Should a Black Writer Write White Characters?

Race Manners: While some of your concerns as a young African-American writer may be legitimate, don’t let fear keep you from telling your stories.

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Will a publisher still try to put a black person on the cover of the book, or will a bookstore shelve it in the “African American” section simply because you’re black? It’s possible. (The opposite has also happened when publishers believe the image of a black person on the cover would alienate readers, and therefore opt to obscure the main character’s race or change it altogether.) But that certainly doesn’t mean your book can’t sell. And it’s only one possible hurdle out of the hundreds that stand between your current list of concerns and an actual, published book.

It would be a shame for you not to write because of fear of these things. Keep in mind, you don’t skip job interviews, online-dating adventures or shopping because of well-founded frets about the possible interference of other people’s ideas about what your race means about what you have to offer.

You’re a person with inspiration and training and, it seems, a sense of urgency about a story you want to tell. If you start to think about your ability to write from the perspective of someone different from you as a gift instead of an insurmountable obstacle, maybe you’ll be able to close the book on your paralyzing list of fears and concerns once and for all.

The Root’s senior staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

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Previously in Race Manners: “Are White Men Allowed to Laugh at Black Men’s Expense?