Monday, December 15, 2014

"Why I Write Inclusively as a White Woman" - Bronwyn Deaver

Happy Monday everyone!

Today we have the amazing Bronwyn Deaver with a guest post on Writing Inclusively (#WriteInclusively). Seriously, I'm in love with this post. As I am also writing a book from the first-person perceptive of a man of a different ethnicity than mine, Bronwyn's words speak volumes to me - and hopefully, to you too.

Take it away!

Books are gifts. The words contained in them can carry someone through a rough time or open his or her eyes to a world that has never been experienced before.

Children's literature is even more special. The characters that you read in childhood often help shape a piece of who you become. You can stick those characters right in your backpack and carry them around - revisiting their words over and over again. They're frozen in time even as your own sense of self changes.

Fondness flutters around a whole cast of characters in my memory. I love them all! Anne Shirley and her temper, Jo March and her writing, Ramona and the pink worm ring, Kristy Thomas and her leadership qualities, James and his adventure in a peach. I could go on and on and on. Do you see a pattern though? They are all white. That never stood out to me as a child. My world was a white world. So, they fit. But I think I deserved more and my friends who were not white definitely deserved more.

When I started writing, I had every intention of writing books that children could pick up and connect with. If you are writer of children's literature, you have the same goal too. You want your story to stay with a child forever.

With that in mind, I need to write for my audience. My audience is not just a bunch of white children. I write for all children. I can't promise that in every book I ever write any person will be able to find a character in them that looks just like they do. But I do need to write so that more than one set of people can find themselves across my work.

I'm not going to say that writing characters from other racial backgrounds doesn't intimidate me. I want to get it right. I want to give respect to culture and heritage and I want to stay away from stereotypes. But it is my duty to the children who might pick up my words one day.

The first novel I wrote had a whole cast of characters from different backgrounds. It's a YA fantasy novel and crafting those characters and their personalities was immensely fun. When I write picture books, I tend to write characters that could be drawn any way possible in regards to race, ability, socio-economic background, etc. But I also think it is important that since there is not a lot of diversity in books, that I write characters whose race cannot be ignored or changed.

A while back, I had a character get stuck in my head unlike any I had written before - a biracial male teen. I let him sit in my head for months. Could a white woman of privilege write a biracial male teen whose story isn't one of privilege? The words "write what you know" kept circling in my brain. I didn't know anything about being male or biracial – not in a first person sort of way. But I wanted to write this story.

At first I found myself writing in third person. I realized that I was keeping distance from my main character. It wasn't going to work that way. I had to let the main character, Reece, tell me about his life. So, I switched to first person and it worked.

Then I came across this by Keesha Beckford [please do read it, it's incredibly powerful - SC]. Her words just twisted my heart. I was angry that my fellow mothers had to have such fears. And they have every reason to have those fears. She solidified my resolve to "write what you haven't lived but are willing to learn about". Parents have so much on their plates these days. They deserve to be able to send their kids out to play and not worry that they will meet disaster for any reason. Skin color should never be a reason for disaster. And writers can help change that.

White kids need black role models. Make sure you read that sentence correctly.  Yes, black kids need black role models, but non-black kids do too. Children deserve safety and love and good books with characters that are similar to and different from them. We can't expect them to change the world if we don't give them stories that will help them learn what they don't know.

Our society is so divided. I think whites sit on the sidelines a lot because we don't know what to do. We think we will be seen as "invading" if we speak up. We don't want to intrude. It is the whole "I support you, but this is your thing and I don't want to get in the way." As writers of children's books we all have a right and a calling to provide the best stories possible for all children.

Books stick with people. The power of your keyboard could change perception. One character, one page, one story at a time – you could have the power to help change racial attitudes. You could help people feel valued. There may be a child right now just waiting for one of your stories to touch his or her soul in a way that nothing else will all because you decided to write for them. And maybe you will be teaching that child what he or she will need to know later in life to keep a tragedy from happening.

I am an ally. I will do what I can to promote diversity in books because that mirrors real life. The children are my audience. The children deserve no less.  

Bronwyn Deaver is a writer of children's literature. She is currently seeking representation for her work, but as she queries and stalks her inbox for positive news, she continues to write. She is currently working on a retelling of a YA classic as well as various picture books. She is a member of SCBWI. She Tweets.
 
YES. What an amazing post. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bronwyn!

These discussions aren't just for minorities, they're for everyone. It's not taking a 'stand' on the political spectrum - it's a human rights issue, since when did that become political?

How do you approach these issues?

(This guest post is part of a series of #WriteInclusively guest posts. If you would like to subscribe to the Write Inclusively monthly newsletter, feel free to sign up!)

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3 comments:

  1. Ultimately, kids are just kids after all.

    ReplyDelete
  2. it's totally great seeing more diversity everywhere. and to think man, who is reading this in the end. hmmm.. very insightful post!

    ReplyDelete