Can a white author write a character of color?

oldnumberseven

New member
Ok, so I have been struggling with this topic for a couple weeks now and I welcome any/all feedback. I'm very open to learning here.

I am a cis, straight white woman. I am privileged. I have written a lot of white characters (both male and female) over the years and many of the fics I've read and loved have been from the white POV. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have been searching for fics that have non-white lead characters. First and foremost, if you have any recommendations in that area, please send them along. But I'm not seeing a ton of diversity in the HP fanfic community.

Ever since I finished my last Marauders fic, I have been noodling on a Next Gen story. I've got the bones of the characters, but the plot was missing general meaning. I didn't want this story to just be a fluffy Albus/OC romance. I had been thinking about weaving social activism into the plot before the recent George Floyd protests and now it has definitely been gaining steam in my mind after seeing the world react with non-violence. I want to explore the magical power of love, like Lily experienced, to show how love can combat hate and make real change. And given Albus has had experience with dealing with time, I wanted a character to show him the power of love, ultimately helping him decide to become an Unspeakable and further study the subject. The story wouldn't be from his POV, it would be mostly from an American woman's POV, who is experiencing upheaval in her community and shows him that love is the answer.

What I'm struggling with is how to respectfully write on this topic, I haven't been able to actually start writing the first chapter. As a white person, is it appropriate to write a lead character of color? If I decide to embark on this path, I will certainly do my research and anchor their experiences in real stories, knowing that as a white person, I will never truly understand what it's like to be a Black person in America. I have been thinking about writing a white woman who has friends of color to help educate her about racism that she doesn't experience, but is that making this problem worse? Delegating people of color to once again be on the sidelines instead of in the spotlight?

If the answer is no, don't go down this road, then I will scrap this plot and find something else. I just thought I would ask the community first.
 

Charlie_Lupin

Active member
I really like this idea. I can understand what you mean.I'm a white female, non-binary/lesbian. I can also ask a few of my friends who write fanfiction if they have any suggestions.

I know some people portray Hermione or Harry black rather than white. I don't know, but maybe try and find some with like Dean Thomas or Kingsley Shaklebolt. Just some suggestions. Try and see what you might come up with.

You can also try and ask quora or maybe look up like "how do to do a certain type of fanfic" like how you are explaining.
 

la_topolina

Member
Great topic! (For reference, I'm a straight, white woman.)

To date, I've only written one fic with a POC main character: all i was doing was breathing+. My main WIP has several supporting characters that are POC, and when I get to the final novel of this saga, I plan to add at least three more (we'll be post Deathly Hallows then, so I'll be making my own map).

The main arguments I've seen against white authors writing POC main characters is that they are then competing with authors of color, since the publishing industry currently limits the number of novels they will produce that contain POC main characters. HOWEVER, we're writing fanfiction, and we aren't competing with anyone for their income. In my opinion, if you want to write POC main or supporting characters, go for it. It'll be uncomfortable, and you might make a mistake, and someone might say something mean about it--but if you're willing to take those risks--do it. (Also, if you ever do want to go the publishing route, don't shy away from creating a diverse cast of supporting characters, even if you are white).

There's a great Tumblr blog full of advice on writing POCs: Writing with Color+, and there's a great blog post here+ that has more debate and advice on the topic (note that the second blog post is talking mostly to authors planning to sell their work, and not to fanfic writers.

Another key thing to remember, in addition to learning about the POC's culture that you're planning to represent, is that POCs are people too. What I mean by that, is try not to fall into the trap of writing the POC only in terms of his/her/their struggles due to racism, etc. Write some fluff. Write some humor. Write the whole spectrum of human experience, and try to avoid only writing angsty stories about suffering (although angsty suffering is totally valid, and doesn't need to be ignored either).
 

PH71

Active member
I think it's an interesting point of discussion.

In my story I have several POV characters, one of which is Dean Thomas and Hestia Jones who I have written as a muggle-born POC lesbian character.

When I first started writing I never really set out with the mindset of like "well I'd like to have a POC and a LGBTQ+ character to mix it up" it was more that they both had stories that I thought could be good to tell.

I think certainly in Dean's case the fact that he's black is never really something that comes up in the books as they're written obviously without any overt racism, with the blood prejudice kind of as an allegory for racism in our world. So from that point of view I've not had to massively think too much about how I write him in that way, but one of the plot-lines in his arc does kind of lead into the muggle-word and I have at some point brought in that sort of prejudice and experience as it does kind of add depth to his story and journey.

I actually have a small flash-back scene where McGonagall is first talking Dean and his Mother into coming to Hogwarts - and she is a bit apprehensive about him going to a private boarding school, as here in the UK, especially 30 years ago in the early 90's, a working-class child of any description, let alone a POC child, would be somewhat out of place at a posh boarding school full of rich, upper or middle class white kids.

McGonagall delights in informing her that in the Wizarding world they wouldn't look down or judge Dean for the colour of his skin, to which his Mother is pleasantly surprised and glad. But then his Step Dad puts the question of whether they would look down on him for not being from a magic family - and she's kind of stumped and feels a bit awkward.

I do quite like the idea and notion that the Wizarding world is sort of "above" overt racism and purely has the prejudices against muggles and muggle-borns in general though.
 

la_topolina

Member
@PH71 I need to check out this story about Dean and the one about Hestia! And I also like the take of the Wizarding World being "above" racism due to ethnicity, but still stuck with their prejudices regarding blood purity (which in the books obviously was a stand in for racism). Your story about Dean and his mother's meeting with McGonagall sounds awesome.

Gone with the Wind is a book that is close to my heart--I love it and have read it more than once--I even gave the book a cameo in my fanfic novel Moonlight. However, the way that the novel portrays Black people is problematic, especially for a modern writer, and so I would personally steer clear of using it as a model. Roots would be a better choice. There are also many lists of books by authors of color; here are links to a few of them:

African American Fiction Classics+ (list by Penguin Random House)

100 Must-Read Classics by People of Color+ (list by bookriot.com)

62 great books by Black authors+ (list by TED speakers)

23 books by authors of colour you have to read+ (list by independent)

15 Summer Reads by Black Authors+ (list by Black Enterprise)

And there are so many more lists, this is just to get you started. Don't feel like you have to read everything though--I tried to post a variety so that folks would be more likely to find something that appealed to them.
 
All these posts are amazing! I am a white person as well, so this is really useful to me!

On another note, I am very sure History and culture create some difference between being a POC at the UK and the US.

Hogwarts is in the UK and the characters are usually British, so, I'd take that into account. I'm sure there are several blogs, Tumblrs, sites, and books explaining how it is to be a POC in the UK.

Anyways, I think white straight cis people should try writing characters that aren't white, straight, or cis.
 
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pathfinder

Member
Can a white author write a character of color? I would say 'yes' - with help.

I'm about to embark on a similar journey. My plan is to write a story where the main character is a 14-year old black girl in current-day America. The tricky part is that I'm not black, 14, or a girl. Like you @oldnumberseven, I'm going to rely heavily on the experiences of others to dive into this area. Also - like others who have not gone through systemic and overt racism, I'm going to listen and try to understand first and then work to capture those experiences in my story.

I know it's not going to be perfect. I know that I'm not going to fool anyone into thinking I'm black, 14, or a girl. At the very least, I'm hoping to keep the conversation going and continue to bring light to the systemic and overt racism that plagues the US right now.

My advice:
-Write what you know (through speaking to others who have experienced these things) and relay those real stories into yours.
-Ask for help from fellow HPFF writers who are black and who might be willing to 'beta or review your story.
-Write the story. Even if it's not perfect; even if it's obvious that it was written by someone who hasn't experienced that kind of hate first-hand, you're doing a good thing by talking about it. Silence is consent. Speak up.
 

PH71

Active member
Can a white author write a character of color? I would say 'yes' - with help.

I'm about to embark on a similar journey. My plan is to write a story where the main character is a 14-year old black girl in current-day America. The tricky part is that I'm not black, 14, or a girl. Like you @oldnumberseven, I'm going to rely heavily on the experiences of others to dive into this area. Also - like others who have not gone through systemic and overt racism, I'm going to listen and try to understand first and then work to capture those experiences in my story.

I know it's not going to be perfect. I know that I'm not going to fool anyone into thinking I'm black, 14, or a girl. At the very least, I'm hoping to keep the conversation going and continue to bring light to the systemic and overt racism that plagues the US right now.

My advice:
-Write what you know (through speaking to others who have experienced these things) and relay those real stories into yours.
-Ask for help from fellow HPFF writers who are black and who might be willing to 'beta or review your story.
-Write the story. Even if it's not perfect; even if it's obvious that it was written by someone who hasn't experienced that kind of hate first-hand, you're doing a good thing by talking about it. Silence is consent. Speak up.
Nice post. Agreed.
 

loveinkwell

New member
Another key thing to remember, in addition to learning about the POC's culture that you're planning to represent, is that POCs are people too. What I mean by that, is try not to fall into the trap of writing the POC only in terms of his/her/their struggles due to racism, etc. Write some fluff. Write some humor. Write the whole spectrum of human experience, and try to avoid only writing angsty stories about suffering (although angsty suffering is totally valid, and doesn't need to be ignored either).
I LOVE this advice! As a POC, it's really tough when people IRL try to reduce me to my race, or treat everything about me as fascinating and strange when in actuality, most of my time is spent doing very ordinary things like listening to pop music and eating hamburgers, haha. It really doesn't help when POC portrayals in media are often so flat and one-dimensional, which further serves to "other"-ize certain populations (although Hollywood has gotten better about this recently). So, this point is so appreciated.

I wonder if anyone has thoughts about writing characters of different sexualities, too? I'm someone who spent a lot of childhood trying to convince myself I was just heterosexual. It took until my mid-20s before I found real descriptions of sexuality (bisexuality, specifically) that I related to. As a result, I find the questioning process near and dear to my heart, and I think it's so important to portray the huge variety of experiences that might be labeled any sexuality. But I find myself drawn most to writing variations on Wolfstar because I relate so hard to my imaginary Remus character and am attracted to people like my imaginary Sirius character ;) As a bisexual female, can I do M/M justice without ever experiencing it? What kinds of things should I watch out for?
 

la_topolina

Member
@Nico Nightingale that's a really good point--to make sure your research is appropriate to your setting too.

@loveinkwell, I'm so glad that resonated :) (and what kind of pop music do you like? I tend to listen to the same five songs over and over for a long time and then switch it up. Right now that includes Good as Hell, Proud Mary, and If You Want Me to Stay)

I do think it's possible to write a character who is a different gender and/or sexuality than you are, and a lot of the same advice applies. Do some research, remember that we're all people, and maybe ask some folks who are that gender/sexuality to give the piece a read to see if anything seems off. The biggest criticism I know of regarding women writing gay or bi men is writing the men as though they are basically cis women with male bodies, if that makes sense?
 

Ashley Marie

Headmaster
Staff member
I love this conversation and how open everyone is with advice and points of view. Threads like this will help us all grow as writers and readers too.
 

Ginny Lovegood

Active member
Another person of color in the series is Angelina Johnson! She's one of my favorite characters, since I'm a black woman, and I feel represented in her!
 

oldnumberseven

New member
Hi everyone, thank you so much for all of your responses - I realized today that I never followed up on this, LOL! I still haven't started my story, but I've decided I am definitely going to write something and finished the initial storyboarding/planning for it so it's in a better place. I'm also doing some heavy research (finished a few books since I first wrote this thread as well as binged watched a few TV shows about the topic) to try and make sure I have a full understanding of what I'm walking into. I have found myself planning out a few tropes, so I've backed out of those.

Now it's just a matter of kicking myself in the butt to actually open a doc and write the damn thing! :ROFLMAO: I'll link my first chapter when I get around to posting it.
 

PH71

Active member
Hi everyone, thank you so much for all of your responses - I realized today that I never followed up on this, LOL! I still haven't started my story, but I've decided I am definitely going to write something and finished the initial storyboarding/planning for it so it's in a better place. I'm also doing some heavy research (finished a few books since I first wrote this thread as well as binged watched a few TV shows about the topic) to try and make sure I have a full understanding of what I'm walking into. I have found myself planning out a few tropes, so I've backed out of those.

Now it's just a matter of kicking myself in the butt to actually open a doc and write the damn thing! :ROFLMAO: I'll link my first chapter when I get around to posting it.
Looking forward to seeing what you come up with
 

loveinkwell

New member
@Nico Nightingale that's a really good point--to make sure your research is appropriate to your setting too.

@loveinkwell, I'm so glad that resonated :) (and what kind of pop music do you like? I tend to listen to the same five songs over and over for a long time and then switch it up. Right now that includes Good as Hell, Proud Mary, and If You Want Me to Stay)

I do think it's possible to write a character who is a different gender and/or sexuality than you are, and a lot of the same advice applies. Do some research, remember that we're all people, and maybe ask some folks who are that gender/sexuality to give the piece a read to see if anything seems off. The biggest criticism I know of regarding women writing gay or bi men is writing the men as though they are basically cis women with male bodies, if that makes sense?
I also tend to stick to my favorites, cycling through and rediscovering them every few years! Right now I'm rediscovering indie pop: BORNS, Foster the People, Grouplove, Lana del Rey.

And thanks for the tip, that's a good thing to watch out for, especially as a woman author who relates so heavily to her male main character. Gay or bi men are men, with all the socialization that shapes that identity, and so it's unrealistic to have them approach relationships and emotions in the same way women are socialized to.
 
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