As a trend, there’s a stark difference between fiction written by authors identifying as white or otherwise.
In the former, race and racism are largely written from the perspectives of white narrators or protagonists, and it exists in discrete pockets of the text rather than being embedded in everything a character or a situation is. These pockets take a routine shape, particular moments of racist and racial meeting white people are taught to recognise, rather than being woven in as a substantial experience unable to be figured in such blips. Race only appears in explicit exposition, where white writers point it out, from white protagonists’ perspectives. These moments feel like readers are being transported out of the true perspective or directionality of the text.
It happens every time Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse is delighted to meet an Asian vampire, or is fascinated with the change in skin colour people with dark skin colours undergo when they are made vampire. I don’t think that To Kill A Mockingbird would be so popular were it not narrated by Scout. It’s benevolent, but it’s clueless.
It’s not their faults, it’s just a matter of the people who know what they’re talking about being the best ones to present a narrative. And, rather, different perspectives around racism are necessary, and white ones shouldn’t be the main ones presented. They are so commonly presented because it’s easy for white people to align themselves with them. It’s easy to position yourself as sympathetic, as having understanding (because you understand the limited modes presented). It is easy to align yourself with a white saviour, to not have to identify with a character of colour.
But when I read Octavia Butler’s Dawn…
or Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao…
or Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian…
That’s when it clicks. Everything about who Lilith is and what she experiences is tied up with race. I identify with, and am often glad I don’t identify with, so much of what Oscar, Lola, and Beli think, because it’s drawn from experiences of racism, ground down and ground in. And much of the horror of Alexie’s novel is that it is semi-autobiographical, and he had to take out a lot of the death and hardship for people to believe it. Alexie’s right: the best of fiction is written in blood.
When I read those books, I know this is it, these are the experiences I have had and have subsumed, unarticulated, because so many other stories are about white ways of dealing with racism.
I’m not up for feeling out my experiences according to the strictures of someone else’s guilt.