Last night, I was watching an old episode of The Office where Steve Carell’s character is giving out awards to his employees and he hands Mindy Kaling’s character the “Spicy Curry” award.
She asks him what it means, but he doesn’t know.
This is real life. I’ve lost count of the number of times my ethnicity has been reduced to a bowl of curry.
As soon as my race or ethnicity is mentioned, my coworker/roommate/professor/stranger/any non-South Asian person that happens to be around me at the time, feels the uncontrollable need to tell me their opinion on curry until my entire being is reduced to a bowl of curry.
I talk about this in my memoir in an essay called “How to Make a Delicious Bowl of Hot Curry.”
As women of color, we all get reduced to stereotypes related to our race and gender. Unfortunately, since there are more books about people of color by White people than books written by actual people of color, these stereotypes persist in our literature.
As some of you brought up after reading my previous blog, I don’t have a problem with White people writing characters of color as long as they do their due diligence and research. Of course, I prefer characters of color written by people of color because they are richer and more authentic, but at the end of the day, if the character is believable and complex it shouldn't matter who wrote it. Unfortunately, many White writers don't realize that in order to write characters of color, they have to put in the extra work.
For example, here is a story about a former client:
I had a client who is a middle-aged White woman. Her goal was to make an educational and inspirational story with diverse characters for children. I was excited to work on this project with her because my passion is in education and telling diverse stories so it was right up my alley. As time went on, however, I realized that her only collaboration on this project was with other White women and she wasn’t open to my suggestions about her characters of color.
Her story ended up including several stereotypes and shallow characters of color. She had a prominent adult male mentor figure in the comic who contributed by being absent the entire time thus perpetuating the absent black father/role model stereotype. Her goal was to include as many races and ethnicities as she could, but she completely omitted a black female character from the story which perpetuated the reality we all know of black women being one of the most neglected minority groups in the United States. She created a Japanese-American female character who came off very studious, robotic, and emotionally cold perpetuating the stereotype of Japanese people as intelligent and industrious to the level of being inhuman. Although there were many such stereotypes in her story, I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she didn’t write them intentionally. Afterall, she hired me because writing is not her forte. Unfortunately, she wasn’t open to my suggestions as a professional writer or a person of color so there was no way for me to explain these things to her without her getting defensive.
Like this client, there are many White writers out there who are writing characters of color without realizing that they need to research or consult with people of color when writing. Of course, ignorance is not an excuse.
This is another reason I passionately feel that we need to write down our stories. Our stories need to exist and the only way to make them authentic is for us to write them ourselves.
Today, there are blogs and social media pages made by women of color for women of color that I'm grateful for. The internet is a great way for us to bypass the barriers of the publishing world, and share our stories online. That is why I write this blog and I hope I can encourage you all to write your own.
How do you deal with stereotypes in the writing world?
Share your stories with me in the comments below.
Thank you for reading!
You can sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of the page for updates on my writing and my events.
Next Wednesday’s blog will be more #browngirlwrites stories.
Happy Writing! :)
Find me on social media. Links at the bottom of the page 👇🏽