Let Me Explain (A Talk About Race and Art)...
It's been over a year since I actually posted a blog. I've been writing (and taking up voice lessons again) so I haven't completely abandoned my art but I haven't been as motivated either. This is for a number of reasons but there is one reason I want to talk about in particular. I've been having internal issues about my past work I created. I still love it just as much as I did when I created it and I don't want to change a thing (major things) about it because it was work that I believed in and felt at the time. There's just something I need to address before I can go back to promoting and creating art freely: the race of the characters in my book series.
I've been asked by several people in the past why my characters are not primarily black being that I am a Black woman who grew up in an all Black neighborhood and only know the Black experience. It's a question I expected and will continue to expect as long as I decide to share my book series with people. I believe this is more of a question as race has become a major topic in society (it has always been a major topic for the minority but now society as a whole is talking about it). I decided to answer it in this blog post because I couldn't think of a better way to address it.
When I first wrote A Tragic Heart it was almost 10 years ago and I was only 18 years old. I was a bit of a loner and very much into my emo days (still am and I'm sorry I'm not sorry about it). I wanted to write something I could relate to because it seemed like no one around me could. As I mentioned previously I grew up in an all Black (and Hispanic) neighborhood that didn't always accept versatility or differences that people who looked liked them had. I loved Rock music and colorful hair and Guitar Hero...I was told I was supposed to love Hip Hop/Rap and be completely different. I couldn't accept that and it only made me feel even more alone.
Anyway, when I started writing my first book I made the main character a fictional version of me. Since I didn't have close friends who looked like me and liked the same things, I created my characters based on what I thought people would see them as...aka they're white teenagers struggling through life living in Scottsdale, AZ. Besides, I can't count the amount of times I was called "white girl" by old friends, schoolmates, parents of schoolmates, etc. I created what was expected.
Of course now that I think about it I could have created the characters based on what I wanted in my own life: friends who looked like me and adored the same music and activities. I guess at 18 it just wasn't something I thought about.
I recently re-read parts of my book series and there are some things I want to change but the race of the characters isn't one of them. I thought long and hard about how it looks on the outside and the terrible things people will say about me abandoning my own race but that is not the case at all. I just happen to love the characters just the way they are and I still feel it fits the setting, context and overall feel of the series.
What most people don't know is that I've written about 11 books and only released 3 (1 of which is no longer available but that will change soon). My characters are of different races and backgrounds. I also thought about as a Black female how I want to incorporate different types of characters in my books because I know how it feels being a minority and being a minority amongst minorities! Being African American doesn't mean I should limit my characters to my own race...especially if the point of all of this civil unrest is for equality and allowing us to express ourselves as individuals without being condemned or looked down on.
I have a novel I wanted to work on for some time called All My Friends and the main characters will be Black. The novel will be very loosely based on my college experience with my best friends (who I am still friends with today) but will also address some cultural issues in society. I feel as if it's a needed book for cultural reasons and also because I enjoy all the time I spend with my best friends; I would love to give people the same feeling I get when we're all together.
My belief is that art is a universal language that should not be limited due to someone's background. Art is a representation of someone's experiences and growth. Art has no color, gender or sexual orientation. Therefore, you will see me create White characters, Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ and so on. It's whatever I feel is appropriate for the setting or whatever I feel makes a character more interesting. I'll never exploit a culture or group for personal gain or based on stereotypes. I create art free of prejudice or expectations. Just because I write something or create something doesn't mean it mirrors my personal beliefs or values. There are some things I like to keep private and I don't believe an opinion is needed everywhere. I'm a complex person (as most of us are) and I just want to create something that people can appreciate or relate to, no matter what group they belong to or identify with.
So, that's that...I'll continue writing in private and sharing when I want. Maybe it'll jump start some motivation and I'll be sharing some writings and music in the future...I do have a whole poetry book written and edited just waiting a release...
P.S. A Tragic Heart has a new cover because well...I wanted to!