Monthly Archives: November 2015

Why do I not have more diversity in my books?

stop-talking-about-racismSome background, first:  Growing up, everyone around me was white like me.

That statement is not literally true.  The small, rural town of Colfax, Washington actually contained Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Native Americans, Indians, and Arabs.  Not in large concentrations, but they were there.  Hell, they were within one grade level of me at school.

But I did not realize it.  Understand something:  as a child, if someone had shown me the following picture, I would not have pointed out any significant differences between the people that weren’t gender, age, and maybe that one guy was really bald:

diversity 22

You see, the idea of “diversity” had never hit the little town of Colfax.  I didn’t hear the concept until I got into college.  Oh, I’d heard about black people and such, but throughout most of my grade school career through junior high I didn’t put two and two together on that one.

o-COLOR-BLINDNESS-570An example:  There was a girl in our graduating class (a class, by the way, of only 64 kids) named Alefiya Hakim.  I knew her skin was a little darker than the rest of us, but it never occurred to me that she was a different race.  We also had a Kiran Dhillon; I only figured out she was a different race when she came to a formal event dressed in a traditional Indian gown, which was gorgeous and awesome.

The point here was this:  I didn’t really see dividing lines.  I was incapable of forming the idea that skin color somehow affected an artificial division between people.  Everyone was just kinda…like me.  As an adult, I understand the concept, but it strikes me as a pretty silly and superficial way to judge.

RedTruck2Now, when Esther and I started getting into writing, we went with “write what you know” as our slogan.  We set out to make the completion of a good novel as easy as possible on us, which is why we set the initial books of the Gift of Grace series in Spokane; that’s where we were living.  Now, Spokane is a pretty white city to begin with, and we were white people living in a white city.  So all out characters pretty much ended up being white.  If I had to write it again, I’d probably do it exactly the same way.  Those stories work the way they are.  (Granted, Falling From Grace puts into motion some events that will probably change all that, but that’s later).

But I also look at the body of short stories, and I realize something:  I’ve been pretty lazy on this front.  I have yet to publish a story, long form or short, than involves any significant non-white character.  And that’s just flat-out racist of me.  It was unconsciously racist, but it was absolutely racist.


So, here’s the thing:  if I continue down this path, I can no longer claim that unconscious shield.  I’m now conscious of the problem, and having become conscious of the problem I have to actively work towards the solution or just be OK being racist, which I’m not.  That means I need to write in, at least to some of my work, characters that are not white.

And so I look out at how to do that, and I have come to a terrifying conclusion, which is this:

I am more likely to be ostracized as a racist if I include multiracial characters than if I do not.

Now, I’m a white, educated, heterosexual, monogamous male.  When I was rolling my character sheet up at birth, I basically checked the “privileged” box all the way down, powergaming the system for all it was worth.  My parents were lower-middle-class, so I guess I didn’t grow up wealthy.  That’s about the only difference.  So I know that I’m the most likely target for anyone who wants to point the finger at me and call me racist/sexist/homophobe/whatever.  And I want to avoid that, though I know I’m exposing myself to it simply by writing this post.

Here’s the thing:  as someone who writes stories containing all-white casts, I’ve never been specifically called out for it.  I am calling myself out for it in this post.  But mostly, I fade into the woodwork of the vast majority of genre fiction, which also contains a whole bunch of white people and not much else.  If I continue to write all-white, I’ll feel bad about it personally.  But I won’t take a lot of shit for it, because I’ll just be going along with the flock.

tumblr_mdumflyBaC1qdx802o1_500If, on the other hand, I try to include, say, a black character in a role, someone is going to give me crap about it.  I’m using African-American as an example, here, but these problems are pretty systemic.  The first one, and most obvious, is that I will be consciously building the story to include these characters to avoid being racist.  This, of course, is a trope already, and one I am very conscious of.

That said, I don’t think that’s my problem.  If the story works, and the character doesn’t hang there like a vestigial appendage, then I can avoid a character falling into the “token black guy” trope.  That’s simply a matter of good writing, and it’s not the real problem I have.  I simply want to acknowledge that I’m aware, and that if I’m writing something like this I will build the story around the character in order to avoid the Token issue.

No, the problem I’m having comes from designing the character herself.  The reason for this boils down to the choices I have when writing the character.

Option 1:  I treat skin tone for the cosmetic difference that it is.

Remember, I come from a background where I don’t think about anyone as being other.  Skin tone seems a stupid cultural dividing line, and if I were to write an African-American character, my natural inclination would be to build a fully-rounded character with a series of personal motivations and behaviors that have little to do with skin tone.  The fact of race would be incidental to their existence as a person.

tumblr_no40koAe4i1sjsmtco1_500Of course, this is going to run me into some problems.  I will have written a character that could, in the parlance of our times, be referred to as an “Oreo.”  I will not have specifically added behaviors or motivations designed to enhance the perception of the characters as being black, and so they are going to come off as black on the outside, white on the inside.

In other words, I’m going to be a racist, because I’ve included a character and gotten it wrong.  I’ve ignored African-American heritage and culture, and I’ve completely minimized the intrinsic value that being African-American has.

I’ll be a racist because I’ve totally gotten the race wrong, which is insulting to members of that race.

So, I can’t do it this way.  I have to research the culture and include some motivations and behaviors that highlight the fact that the character is, in fact, African-American.  Right?

Option 2:  I include at least some portion of the racial culture in the character.

Option 2 is terrifying.

Because here’s the thing:  there is no part of a minority’s culture that one can include without being thought of as racist by at least a portion of the population.

stereotypes-and-identity-3-638Some African-Americans speak in a “street” dialect of some form.  True of some whites and some Hispanics, as well.  Some don’t.  Do I include that kind of dialect for this character?  Not without being called a racist, I don’t.  Hell, if I wrote a white character that talked street, I’d be less likely to get tagged as a racist than a black one.

Does my character like hip-hop?  Once again, I know a lot of people from many races that do.  But if I include it, am I including a cultural element, or am I reinforcing a racist stereotype?  Is there, in fact, a cultural element unique to any race that cannot be painted as stereotyping the character?

I submit to you that there are things that I, as a white person love that I still can’t write into the hands of a black person without coming off as racist.  To wit:


At the end of the day, I feel terrified of writing a character from a different race.  I feel terrified because, in my opinion, people are people.  If I’m going to write a character, I’m going to write that character as an individual, and not as a stereotype.  And by doing that, I am going to get something perceivably wrong.  Either the character will be a stereotype, or “not black enough.”

And I have no idea if/how to walk the line in between.

So I’m back at the beginning, for now.  I feel like more of a racist for not writing any diversity into my stories.  But I’m afraid of doing so, because I know when I do that I’ll be called out for being racist.  The very thing I attempt to try to get past my problem will become a much larger problem.

So, I’m throwing it out there.  Other authors, or frankly anyone who’s got an idea on this one, please let me know.  How in the hell can I go about becoming less racist without appearing to become more racist?  Because I think there’s a real problem here, and I want to write past it.

Thanks for your time, and thank you in advance for the advice I’m sure to get.

On War

I hate doing things as a simple meme post.  The world is so much more complicated than that.

The attacks in Paris were a physical set of attacks made against a NATO country.  We here in America have sworn mutual defense with France, and so these attacks may as well have been made against us for our response.

These attacks are the direct result of a historical trend going back to just after World War II, and that trend is this:  We have forgotten how to go to war.

I can hear my mother’s generation getting pissed off at me as I write that.  Korea!  Vietnam!  Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm!  I can hear my own generation telling me about Iraq and Afghanistan.  We’ve been in so many wars since World War II.  How dare I suggest that we’ve forgotten how?

Answer:  Because we have.

The Cold War was amazing.  While we were in the Cold War, we could participate in these little side conflicts.  We used pawns in the Middle East (Israel for us, Egypt and Syria for the USSR).  We intervened in Vietnam, so the Soviets sold them weapons.  The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, we backed the Taliban resistance against them.  And we could never go quite far enough.

See, there was always this risk present during the Cold War.  Vietnam is the most well-known example, and I’ll use it, but just realize this risk was omnipresent in all these little brushfire wars.

In Vietnam, our military had certain things it could do, and certain things it couldn’t.  There were Rules of Engagement, and they had to be followed.  The reason?  Because, well…nobody wanted to be the next Germany.

Let me go back a little farther than that, actually.  Let me go back all the way to WWI.  In the early days, Germany had its Schlieffen Plan.  This was a plan to deal with the fact that it was essentially surrounded by hitting France as hard and fast as possible, with the idea that Russia would take a while to mobilize.  It was a plan based purely on military necessity, and it neglected politics entirely.  This was its downfall.

See, in order to execute the Schlieffen plan, the German Army needed to go through Belgium.  This was, in fact, violent, and Belgian partisan resistance proved rather nasty, so the Germans essentially got into a war with the Belgians before anyone else.  This was a completely neutral country, and the “Rape of Belgium” became a piece of propaganda that the Entente forces used throughout the war to villify Germany and turn popular opinion (from places like, say, the United States) against them.

This, of course, meant that Germany got the nasty end of the stick in not one, but two different wars; a lesson to be learned, there.

So, in the Cold War, two superpowers faced each other for domination of the world.  Neither one wanted to be the country to blame for war with the other, because whoever lost the public opinion battle lost everything.  Each one wanted to take a piece out of the other, but neither was willing to risk being the overt aggressor in a war, for fear that they would be portrayed as the great evil.

So we got the infamous Rules of Engagement.  And ever since, politics has mucked about in the way we do war.  Now, in counter-insurgency-land, we go for the Hearts and Minds of the People.  And just look at how well that’s worked for us.

Situation:  you’re a villager in Afghanistan.  You’re Muslim, but you’re not really into the whole violent-revolution thing.  You want to have goats, raise your kids, and live your life.  You are content to simply be a peaceful, poor farmer, and want nothing more than to go about your life in peace.

That’s not going to happen, because you’re in the middle of a war.  Every once in a while, the Americans swing through on an armed patrol.  They talk to you through an interpreter to gather intelligence on what the Taliban is doing.

Now, you know what the Taliban is doing.  You know this because, well, the Taliban has stashed a number of weapons on your land, and is using your goat trails to deploy IED’s in an effort to kill these Americans.  You think this is basically stupid, because the Taliban is a bunch of extremists trying to get themselves killed and doing violence in the name of the God of Peace.  You’d be perfectly happy to help the Americans, normally.

But the Taliban has told you that, if they find out you’re helping Americans, they’re going to kill you.  They will kill you, rape your wife, take your land, and turn your son into a bachi-bazi.  So you keep your damn mouth shut.  Let the Americans find the Taliban on their own; no sense sticking your neck out.

The Americans leave.  They encounter an ambush on the road through your land.  Some are killed by the IED’s you knew about, others are killed when the Taliban use those guns hidden on your land to mow them down.  The surviving Americans return to you, and ask you if you knew about the Taliban.  You shake your head “no.”  They know you’re lying.  You know they know you’re lying.  And they get angry with you, they shout, and then they leave.

At the end of the day, you are alive.  Your wife is still your wife.  Your son is still going to grow into a man.  You still have your land, your goats, and can live your life.  Sure, some Americans got killed, and that’s really too bad because they seem like nice guys.  But you had to look out for yourself, right?

Here’s the thing:  in this scenario, you the poor Afghani farmer made the best possible decision for yourself and your family.  Side with the Taliban, the Americans get grumpy with you but do nothing.  Side with the Americans, the Taliban inflicts horrible vengeance on you.  Side with noone, both of these things happen.  The absolutely rational response to this is to side with the Taliban.

Militaries do not exist to win hearts and minds.  They are a tool of diplomacy, but not of politics.  The only purpose for a military is to kill people until they stop trying to kill you.

We understood a thing in World War II that we’ve forgotten these days:  if you provide aid and comfort to the enemy, then you are the enemy.  War is a thing fought against an entire society.  The purpose is to hit that society so hard that they stop fighting.  War is not a thing fought against individual people.  If you’re in a war, and some parts of your enemy are still engaging you in combat, then the enemy must still be conquered.  You kill him, you kill everyone who helps them, you take all their stuff.  That is war.

That Afghani goat farmer?  If he understands that America is making war against all of his people, understands that the Taliban is making him an enemy of American as soon as they use his land.  He then either does exactly what he did anyways, at which point we shoot him.  Or he comes to us, because now he’s just as afraid of us as he is of them.  That is what a military is for.

Everything else is just really violent masturbation.

Now, I can hear my liberal friends bitching about this take on things.  The Afghani farmer is just trying to live a peaceful life, how can I advocate for his death?  What kind of an inhuman am I?

Here is where I take a step back and say this:  I am talking about how one makes war.

I am not advocating that we make war.  I am saying that we need to understand the basic nature of warfare.  And we need to understand it before we get into a war.  Because for the last sixty years, America has gone halfway to war.  We’ve gone to war with some of the people in a country.  And we have gotten our ass handed to us pretty repeatedly.

War is inhumane.  It is evil, and nasty, and horrible.  It is the creation of death for personal gain.  The moment we decide to go to war, we have decided that the gain is worth inflicting some serious horror on people.  War is the least moral thing one society can do to another, and when we decide to engage in a war we need to understand this.

I think we’d end up in far fewer wars if we did.

But if we did end up in one, we’d win.  If you are funding our enemies, you are an enemy.  If you are supporting the people trying to kill us, you are trying to kill us and we will kill you until you stop.  There is no such thing as a civilian in war anymore.

Historical example:  There was no society more fanatical than 1940s Japan.  You think the current Islamic Extremists are crazy?  No more so than Kamikaze pilots flying themselves into aircraft carriers for the glory of the Emperor.  And yet, within a decade of World War II, Japan was an emerging economy, a free democracy and a powerful ally of America.  The entire society flipped around and fell in line in less time than we’ve currently had troops in Afghanistan.

Why?  Because they did not have a choice.  We demonstrated, clearly, that their options were (1) Play Ball, or (2) Die Screaming.  Not shocking they went with choice #1.  We didn’t spare the civilians; we killed them all.  We inflicted horrors on Japan the likes of which have not been duplicated by one society on another since.

I don’t know if we should be at war in the Middle East.  I think the concept of war in the Middle East is terrifying.  But I do know that this just-the-tip halfway-war that we’ve gotten ourselves into is a political shitshow.  Either we go in hard, or we get the hell out.  Until that point, we’re just going to continue creating enemies for ourselves.

TL;DR?  There ain’t no such things as halfway crooks.


So, now we’ve been attacked.  Paris, but our ally, so may as well be us.  Our response should be swift, certain, and final.  There is no way to make war moral; the closest thing is to make it fast.  If you’re a civilian in this territory, well…sucks to be you.  But you’re supporting a war on us, and your government has shown an absolute lack of care for humanity.  The only way to deal with that is to fight fire with plasma.

We aren’t going to charm Islamic Extremists.  We are at war.  We need to recognize that, and we need to take the leash off already.  If this is going to get horrible, then let it be over quickly.  That is only going to happen with the application of swift and ruthless force.

I just hope we remember how that works.