotic — though it’s not something I’m entirely comfortable with, because as I said, I find that particular word, with is history, extremely othering. I don’t think “cute” has the same baggage attached to it.

    It’s not a double-standard; it’s trying to balance out the white-washing of stories and the idea of whiteness as the default or “normal”, with other races and cultures being “exotic”. Possibly this is more of a problem in western societies, though in my experience the influences of white America and Britain (colonialism and imperialism) is rather prevalent around the world.

    It is okay to be different.

    Right. For me, though, there’s a line between being different – without being othered – and being exotic, which highlights one aspect of a person, usually their looks, to be foreign/un-normal.

    As for POC wanting to be white or exotic in some way… For me, I tend to think some internalized racism is involved.

    or strawberry-purple

    I really wish people would stop with this. People of colour are not green, plaid, strawberry-purple, polka-dotted, etc. It’s done all the time to make light of the issue, but it also has the effect of grouping POC with imaginary people, as if we had imaginary problems.

    ReplyReply

  • @handy hunter

    And it’s done all the time to accuse someone of making light of an issue when I was certainly not grouping people of color as/with imaginary people. It makes me wary of saying anything to offend anyone. I see your point of contention, though, and wish you well in your cause. Thank you for letting me share my point of view.

    ReplyReply


  • Amanda
    October 31
    12:41 pm

    Ok so the dictionary defines “exotic” as the following: Stirkingly different, from else where, or somebody or something unusual.

    I am NA, now when you see me, I look white. On my mom side I am Italian and Sicilian 3rd generation to be exact. I also have a couple of other things mixed in to make me a Heinz 57. Do I take offense with what is being said, sure, why? Well I have to say this and get it off my chest, why does everything have to be a race issue. We are all ONE RACE, the HUMAN RACE! So we look different big freakin deal. I am so tired of hearing oh they don’t like me because Im this or that. Or my race has suffered more than yours.

    I wish I could scream from the roof tops everything that has happened to NA’s since the first Pilgrims landed at Pymouth rock. Does anyone stand up and scream about that? No!

    I learned from a friend of mine one simple lesson, when writing about a character K.I.S.S. I try not to give them a race, I may say an eye color here or there or hair color but I leave it up to your imagination, you make my character the way you want it. Is it the easy way out, sure, sometimes though if you give the reader an option, they will come back and create their own world with your characters.

    Stop thinking about color, start thinking about people in general.

    Is the system biased, sure, we will take NA’s for a basis. How many races have had land taken away from them, told to stay on this piece of property, don’t move and oh come sun up we will move again. If you want a really upsetting story to read, pick up a history text and read about the Trail of Tears. Oh and when you read it think about how many families lost their lives, because “the white man” wanted their land.

    Racial bias was big in Hollywood for a very long time, if you have watched Westerns you would know just about all the “non-white” characters we played by white actors. If there was an Asian character they would put make-up on their bodies to give them a different complexion and then they would pull their eyes with scotch tape to give them more of an “almond” shaped eye to get the exotic look. Not fair but it happened.

    I guess what I am getting at is every race can say something horrid has happened to them. I love Nora Roberts and I love L.A. Banks, and I love the fact that I can read their stories and not have to worry about the color of their characters skin because I am more consummed with their story than anything.

    What I wish for though is more understand, better stories and less emphasis on what color was that character again???

    Just MHO, though.

    ReplyReply



  • handyhunter
    October 31
    3:45 pm

    @Gennita Low — thanks for the discussion! (As a side note, I was wondering if your books featured non-white protagonists? I’d be interested in reading them if so.)

    @Amanda: Racial bias was big in Hollywood

    “Racial bias is big in Hollywood” Fixed!

    The problem with not specifically mentioning race or culture is that characters tend to default to white because of how “normal” white culture seems because it’s everywhere — to the point where white people sometimes say they don’t have a culture. Maybe this wouldn’t be the case if there were better representation of POC in fiction, but we’re not there yet. And if it really didn’t matter what colour people were, why is such a big deal to mention it? Good books, good stories, good writers can all still portray POC badly or not at all, perpetuating the white-washing of stories; it’s possible to like something and acknowledge it has issues. Sure, we’re all human, but the thing is, we’re not all white, and our culture, whatever it may be, affects us, which I’d think has an effect on fictional characters as well.

    ReplyReply

  • @handy hunter: As a side note, I was wondering if your books featured non-white protagonists? I’d be interested in reading them if so.

    Yes, I do have several. Facing Fear, my best selling book published by Avon, has a Chinese-American heroine. The Protector has a half-Cambodian heroine. The secondary character in The Protector, Armando Chang, is a fan favorite in my later Super Soldier Spy series.

    I write spy-fi and military action romance, with emphasis on the romance, so am not sure whether that’s your cuppa. Thanks for asking.

    ReplyReply


  • handyhunter
    November 1
    10:43 am

    @Gennita Low: I’ll definitely check them out. Thanks! I do like romance; it’s just some times I don’t think it likes me very much. 😉

    ReplyReply


  • Shira
    November 1
    5:43 pm

    Sorry for coming into this conversation late!

    Is it still called “white privilege” in Tokyo or Kinshasa?

    Yes. This is due to that thing called colonization. There are 1.3 billion Chinese people in the world, and they haven’t had nearly the impact as white westerners have had everywhere. POC can be prejudiced against white people or other POC; this does not erase white privilege. (You can also be unprivileged in some ways – like gender, sexuality, class, disability – and still have white privilege.) You might ask yourself why white privilege is such a difficult term for you to use and why removing whiteness from the equation is easier to think about.

    I take your point here, HH, but I think, by telling the other member that white privilege is a term that applies to postcolonial subjecthood, you are glossing over important nuances and thereby bordering dangerously close to the sort of damaging cultural hegemony exhibited by western feminists who set out to tell women of global south what their problem “really” is.

    Yes, white privilege is a global apparatus. Yes, the postcolonial world must grapple with it every day. But it is certainly not the *only* paradigm of privilege structuring everyday life and subjectivities in the postcolonies, and — more importantly (and more troublingly in light of your claim above) — it is certainly not always defined as an *important* one in subaltern struggles. I urge you to explicate this point more thoroughly, lest you end up implying that a Hmong in China, or a hijra in India, or the Orang Asli in Malaysia, are misguided or deluded if they fail to identify white privilege as a relevant or significant concern with regard to their struggle to be heard and recognized.

    ReplyReply

  • Colonial privilege also comes in other colors, depending on the ebbing and flowing waves of colonisation.

    ReplyReply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment