First of all – WOW! I haven’t posted to my blog in so long I’m surprised it didn’t send me a Dear John letter.
What brought me back? Putting aside the job loss and maturing children that have given me a few more smidgens of free time. . . . .
And the process of creating characters – especially those of a different color, race, and religion than you.
Let me give you a bit of back story: I currently have 6 full length novels posted on WattPad. My second most popular one, All I Never Wanted, has been up for three years. It’s garnered a few comments here and there, but recently it’s been one chapter in particular that’s gotten repeat comments – and they’re all about the exact same line in the story.
By repeat comments, I mean four. Of the 5,000+ reads recorded for this chapter, it’s these four that have struck a chord with me.
Because all of them refer to a moment in the story when I introduce two African-American sisters, whom I named Shasta and Shanikwa. And all four wanted to know why these girls don’t have “normal” names.
First and Foremost, please understand that this white girl meant no offense. However, I’ve struggled with the need to defend myself. I’ve also pondered the wisdom of mentioning it, because the topics of race and racism are so rampant right now. It seems like no matter what “color” you are – someone finds offense with something.
I’ll do my best to keep it simple:
1. I wanted these girls to have unique names and stand out, if only for a brief period of time.
2. The demographic I’m writing about is also the same demographic that I worked with for the past 13 years. When I chose names, I looked to my clients. These characters are named after real people.
3. What defines normal? It depends on your perspective. Let’s be honest – we all know African-Americans of both sexes with names similar to my sisters. However, that doesn’t mean I think ALL African-Americans are named so uniquely. I know some beautiful black women with the more traditional names of Miriam, Evelyn, Alaina, and Helen. I also know some white people with the unfortunate monikers of Tequila, Chevelle, and T. (Yes – just T.)
4. Take it for what it is – a story. Not a representation of an entire group of people – white, black, or otherwise. The characters are all developed for that story, for that situation, for that place and point in time. I’m not going to change them because I didn’t write them with any kind of prejudice or ill intent in mind.
5. I also recognize that I am white. I grew up in a white family, in a predominantly white town, with white friends. I married a white man and have white kids. While I don’t consider myself to be prejudice or racist in any way, I also understand that I have a skewed perspective. I don’t know what it’s like to be a minority or to constantly be second guessing whether people are judging me, stereotyping me or making fun of me.
Please know that when I named Shasta and Shanikwa I was NOT doing any of those three. I simply wanted two, quirky, black sisters.
What matters most to me is the state of your heart – are you a good person with a kind heart and a positive attitude? I would hope that when someone of a different race looks at me, they don’t stop at the color of my skin. I hope they would look deeper than that before labeling me prejudice or racist or any of those other ugly names flying around right now.
While this white girl sees color, it’s not the only thing she sees.