I was halfway through writing my MFA thesis—a collection of feminist retellings of Warren Zevon songs—when I read Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti (one of my favorite feminist authors) and realized I’d made a glaring omission in my project.
All my main characters were women, yes, but they were all white women.
As soon as I had this revelation I wanted to diversify my characters. But I kept asking myself, “As a white woman, do I have the right to write about people of color?”
I understand some of the ways women of color experience the world differently from reading widely and having friends, but ultimately, I’m still white. People have treated me in shitty ways and said shitty things to me because I’m a woman and because of my age, but never because of my skin color. I can imagine what that feels like, but I’ve never felt it myself.
It can be hard to write characters that are vastly different from you. It’s hard not to fall in the trap of cliches and stereotypes, and instead build three-dimensional people.
But here’s the thing. As a woman and as a feminist, I can’t not write female characters of color just because it’s hard.
I’m probably going to screw up. I’m probably going to fall into traps I’m trying really hard to avoid.
But I think it’s important to forge ahead anyway. I’m striving to create characters and not caricatures. To create characters whose experiences are informed by their race and gender, but who are, ultimately, individuals with individual desires and needs.
And if I do my job as a fiction writer well, you won’t even notice the struggle and sweat I’ve invested in my work.