I am white. I’ve been told people know that just by how I write. Perhaps. But when I say I am white, what does that really mean? I have less pigmentation in my skin than Will Smith. I have less than Jennifer Lopez as well. I’m pretty sure I have more pigment than Christina Hendricks. So, based on that description, and how culture currently refers to quantity of pigment, I am white.
I was raised in a small rural Pennsylvania town, side by side with country hicks and Mennonites both. I’ve read comic books and science fiction and fantasy novels most of my life. I am a Trekker and a Whovian. I also have this annoying – and some would say naive or even delusional – belief that everybody is equal and society (meaning you and me and every individual person) should act that way. I hold doors for people – not just women – because I like to be nice and I think it shows respect. So I’m pretty sure all of that makes me white as well. At least, what the greater American culture says is white. Perhaps nerdy as well.
Yes, I like Weird Al Yankovic.
You, too may be white. You may be African American/Hispanic/black/ Asian/Latino/Inuit or something else entirely. Based on what I said above, I don’t care. Welcome and thank you for being here. I really, truly hope to get to know you better, whoever you may be.
But I have done something that some of you might be upset about. I wrote a novel, and all the heroes are, at least by skin pigment parameters, black. To make matters more muddled, one of the villains is black, one is (again by appearance only) Hispanic, and one is pasty white with red hair and freckles.
This novel is a fantasy novel and I won’t bore you with unnecessary details. But I will tell you this; I’ve tried to include elements of real-world African culture into this novel. I know a little about this because my lovely wife lived in Africa for a time, and is in love with the place. And I did some research. But I’ve never been to Africa myself, and I have no friends who are black, or Hispanic for that matter. I have no reason not to except that none have crossed my path in that way. I would love to have some close friends of color, but I don’t. It doesn’t bother me because people are people. I have friends. They all happen to have low amounts of skin pigmentation.
Some people will read my novel and will take it for what it is. They’ll enjoy it for what it is or what it isn’t, and perhaps dislike it for the same reasons. I say people are people. Novels are novels. But there will be some who won’t even read this book and will judge it. They will say a white Pennsylvania boy can’t write about black and Hispanic people because he doesn’t know about them. He isn’t one of them, so he can’t properly write them. I don’t think they’re correct, but perhaps they are.
It’s my intent, however, that I believe matters. I intend to write stories that grip people, that bring some joy into their lives. I intend to portray my characters as true to who they are. I am not going to let some protean, transient definition of how a person of a certain level of skin pigmentation should act. I won’t and you can’t make me. But some people might try.
There are people, I’ve no idea how many, who feel uneasy with President Obama because he’s black. There are others who are upset with him because he’s too white. I say he’s the president, and I don’t care what his skin color is. I think that’s the majority view. So how does that effect my choice to make all my main characters dark skinned? How does it effect how I wrote them? I really don’t know. But I know they’re written the way they presented themselves to me, and as a writer, that’s what I have to be true to.
I have no way of knowing the real reaction my book might provoke, positive or negative, because it’s still a manuscript. But if I get it published, I’m sure there will be some reaction in the negative. I’m just fine with that. It’s a fantasy novel, and that’s how I dreamed it up.
Perhaps it’s a fantasy that I wish for a day where terms such as “racism” and “inequality” are only found in dictionaries and history books. It may be a fantasy, but I prefer to call it a dream. And in this dream of mine, I’d like to believe my two very white children will be evaluated for who they are as people, and not which pigment-coding genes they have. Wait, I think someone else said it a bit better than me, right?