Color-Blind Love, by Seleste Delaney

Feb 28, 2014 by

 

Conning-for-Keeps-500 (1)I was asked the question of why I think it’s time for more mainstream inter-racial romance. The answer is simple: because the world isn’t segregated.

When I was younger, inter-racial couples weren’t common, but now they are. (The fact of the matter is, I no longer notice them as being inter-racial couples first, but I did as a child.) If we write only white couples or only black couples or only Greek couples or only Asian couples… that isn’t our world. And this is a good thing. Contemporary fiction should mirror reality, and at this point, it’s still vastly too white.

A couple years ago, I wrote a piece for my blog called “Why Writing People of Color Is Hard.” It was written at a time when there was much brouhaha going around the internet about both how Caucasian authors steered away from writing people of color—and how they did it wrong. Around that time was also when I gave up trying to explain what I meant by “color-blind” because people said that meant ignoring cultural differences, etc. They didn’t understand my point, but I didn’t want to dismiss theirs.

Then a wonderful author by the name of Larry Benjamin commented on my blog post. Basically, he told me to stop worrying about it. (He also wrote a blog post about writing multi-cultural casts) His attitude is that people are people first and their culture second.

I’ve never forgotten that lesson, and I’ve tried to keep it in mind as I wrote.

Writing Trevor was never about writing an African-American man for me. It was about writing Trevor, who happened to be African-American. I already knew the guy. I knew how he talked (because of who I envisioned as him, he had a British accent, but that’s beside the point), that he was extremely intelligent, and that he didn’t like most people. I also knew he had a thing for Marissa and hated himself for it because of her criminal past.

That was Trevor, and other than looking like Idris Elba, he could have been any race. He was a person first. And so was Marissa. And so was every other character.

Their romance isn’t one about breaking down racial or cultural barriers. It’s about breaking down the walls they built over the years to protect themselves.

Because that’s what romance and love-stories are about—finding that one person that makes you complete. (Or more than one person in some cases, but I digress…) It doesn’t matter if it’s paranormal romance, historical romance, contemporary romance, or interracial romance. Or real life romance.

Romance is romance. It’s about love and passion.

And there is no reason that love—on the page or off—shouldn’t be color-blind.

The real world has known that for years. It’s high time publishing caught up.

~Seleste Delaney

Learn more about Seleste Delaney’s books!

13 Comments

  1. Great post! I have an idea for an interracial romance and I get hives when I think about possibly messing up something unfamiliar to me and offending an entire culture. People are people first. Writing that down.

    • Thanks, Phoebe 🙂 Research is still important because culture DOES affect people’s lives and thought processes, but IMO racism is what happens when we put race before humanity.

  2. While I think your post written with the best intention. I disagree on a lot of levels. For people of color, race isn’t just genetics. It also informs how the rest of the world sees and treats you. It shapes your experiences of the world because of how our culture is structured against you. That in turn shapes you through your life. Ignoring that when creating a character is not only insulting to people of color and their experiences, but an author runs the risk of inadvertently perpetuating racial stereotypes. If your character’s race doesn’t matter if it doesn’t impact them and how they grew up than you aren’t writing a fully developed, flesh out character and you very well may be accused of tokenism or racial fetishizing.

    And while Mr. Benjamin seems like a very nice man, he is not the spoke person for all people of color. Choosing to only take his advice (that just so happens to support your own opinion) doesn’t excuse you from having to address or deal with the contrary opinions of countless other people of color, who also have masters degrees in sociology and piles of hard data to explain to you why racism informs how a person of color lives every day, in almost every facet of their lives.

    You’re choice to be “color blind” (aka your ability to ignore how racism shapes a persons life because it doesn’t affect your life) is a privilege that many people of color do not have.

    You have a right to write your story and characters however you want, but I have a lot of problems with the way you’ve phrased and framed this post. Character develop, no matter their ethnicity, is a lot more complex than just a description and especially so with people of color.

    • I respect you opinion on all of this–as we discussed at length on Twitter–but I would like to clarify a couple things here for those who were not privy to that conversation.

      First, I did a lot of research into African American culture, specifically in the inner city in the midwest, which is where Trevor is from.

      Second, Mr. Benjamin actually didn’t support my opinion (that writing people of color is hard). He basically called me a coward (in more polite terms) and explained to me why I shouldn’t be. At the heart of his explanation was the message that people are people first and everything else second. As someone who could have avoided writing people of color for my entire career, that was truly a life-altering moment for me. If I implied through my post that Trevor’s background did not influence the building of his character, I apologize, because it very much did. However, at his heart, he is a person first.

      Lastly, regarding the phrase color-blind. Once again, I fear I will have to leave that phrase behind because that is not at all what I meant by it. People’s culture affects them–wherever they are from. I have the privilege of having (or having had as is the case with some people from college who over the last 20 years have drifted away) friends from many different cultures, socioeconomic statuses, gender identities, and sexual orientations. I do not *ignore* those differences–I simply choose to see them as people first, with all their history as something that makes those individuals the awesome people they are. And I am blessed because their histories *do* affect my life. They give me a greater understanding of people who aren’t just like me. When I say color-blind, I mean it very much in the vein of what Mr. Benjamin said. I see people as people and allow their stories and actions to tell me about them rather than simply the color of their skin.

  3. Kimbre

    I have to tell you, when reading books I skim over certain things. That being said, I didn’t realize Trevor was African American until almost the end of the book. Which in my opinion is a good thing. I was reading about a couple, the fact that they were a biracial couple had nothing to do with the fact that the book was so good. In this day and age, you are right, it is know big thing if you are in a relationship that is biracial. People are more concerned with the relationship being based on mutual feelings and trust.

    Okay, done with my feelings.

    • “People are more concerned with the relationship being based on mutual feelings and trust.”

      This is such a strong statement. Thank you 🙂

  4. I haven’t read Conning For Keeps yet so I can’t comment specifically on that story, but there are a million things that influence a person’s life and how the world sees them–their race being a major one, along with income, neighborhood, what job our parents have (my dad was a preacher and let me tell you that affected how the world saw me when I was young), or your sex–the world views men and women very differently. And race has a bigger or smaller influence on a person depending on how race is addressed in their own home and/or in their community. I lived in a small town in New Mexico until I was 14 and race was a massive deal there (I’m Mexican, Italian & White). Then I moved to Southern California and it is really not a big deal here.

    What I’m saying (and I think Sel is too) is that race is one piece of the puzzle. We’re all human first. We can be broken down into a million pieces, but unless that one piece is crucial to the plot or character arc, it shouldn’t be a major focus for the character. It doesn’t mean it’s not important, just that it’s not important to that particular moment in that character’s story.

  5. Danielle

    I enjoyed this post. When I read this book, I liked that the character’s races didn’t jump out at me. I’ve read some that make such a huge deal about it, that I felt hit over the head. Hard to get into a story when certain aspects are so emphasized.

    Oh, and can I say that I LOVE Idris Elba? Great choice!

  6. I read a romance a few weeks ago with an African American hero. I wasn’t sure he was black until 3/4 through. He’s described as dark (not dark skinned) at the beginning, which can mean a lot of things. Then there’s a scene where he’s hopping over his neighbors’ fences but doesn’t think his neighbors will worry about it because he’s an upstanding guy. Later, he mentions encountering racism–and I appreciated that inclusion. Writing a black character who doesn’t think about race seems more like erasure, tentativeness or white thinking to me. I think we (white people) want there to be no race issues. We want to be color blind and live in a world where race doesn’t matter. But that isn’t reality for most people of color, as far as I understand.

    I guess it depends on the situation, but I don’t think we’re all people first. Sometimes I’m a woman first. When I’m walking across a dark parking lot, my gender is an issue.

    I’ve also seen some complaints about “gay angst,” as if this also shouldn’t matter. Can’t the characters just be out and proud, etc.? There is the underlying suggestion that we should be beyond these problems (race, gender, sexuality), and/or that they get in the way of romantic fantasy.

    Thanks for opening up the discussion!

    • You’re very welcome.

      In the book, the character does bring up his race as an issue (at least once, but I think more than that), and his past is a big part of what drives him. But to make it a barrier between the couple in question felt disingenuous to them as “people.”

      I think that’s an interesting distinction that you’re a woman first “sometimes.” I can definitely see how, situation dependent, one aspect of a person comes to the fore.

      I think we *should* be beyond those things. That all people *should* be free to be who they are without worry. However, I’m well aware that’s not the case in reality. (I’m struggling with how to word my thoughts regarding romantic fantasy at this point, so forgive me for not addressing that part of the comment.)

      I still stand by the idea that as authors, we have to stop being so afraid of stepping outside our comfort zone. Yes, it means more research and learning things we might not like, but if we want more multicultural romance in the mainstream, we have to be able to move past fear. And a good way of doing that is by seeing characters as people in general and then building them as individuals based on their history. Looking at it the opposite way is what, in my opinion, paralyzes a lot of people because it seems overwhelming.

  7. Okay… loved your post and agree. I also can see some of the points made by commenters.
    I’ve actually been in these racial discussions with others online (mainly FB) that run the gamut from lack of representation in general… to the potential minefield of writing outside one’s ethnic background… to doing so and really getting it wrong… to certain people being all too sensitive about their own experiences either validating or not the experience on the page.

    Bottom line is non-Caucasian characters are underrepresented, mainstream or otherwise. Fact. (don’t need statistics 😉 ) And not only as leads. Hell, how many non-Caucasian characters were front and center in Harry Potter? How many were simply attending the school? How many live in the UK? Problem, J.K.? And I’m not ranting on her, that’s the story she wanted to write. And what’s more, I only think about the racial breakdown of HP if I sit down and really analyze it for such…. otherwise I’m just a fan reading a book about some wizards and ‘m caught in the story and the characters she’s written.

    Given our STILL racial tensions (no, they’re not gone) an interracial couple in literature is rarer still. There are probably more solely Black romances (and ain’t many of those in mainstream) than there are interracial romances… but like you said, if you look around these relationships are the norm nowadays.

    I’ve heard both sides on the cultural issue… I saw a woman (nicely) berate an author on getting cultural aspects wrong in a Native American story. In that case, given the events the author was writing about, the author probably should’ve done a hair bit more research. But as I said then, it depends on your subject. If you’re writing the novel equivalent to 12 Years A Slave… then yeah, author better research their ass off (Black authors included)… but hell, if you’re just writing a contemp romance… it’s not as essential.

    Also, I don’t think that every character has to reflect the entire experience of their race or ethnicity, simply because everyone’s life experience is different. I’ve only written one Black character out of all my stories. If I write a Caucasian character, am I supposed to obligatorily include a sense of White privilege? And other than that, what else should I ensure to include… coz all White people are the same, right? Hogwash!

    My one Black character that I’ve ever written is actually mixed (Black mother, Greek father born Australian). I included just enough references to let you know of these traits…. and outside of that, I lean on what was said in your piece… “People are people first, their culture second.” And I do understand the point that culture shapes some characters…. and if that’s the character an author wants to write, let them. But everyone doesn’t have to. Just like everyone doesn’t have to write racist, snobby White characters. What you hit on in terms of how you defined your character is awesome and sufficient. He doesn’t have to wear his Blackness on his damn sleeve.

    Again, I applaud you.

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