Inclusionary writing |
Guilty as charged. Thanks for printing Lynn Capehart’s perceptive article, “The importance of inclusionary writing” [October]. How kindly but inexorably she exposed racial prejudice in many writers. It’s likely a blind spot, but is, nevertheless, embarrassingly bigoted. Ruth K. Hobbs
I want to say how overwhelmingly challenged I felt by Lynn Capehart’s article—and I mean that in the most positive way possible. I write fantasy and science fiction, so racial lines are very different (“Mexican” doesn’t exist in the worlds I create). Yet, I am significantly more aware of the challenge to ensure that I physically describe all characters, not just the non-white ones. I have run into many problems with readers assuming people should be of a particular race, or assuming that entire planets are all one race because the one person they meet isn’t white. In fact, I put out a challenge on my blog today about it, and mentioned this article.
Race is so often a sensitive subject, so thank you for talking about the subject no one wants to address.
Krista D. Ball
Will we become one out of many? Not as long as there are articles such as this. The problem is not the topic, but the way in which it was presented.
I read the article looking forward to a balanced approach to the problem of unconscious racism in writing. What I got was a condemnation of “white writers” (a phrase used seven times throughout the piece). At the end, there was one paragraph that basically said, “Oh, by the way, writers of color should also be careful.” I was left with the impression that Capehart suddenly realized how one-sided her article was and threw that paragraph in to try to balance it out. It did not work.I live the way I was raised—race means nothing; people are who they are, regardless. However, with articles such as this, I almost understand why some people think our society has decided racism is exclusive to Caucasians. I assure you it is a two-way street, and her article proves it. It is a shame that the subject of inclusion in writing was represented by someone who obviously is not inclusive.
Lynn Capehart responds:
I am sorry some writers were offended by “The importance of inclusionary writing.” I, too, was raised to believe that race is a trivial matter. But this problem is less about race than power, and who holds it. It is an issue of the powerful not “seeing” the powerless, because it’s never been necessary to their survival. This has always been true between two groups when one has political or cultural dominance. Whereas the powerful can afford to ignore the powerless, those with little power must pay close attention to every nuance of behavior of the people who dominate them. They must be alert to every shoulder slump, every snorting nostril, curled lip, or enlarged iris, because it could mean the difference between living and dying to ignore those signals. Throughout American history, white people have wielded inordinate power. Because of that, their survival never depended on having to scrutinize the faces, body language and mannerisms of those they controlled. They didn’t need to look for warning signs. Many white writers label characters of color because they are not used to looking at people of color, not really, and thus are unable to describe them.
Examine any unequal human interaction and you’ll witness the same dynamic. The survival of the powerless often depends on an ability to recognize subtle physical changes that signal an attack. But across all cultures, those in power can afford to and do look through but never really “at” those whose lives they control. The article was not meant to be an indictment of white writers. Being white has little to do with it; it’s more of a human failing. Things have changed between the races in America certainly, but my point is that too many white writers still do not help their readers “see” their characters of color because they still don’t see them. But the last thing I want to do is alienate anyone who has enough sense to state that “race means nothing.” I could not agree more.
Finally, I didn’t use a “balanced approach” because I don’t believe it is a “two-way street.” If you read the prose of writers of color, they rarely label white characters and usually describe them with equal detail. It’s easier for us. We’ve been paying attention for a long time.