Publishing is already a tough business, but it's made even tougher when you're burdened by the pressure to conform. To fall in line with the status quo of racist traditions and expectations.
Suffice it to say, I am definitely so burdened - and I get it from both sides of the fence. When I was born, my palette of choices and interests were pre-determined, and God forbid I stray from that palette, as I apparently did when I chose not to write ethnic content!
"Burn her! Burn her now! Burn that &%@# at the stake!"
It appears history has conditioned whites to expect blacks to know and conform to their station as "minorities". And black people have also been conditioned to expect each other to know and conform to said station, as well.
Not surprisingly, these racist expectations aren't exclusively black and white (no pun intended). Author Tess Gerritsen wrote about the intense criticism and anger she's gotten from within the Asian-American community. In one account, she'd been invited to speak at a gathering of Asian-American journalists and wound up fielding "Uncle Tom" insults in response to her presentation! Here's some of what she shared:
"I told them, during the presentation, that I had made a conscious decision as a novelist to feature mainstream characters and mainstream themes in my books, and not limit myself to Asian American plots. While I do use Asian characters, they are more likely to be secondary characters. As I explained it to the audience, I'm a working writer, and I want to sell to the largest audience possible. I have a mortgage to pay and kids to send to college and the bottom line for me is ... where's the money?And that's the discouraging truth. My own decision to write universal subject matter has been met with equally harsh criticism and resentment in the black community, and in the white, raised eyebrows when I object to being prefaced and defined by my skin color. How come you're not writing about black ghetto or thug life? Or baby mama drama? Or race relations? Or slavery? How come you're not primarily focusing on African-American media, bookstores, and conferences? How come you're not doing what we expect of people with that skin color? How dare you. Just who do you think you are? What makes you think you're special?
.......Audience members were visibly angry as they rose and said, essentially, that I was an Asian Uncle Tom. That I had a responsibility to my race to write about Asians. And why the hell was I writing under the name "Gerritsen" (my legal, married name) and not under my Chinese name? Clearly, I must be ashamed of my race.
They didn't accept my choices, which were purely practical. My goal was to reach the widest audience and become a bestselling author, which indeed I was -- and the reason I got invited to the convention in the first place. The very fact of my success, you would think, would make them listen and take notes. All it did was get them angry.
Even after I got home, the criticism didn't end. I continued to read online grousing about my status as an Uncle Tom. "Asian Americans should strive for success without resorting to the disgusting strategies that Tess Gerritsen used." And of course, they were never, ever going to buy any of my books.
No wonder so few Asian Americans make it onto the bestseller lists. We're too busy shooting each other down.The lesson here? You can't count on your own race to applaud your success."
"Burn her, burn her now!"
Tess Gerritsen is right. If you want to appeal to the largest possible audience, you must write mainstream material. The decision is indeed practical.
Writing for a specific ethnic group - a smaller, segregated audience - will never yield the same potential rewards as writing for the mainstream - a much larger, commercial audience. It's about numbers - not ethnic obligation - though many people just don't see it that way, and proceed to harbor malice toward you for making what they see as the "race traitor" choice. And it is a choice. One that should be afforded to all---and respected by all.
I respect the right of any author who chooses to pen black (or African-American as it's called) characters. And they should respect my right to choose not to. I will never succumb to the pressure to conform with insidious racial ground rules by starting to write ethnic content and characters. Likewise, I will never swallow the unjust ridicule or cower to the judgmental admonishment that comes with being a "minority" (as some Americans are ridiculously branded) who chooses to write for a mainstream audience. That's a passionate declaration for my critics. I was not born in debt. And further, I don't project my choices onto others, criticizing them for not choosing accordingly. Govern yourselves, not me.
The only thing I've ever wanted to do is tell engrossing stories people find difficult to put down---As many people as humanly possible. Why don't I have the right to do that freely? You know, if we don't erase the latent expectations - allowing writers to enjoy the freedoms and liberties they're entitled to as human beings - the publishing industry is doomed to the warfare of racial division.
What are your thoughts on the pressure to conform? Be honest. Are you a contributor? Do you - consciously or unconsciously - expect non-white authors to stick to writing with an obligation to their skin color in mind? Why or why not?
How are the pressures of racial conformity impartially beneficial to all, as opposed to some?