Let’s talk about the microagressions experienced by POC authors from their white critique partners. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten feedback like this:
“If you want to appeal to a
whiter wider audience, I think you should use less Spanish. They’re switching back and forth a lot between English and Spanish and its jarring to read/understand.”
“I know your MC is mixed-race but there’s a lot of focus on her Latin culture and not really on her American culture.”
“Your MC’s internal dialogue is really different from her dialogue with other characters. She’s described as being really intelligent and her internal dialogue is really elevated. But this isn’t coming across when she talks to other characters.”
“The MCs have a lot of internal dialogue about racism in their neighborhood. They make a lot of commentary and it feels a little heavy-handed. I’m not sure if they would actually think about it this often.”
After almost 7 years of searching for solid CPs (and kissing way too many toads in the process) I could go on and on about the small comments I’ve gotten with giant, white-supremacist implications.
To address the comments on language: Lots of POC authors are using more and more code-switching in their writing for a myriad of reasons. It more authentically reflects our multi-cultural experience living in the U.S. It’s a survival tactic often used to protect ourselves in white spaces. It’s a form of creativity and expression. But it’s also a phenomenon that a lot of white people just don’t understand. That’s okay. But maybe instead of being critical of it in a piece of writing or when you observe it in real life, use it as an opportunity to educate yourself. Ask your CP more about it–why/how it’s being used; how it contributes to character and setting.
To address the comments on the MCs’ commentary on white supremacy in their neighborhood: We actually think about racism quite often. Especially in this current era of wokeness where many of us are trying to dismantle our own white supremacist thinking and rediscover/reconnect with the thinking and practices of our native culture, we think about it almost constantly. Depending on the neighborhood we live in, it might be impossible to look in any direction without seeing evidence of its domain. But even more dangerous than your assumption that a person of color would not be plagued by these thoughts “that often” is the assumption that you can know/understand anything about the POC experience enough to criticize the way we think and/or what we think about. You’re infringing on the intimacy of our own minds, which for some, is the only thing that still truly belongs to us.
Let’s just make a hard and fast rule: If there is a culture-specific aspect of the text that you know little to nothing about, avoid criticizing it altogether. Most writers have multiple CPs for this reason–so that people with different perspectives can provide feedback on the aspects of the text they understand best. You might think you’re being helpful by providing feedback similar to the comments above but you could also end up harming that POC author much more than you ever intended.
The CPs who made those comments may not have intended for me to feel invisible, invalidated, wrong, or like human garbage. But that’s what they did. And not just with their words but with the deep rooted beliefs and values behind those words that at their core are incredibly racist and dehumanizing.
Just remember, being a good ally extends to being a good CP. I know because I’ve had amazing white CPs who were supportive and always willing to ask questions about things they didn’t know. This is such an important aspect of allyship–having a willingness to learn. If you’re a good writer or even just a good person you are doing this constantly. The more we learn about experiences different than ours, the wider the lens becomes through which we see the world. Widening your lens can be scary. Realizing how narrow your lens was in the first place can be scary too. But it’s necessary. Bottom line.
So next time you feel compelled to critique an aspect of the story you’re not familiar with, ask yourself if you’re seeing with a wide enough lens. Ask yourself if it’s the story that needs work or if it’s you.