At the beginning of the year my sister and I made a pact. We both grew up in between the shelves of our local library and in front of our television. I can guarantee most of our conversations are centered around fictional worlds. During any given time of the day you can find us ranting about the Marvel universe or arguing about the morality in The Walking Dead. So it’s no wonder we’ve both grown up to become writers. We noticed a pattern in our works that was quite unsettling … we’d never written a story from a person of color’s point of view.
My writing journey began when I was nine years old. When I was that age I devoured Christian fiction set in the Canadian frontier. Odd choice for a child but to me that world was exciting and romantic (and very mom-approved) in the eyes of a kid living in the suburbs. As you can guess there weren’t really people like me gracing the pages of a frontier novel. That was fine. Then, I aged into the teen section just in time to experience the rise of dystopian heroines. Once more there weren’t many people who looked like me. But, like the blank canvas I was, I absorbed everything I read and ended up I reflecting it back by writing and sharing stories on creative writing sites. I looked up to the girls in these novels. They had a story to tell and things to get done. It didn’t matter that they didn’t look like me. I never opened those books with the hope that they’d speak like me or express the same concerns I had growing up. My mouthful of slang and head full of kinky curls would have been awkward on the page. Not exciting enough. Not romantic enough. And definitely not able-to-get-stuff-done enough.
I’ve always been uncomfortable with AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) on the page because I’d been told educated people didn’t talk in that way. And I’ve always hated that without AAVE one couldn’t officially dub a character black unless the author specifically said so. The “urban fiction” section was something to be avoided because it wasn’t “edifying” in the eyes of my teachers and my parents. I hated those feelings. To subdue them I simply never specified a character’s race. When I shared my stories online the readers would assume the color of their skin. And I went along with it because I learned rather quickly I was more likely to get reads if the cover featured a girl with fair skin and dialogue clean of any slang. And I kept doing it and doing it until I didn’t realize I was doing it anymore.
At the beginning of this year I made pact with my sister. From that day forward whatever fiction we wrote it would be from a person of color’s point of view. It didn’t end there for me. I decided this year I’m going to read as many books as I can that feature a person of color as the narrator. So that means I’m diving into the section I’ve so carefully avoided until now, urban fiction. I want to finally see that it’s possible for someone who speaks and looks like me to get stuff done. That they can be exciting or romantic. For once I want to read something through a pair of eyes similar to my own.