Embracing Diversity– Being a White Writer in the Time of BLM

Embracing Diversity– Being a White Writer in the Time of BLM

Someone in the publishing industry– someone I like very much and whose judgement I trust a great deal– told me, in regards to Julia’s Heart, “it’s a lovely book but I don’t think you should publish it. Julia is a Black lady and you are not and in the current social climate you’re taking a chance.”

I respect that point of view. I’ve considered the question myself, in fact, clear back when I first realized which direction the book was heading. I’ve chosen to proceed anyway. This is why:

I first got the idea for this plot back in the summer of 2015. My first book had come out that spring and as I became more involved in the writing community I became more aware of the extent to which members of marginalized groups are erased from mainstream literature. I learned about whitewashed covers– when a Black character is portrayed as white on a book cover — and the many and varied stereotypes that are used to slot human beings into neat little cubicles. I was part of the Midnight Ink community when our fabulous editor, Terri Bischoff (now with Crooked Lane) was trying to find a traditionally-published comp title for Kellye Garrett’s first book and finding it challenging because traditionally-published mysteries by Black writers were so rare. Even now writers like Kellye, Shawn Cosby, and Tracy Clark are breaking barriers that never should have existed in the first place and certainly shouldn’t still be standing in the 21st century.

I’ve always tried to embrace diversity in my books, but writing a Black woman as the main character was a step father than I’d ever gone. I hesitated for two reasons. One, I didn’t want to trespass where I don’t belong. And, two, I was afraid I’d screw it up.

In regards to the first concern, I feel it comes down to a question of whether or not this is my story to tell. In this particular instance, I’m the only one who can tell it because it’s written itself in my head. Also, it seems to me there’s a fine, subtle but important difference between writing a story about a Black character and writing about being Black. That is the prerogative, in my opinion, only of those who have lived the experience.

I suppose a second question could be, “is it a story worth telling?” The answer to that, and to whether or not I screwed it up, will be decided by the readers.

I hope that this book will appeal to mystery lovers on all the points of the kaleidoscope that is humanity. But especially I hope that Black women, who have all too often been erased and ignored, will see the Black woman on the cover and feel seen. And I hope that they will close that cover at the end of the book and feel satisfied.