Have you been reading Blasian Lit Thread #12? If not, I advise you to hop on over there and check it out. Despite the questionable covers and summaries, good discussions have sprung forth. A few things in particular have captured my attention and I'll address those issues today.
As evidenced by the existence of our current crop of 13 Blasian lit threads (thank you EccentricYoruba), there is a huge surge in the publication of Blasian-focused tales. While I commend the writers for bringing these stories to light and making them available to the general public, some of our members and I have some reservations. These are primarily in the area of cultural research and legitimate concerns about an Asian male character being mistaken for a Black or a "white" male one.
Instead of ranting about these things, I'd like to focus on how a writer can avoid these tendencies. Let's begin with research.
Many people would agree that a Black female writer should thoroughly research an Asian man's culture. Unfortunately, in paying so much attention to proving that they've done this research, they FAIL massively when it comes to researching a Black woman's culture and heritage.
Let's face it sisters, we're not all the same. We not only come in different shapes, sizes and colors, we also come from different countries, speak a variety of languages and have various religious beliefs. We are not a monolithic slab of Black womanness. Instead, we're complex, complicated and diverse. We can't allow ourselves to forget this.
Before you even start writing, get to know her. Find out what makes her tick, what makes her laugh and cry. Who are her people? What kind of upbringing did she have? What are her family's traditions? When is she flexible? When is she rigid? What line would she never cross? What are her hobbies and how do they relate to how she lives her life? What does everyone recognize as special about her? What are her strengths and weaknesses? Why is the world a better place because she's in it? Who are her friends? How does she interact with them? What does her presence in their lives mean? Where does she work? What kind of worker is she? If she reigns supreme on the job, don't just tell us she does, show us. The writer being a Black woman isn't enough. While she might share some of your traits, she shouldn't represent you.
Furthermore, there's no point in trying to prove an Asian man would have a Black woman. There's no doubt a specific man will meet a specific woman and fall for her in a heartbeat. He doesn't even need to specifically favor Black women. He only needs to favor HER! Blasian relationships, like all other relationships, develop every day and have been underway for centuries, especially where a large crop of Asian men are in the same space as Black women. With the existing Japanese men, the Chinese who left their DNA centuries ago and with their return in recent years, we should expect a Blasian explosion on the African continent. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing is happening in Asia as single Black women still have no visible presence here.
On the surface, writing an Asian male is tricky. Some authors have resorted to using stereotypes instead of showing this character as complicated and diverse. There is concern that readers will read the character as "white." Sometimes, we have to accept that some readers are stupid or racist or both. A good man should not automatically translate as a "white" man. Rather than gripe about this, let's focus on ways to showcase who this man is.
Asian men, like Black women, live in various countries around the world. They, too, come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Languages and religions are also varied. Just because a man has Chinese ancestry doesn't mean he's the same as a Chinese man who was born and raised in China. In fact, there's no guarantee he knows anything at all about being Chinese per se. His parents might have fully assimilated into the mainstream society. His grandparents might be dead. He might have been adopted. He could just be a plain ol' American who knows no more about China than we know about the individual African countries of our ancestors.
Therefore, establishing the SETTING is crucial.
While I strongly advise a writer to study as much as possible about a man's culture, more than likely, 99.9999% of this research won't be useful for the story you're currently writing and that's just fine. As a writer, you need perspective and this level of intensive study will give it to you.
The story shouldn't be a history lesson. Don't try to impress your readers with your knowledge of people or country XXX. Use what you've learned in the most subtle ways possible. Trust me. The readers will pick up on it. If they want a culture lesson, send them a list of books to read.
If an Asian man was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, then you not only need to understand Dayton's mainstream culture, but that man's place within it. Does he live in a Chinese community? Does he live in primary culture with no connection to his ancestral roots? How does he feel about this? Is he shifting between the two? Does he speak marketplace English or does he speak in the local English dialect? Does he speak Mandarin or other Chinese dialects? After establishing this setting, then a writer should work hard to make him as well-rounded as possible, too. If readers complain he seems Black or "white," then that isn't your problem. This usually happens when a character starts off as one person and is converted to another one. Write your Asian man as himself from the beginning.
The same logic applies when a writer focuses on a man who was born and raised in his ancestral homeland.
I'll use Japan as an example because this is the context I understand the best. Japan has 127 million people and falling, but there is an impressive diversity among them. Some of you might scoff at this notion because you've probably met lots of Japanese people and they seemed very similar.
Well, let's just say the Japanese have mastered the art of presenting themselves in stereotype as a form of protection and exclusion. Until you have a deep and meaningful relationship with a Japanese person, more than likely, they'll only show you what you expect to see. In order to peer through this veil, you need to live among them three to five years and be an active member of the local community even if you never master the language.
Anyway, Japan as a nation is divided into large regions and then prefectures that are similar to states in America. People can differ as much as an Arab Libyan and a Black South African. Yes, that's right. There's no such thing as a Japanese "race." In fact, there are a variety of ethnicites here and there are full-blooded Japanese who have no continental (Chinese, Korean, Mongolian) ancestry. People usually marry within their own regions; thus, it's often possible to place a person within a region just by their features.
If you only research people on the regional level because you'll still run the risk of only ingesting the "mainstream face." Therefore, in order to make a Japanese guy more believable, write him on his prefectual level. Naturally, everyone can probably speak marketplace Japanese, but they also have their own dialects, some incomprehensible to the rest of society, and their own cultural norms. While you're at it, map out the place. Pay attention to the scenery and the landscape. Setting is truly important.
Though there are many books addressing the main Japanese culture, but prefecture-level books are seldom translated into English.
How then can you learn about a prefecture? You can watch dramas. Many Japanese drama writers are quite loyal to their prefectures and regions, so just watching a single drama can give you insight into how people in those areas live their day-to-day lives. If you want to learn about the primary culture, then watch another drama series and you'll immediately see what is common to ALL Japanese people in Japan. For example, eating with chopsticks and taking off shoes at the front door. You don't even need to EXPLAIN these things because it's so normal. Eating sushi every day is NOT normal.
I suspect the same will be true of the other countries in North East, South East and West Asia (commonly known as the Middle East).
Reading translated literature will also help immensely. Writers generally present the main culture and his/her minority culture, too.
I'd also advise you to give your characters decent names. Good grief, some of the names in the current literature are ridiculous. Stay away from Babynames.com. Instead ask for help.
Whatever you do, please be subtle with it. Don't hammer the anvil in our heads.
If you have some other ideas, please share them in the comments section below. Please make sure you leave a name, any name that isn't Anonymous.
I tried to make a short post and failed. ;)