I apologize if this has already made its rounds through my Dwircle, but in case anyone's missed it, the wonderful ephemere wrote a beautiful, heart-wrenching response to Charles Tan's recent essay. There's so much of it that I want to quote, but as a white, privileged individual, I particularly appreciated this part:
"So (and I address this now to the theoretical audience of those on the other, privileged end of the inequality) if you, as a white person, are afraid of writing about us: then be afraid. Carry in your heart the fear of doing further injustice to a people into whose blood oppression has become so incorporated that our institutions and our media echo with the dual strains of self-loathing and adulation for those who are not us. Live with the anxiety of questioning your assumptions about a people that is not more American than America, not a race composed only of tourist guides and call-center agents and overseas foreign workers and shoe-crazy society matrons and celebrity politicians, not your "little brown brothers and sisters"; whose richness and diversity and pursuit of individual identity all too often escape the surface view to which most observers are confined. Confront your blind spots and your privilege in having the luxury of overlooking this inequality because you aren't disenfranchised by it. Cast away the viewpoints that tag our similarities as proof of the good points of the Philippines and relegate our differences to the status of "disadvantage" or "compensation for..." in those instances when you do choose to acknowledge that we aren't "just like you". Grasp the difficulty that comes with having to ask yourself whether you are condescending, whether you are offending beliefs that are not held without reason, whether you are perpetuating a mindset that plays at well-intentioned assistance while diminishing fundamental freedoms to choose our own goods. We've had 'well-intentioned assistance'; the Americans called it benevolent rule. Delve into our history, the blood of our politics and our wars; soak yourself in it, in the grit and the grime of our daily living, until you understand why we rage and why we have cut out our tongues."I've written and re-written what I want to say here about a dozen times. As a white writer, I feel like ephemere has given an answer to an old question: whether white writers should write characters of color. A simple "yes" or "no" isn't good enough. Sitting with the fear, constantly challenging one's own privilege, acknowledge of one's inexpertise... self-awareness and respect... those aren't the this-or-that answers we often look for. The question is complicated, and so is the answer. Avoiding writing characters of color out of fear boils down to avoiding the fear, and is a privilege. As is writing characters of color without keeping that fear in the forefront, because I think that fear, that awareness mingled with accountability, is what is required to deconstruct privilege, and sweeping it under the bed does nothing toward that.