On Changing the Race of my Female Character to Black

The great thing about writing fictional people is that you can drastically change their identity with the click of a keyboard.

What to make the race of a character seems like a simple enough decision. It is just her outer appearance, which I decided as I wrote my character profiles long, long ago in the planning stages. Then, it seemed like a mindless decision. I’m white, why wouldn’t I make my main characters white? I can write from a white female point of view most convincingly.

Well, I’m up for a challenge and I’m up for seeing things through different people’s points of view (this was actually a big part of writing this novel for me, which I’ll explain in another post).

The biggest reason I chose to change my character’s race is that my novel deals a lot with gender issues, which must be viewed through an intersectional lens with race. The two problems mingle and mimic each other in so many ways.

I’ve found so many feminists take this stand of trying to talk about gender and race together, but rarely succeed. They still point out the two distinct categories of white woman and black woman and fail to categorize us all under the umbrella of woman. Certainly, there are problems black women face that white women don’t and vice versa, but there are so many areas of overlap. We must look at the intricacies of our system of oppression and not continue to pigeonhole each other into categories and stereotypes, which is exactly what we are trying to fight.

When we talk about gender and race we don’t need any more articles telling us how black women and white women are different. We don’t need any more “common white girl” tags that disguise themselves as a cultural examination, when in fact they’re only inflaming the divide between black women and white women. We don’t need people telling white women that they can’t be upset about sexism because black women have it harder.

What we need is a political discourse that humanizes us. We need to delve into the psyche of women, of all kinds, so that we are able to empathize with each other better. I want to write from the point of view of a black woman to be able to understand her experience in the best way I can without pulling one of those sitcom stunts where I put black face on to walk a day in a black woman’s shoes. Even though I love Sarah Silverman for doing that.

So, I thought I’d add to this intersectional discourse. It’s hard for me to convincingly write from the point of view of a black women for the exact reason that I’ve been taught my experience is so different than theirs. But, as I rework my novel, I’m going to be doing a lot of reading, researching, and critical and creative thinking. It will ultimately bring me to a better understanding of this intersectional lens through which we must view our culture.

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