Geek Girls Rule! #361 – Writing Inclusively

First, I want to apologize for missing last week.  Between the jerk who fucked us out of being able to buy the house we’re in trying to sell it out from under us, and getting ready to move into the new house which, while not the unicorn we thought this house was, is still pretty freaking awesome, and the plague, life has been… difficult.  Anyway, let’s get to the posting.

Right, so this post is mostly aimed at my fellow Whitey McWhiterson creative types.  You know who you are and don’t roll your eyes at me, young man.  Listen, I want to talk to you guys because I had a very rude awakening a couple weeks ago and I think my fellow white folks need to hear it.

So, unrelated to this blog, I do a tumblr called SHIELD Support Staff.  This is largely based on my own headcanon that anyone who works for SHIELD has to be a complete badass, from janitorial to accounting, from the cooks to the on staff counselors and physical therapists.  Pretty much everyone has to be able to at least defend themselves enough to bolt if they have to.  I do not do that tumblr for money, I do it because I’d be inventing these characters in my head anyway, and this way I can share them.  Honestly, I feel a little weird linking it here, because I do write this blog for money, but I really need to illustrate a point.

Anyway, one of my big stated motivations for SHIELD Support Staff, is to address the overwhelming whiteness of the MCU movies.  Let’s face it, apart from Nick, Sam, Rhodey and T’challah, there’s not a lot of diversity, especially not in the background folks, you know the extras who fill those shots of the Helicarrier bridge, or the control room at the Triskelion.  Go back and watch and you’ll see what I mean.

I also just enjoy creating characters for the sake of creating characters.  I write fiction and I role-play, so yeah.  And I may have self-plagiarized a few of the characters from other things I’ve written, or games I’ve been in.  I love games when you’re not the hero, but rather the other people who have to cope with surviving in that world.  It is one of the reasons Damage Control is my favorite comics concept in the entire world.   (And in development as a show on ABC! EEEEEEEEE!!!)

Anyway, I was kind of patting myself on the back a couple weeks ago for all my diversity and inclusion, when I decided to sit down and catalog everyone I’d written by Name, age, gender/gender presentation, ethnicity and job.

And what I found was that over two thirds of the characters I had written in my oh-so-diverse world, were white, or could be read white even if I hadn’t intended them to be.


Kind of blew it there, didn’t I?

So I’ve been making a concerted effort to correct that, and while it’s not actually difficult to do, mostly it involves a little research to make sure you don’t sound like a complete asshole, it is something that you have to actively keep in mind.

Here are a few things to keep in mind while attempting an exercise like this.

A. Research.  Don’t assume because you have a black friend you know how to construct a POC character who won’t be offensive as hell.  Read websites, read books, watch movies by actual black people for actual black people, or Latino people, or First Nations people, or transgendered people, or gay people or women, or… Yeah, they’re out there.  And with the advent of Netflix and Hulu you have no excuse.  Also, internet mother fuckers.

B. Research more.  When you’re naming your characters, please for the love of all the unholy, do not hit a baby names website and call it good.  Google “naming conventions (ethnicity/nationality).”  THEN hit the baby names websites.  Word of warning, First Nations/Native American names are the hardest because the internet is full of stupid woo-woo maundering by well-meaning if horrifically clueless white people.

C. Know you’re going to fuck it up.  It’s going to happen.  I’m sure I’ve done it, I just haven’t seen anyone comment on it.  A lot of times people won’t correct you because they either do not have the energy for it, do not feel like educating your dumb ass, or have tried correcting white folks on things like that before only to catch a ration of shit and internet harassment.

When you fuck it up and someone does you the favor of correcting you, there are several things you should do, more or less in this order:
1. Thank them for taking the time to let you know you fucked up.
2. If they are POC of the type you are writing, odds are pretty good that they known what they’re talking about. If they are fellow white people, they could know what they are talking about or they could be full of shit, you may have to research to figure out if the advice is in fact correct.
3. Issue a correction or make the edit graciously.  Ask the person who corrected you if they’d like to be credited. Respect those wishes.

D. Stay the fuck away from slurs in your writing, even if you think your character would use them in a reclamatory way.  Because odds are good that you, white person, are going to fuck that shit up spectacularly.  Just don’t.

E.  Look at the region where your story takes place.  Google the demographics.  If you do not have a representative sampling of ethnicities in your story that echo those demographics, fix it.  Looking at you, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  1920s Harlem and not a black person in sight.  WTF?

I know that a lot of folks are going to read this and be all, “Pfft, you can’t tell me how to write!”  And you’re right, I can’t.  But what I can tell you is how to not be a complete asshole, and I hope you’d be interested in that, at least.

Now, like I said, I haven’t been corrected on the ethnicity/racial stuff yet, but I have been corrected on matters of military culture.  And I listen to that person who tells me when my research was lacking and I’ve fucked it up.  Because they have been in the military and know how that works.  I only hope I’m as good about it when it’s the other stuff I fuck up on.  Only time will tell.


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