If you’re a writer aiming to include different cultures in your work (during Black History Month, no less!), then Writing With Color is the website for you! With a helpful, patient, and diverse staff to man— I mean, to woman— I mean, er, to staff the Tumblr page, this resource can provide detailed and personable answers to any racial writing question you might consider. Which is a problem.
Yes, that last sentence was bait, thanks for playing! Before I elaborate, I want to continue praising what’s essentially a free hotline that aids creatives concerning what’s possibly the future of literature. If you follow their Tumblr, you’ll usually notice Writing With Color through the various questions they receive. But their main pages allow access to lists of stereotypes to avoid, as well as a catalogue representing all the mods and their cultures. In addition, you can find here various ways of describing People of Color, respectfully, through hair, skin, speech, and more. Keep an eye on those last three links; I imagine they’ll change before you know it!
Writing With Color displays the acumen far beyond the years of their 20-something staffers, especially when they discuss how “old representation” isn’t always “good representation,” or how different cultures are not hiveminds. A fact that I wish the fans asking all those questions realized, because, yep, now we’re getting into it.
I’ve seen so many questions on the Writing With Color Tumblr along the lines of “My nonbinary Polynesian/Hispanic character has a scene with an alien whistleblower eating cottage cheese. Is this racist? Or sexist, or ableist? *Please don’t hit me.*” Writing With Color answers all these inquiries with compassion and knowledge; they’re not to blame here. Neither are the askers, really, in comparison with the anxiety prompting them to ask. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, but fear is a stupid reason to ask questions.
If I were one of the mods for Writing With Color (in case they decide to hire an oft-neglected white male that was a joke shut up Breitbart), and someone asked me the cottage cheese question? My response would be, “I don’t know if it’s racist, because you haven’t written the story yet!” Artists should never need to ask permission to art. Or to verbify nouns. Will I give my thoughts on racist characters if you present me with a full draft? Yes (though you should take my advice on such matters with a grain of salt as white as my skin). Will I continue to criticize racist works of art, which have had plenty of hours in their gestation when the artist could’ve researched the culture discussed? Yes (although I’ll try not to pick on people’s personal, private, non-online works). Writers procrastinate writing well enough without needing to fear shame from the moral authorities that claim to be on their side.
Looking back on my own fiction, I see that Bala, from “The College Station All-Male Feminist Union,” might fall under the trope Writing With Color (and TV Tropes) would call “The Bollywood Nerd.” I can’t tell myself, mostly because I have a vested interest in not calling myself racist. Does a cliché representation matter if you base said character on a person you’ve met and known? If this potentially-racially-insensitive character remains the audience favorite, does that character’s popularity speak ill of the audience, or of the author? I’d like to know. And, because I actually wrote the damn thing, instead of tossing the idea around my head like a hot potato coated in tar, we can have that discussion. I’m proud of that story despite any social taboos it may have crossed— but not because of them. “The College Station All-Male Feminist Union,” is, until it’s accepted for publication, a draft. If I wrote something offensive, I’ll use that lesson in whatever I write next, including another draft at this stage. All the good that Writing With Color brings will be undone if you cower from the site instead of work with it.