I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about hard lately. I feel like there’s often a stigma where authors of color are pigeon-held into just writing about main characters of their own skin tone. It’s something that has bothered me for quite some time while being in different circles within the writing community. I’ve been often teased and scoffed at because the main character of my books isn’t my skin tone—or they are entirely made up like a fantasy race. I believe that’s not quite a fair thing to say or assume about my book or me as a person. So, I wanted to talk about it.
I’ve said the before: authors can write about any protagonist they want to write about. I’m a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons, World of Warcraft, and Elder Scrolls. That has in turn instilled a lot of world-building involving fantasy races. I tend to use those as a coding of some sort to talk about topics that are close to me. Also, I just like writing about orcs, elves, dwarves, giants, firbolgs, etc. I don’t feel like there are enough people of color writing about those things in their fantasy worlds, so I wanted to write about it myself. That doesn’t mean that I’m ashamed of my race or that somehow, I’m not representing myself accurately.
There’s plenty of people of color that are represented in my world. One of the main things I wanted to have is people of color in major authority positions. For example, the main royal family of the Empire is dark-skinned and most if not all the Dukes you see within the story are people of color (aside from the Great Northern Families which are based on Norse and Celtic). I feel like that’s a good way to show representation outside of having a black main character within an afro-centric world.
Let me clarify though. I enjoy these stories. Black Panther, Rage of Winter and Children of Blood and Bone are some of my favorite stories to ever grace pages. But it bothers me the people expect me to write something similar because I’m black (this especially the case with fellow people of color). There are plenty of ways to represent your race within your story but also the fact that you’re writing a novel anyway is representation enough. You can write whatever you want if it’s tasteful and respectful to people.
So, I’m challenging more people of color to write outside of what they think they can do or more importantly should do. If you want to write about an African princess with magical powers, go for it. We need more powerful black characters in the world. But also, if you want to write about Vikings or dragon people that live in trees, go for it. Don’t feel like you must be forced to write these things because of the color of your skin. I’ve seen amazing Asian or African inspired books written by white men or white women. You’re allowed to step outside of your comfort zone and write what you want to write (given that you have research or in the case of fantasy, appropriate world-building). You, as an author, are representation enough.