The YA author Justine Larbalestier often posts on her blog about the subject of race in fiction. I used to follow it a lot, but I only drop by occasionally now, because the greater emphasis on ethnic politics rather than craft is not my cup of tea (but everyone is entitled to write whatever they want on their blog, obviously). This is a pretty touchy subject, but since I am a minority and I write, I figured I should address it.
Now, I guess I would be what you considered a pretty white-washed Asian. I've been told by people who are Asian and people who are white that I am not very...ethnic? I've always found this kind of funny since I can speak Chinese fluently and my reading is not half-bad. When I go to China, people frequently don't know I'm foreign unless I specifically bring it up. I guess since I don't dress like an anime character and am not into Asian pop-culture, this makes me not very Asian. Okay, fine. I can accept that. I mean, when I was little I used to actually think I was white. You might think I'm lying, but I assure you, I am not. I was a racially confused child. I used to dream about having blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies, and it was a sad, sad day in my life when I realized this was genetically impossible (or at least very improbable).
My characters are primarily white people (Caucasian; sorry, I'm just going to use "white" because it's shorter; hopefully, that's not un-PC). I read fiction and imagine MC's to be white (unless specifically indicated otherwise - this probably says something about what society makes minorities think, but that would be delving into a whole different problem). There isn't a lot of fiction with people of color (abbr. POC) anyway, and errr, Justine's blog (through no fault of its own) sometimes makes me feel guilty that I am not one of those people who searches for fiction with people who "look like me." I never thought about not being able to relate to people who are not Asian. I mean, I sympathize with those people who are like unique combinations (ie Malaysian-Chinese or Muslim-Australian or something) who crave for fiction that "represents" them, but it honestly never occurred to me (until I read Justine's blog) to find a character who is racially me.
I realize that the lack of POC fiction is a problem. There are plenty of children who struggle with identity issues growing up because TV and books are full of white people. And I think that there should definitely be more people who write POC fiction, and it shouldn't be limited to POC authors - white people can equally write POC fiction (as Justine has proved). But I also
don't think that POC authors should be expected to write only people who look like them. Look, I really enjoy POC fiction. When I pick up a book about Chinese people that is good, I am thrilled. I do relate to it, very well. It's cool when they talk about Chinese food and Chinese customs and things where I can be like, "Wow, my parents said that when I was young too!" But at the same time, I have no problem relating to a Midwestern white girl from a small town. Because I share more experiences than just through race. For the same reason, I can enjoy a book about a Muslim girl discovering her identity. Or a French royal princess from the sixteenth century. Or a gnome. Or a bee. Or whatever.
Books shouldn't be marketed to a certain ethnic group; I refuse to believe a white person cannot relate to a book about a Chinese girl, and I ALSO refuse to believe there are minorities out there who cannot relate to MC's that are white. And authors shouldn't be expected to write based "on their own racial experience." I'm an Asian writer. And I write about white people. And Asian people. And fairies. Does it matter? Perhaps, it is narrow-minded for me to assume that just because I don't see the world through racial goggles, nobody does either. I like to be optimistic, though. And I like to think that everyone can choose to take off their racial goggles if they want to.
What do you think?