Are Readers Post-Racial?

Sometimes I feel like I live in two worlds. In my day job, I’m definitely in the minority-not many women of color around besides me. Not many people of color for that matter. Oh sure, I run into them in the occasional meeting and there may be a momentary acknowledgment, often imperceptible to those around us; a meeting of the eyes, a very slight nod that says, I see you, and you are like me. Over the last several years though, that’s changed for me and I don’t always notice and I never care if I’m the only person of color. I suppose that’s progress.

In the rest of my life, there are more people of color than not, but they’re Colombian, Palestinian, Korean and Afro-Caribbean, rarely American at all since I myself am not originally. Maybe this is why in my choice of reading material, I never care about the race of the characters and when I write, I am as likely to write characters who are not of color as I am to write characters who are.

But I wonder, are people as likely to read about people of color if they themselves are not?

As I embarked on my self-publishing journey very recently I discovered something really fascinating – a parallel world of Black authorship much like the parallel world of Black entertainment that exists in America. Sure, everyone in America regardless of their race, has heard of Usher and Jay Z  but does everyone know who Kenny Lattimore and Mos Def are? Probably not, though I would defy you to find too many African Americans who don’t recognize those names. It’s the same with authors. Everyone’s heard of the crossover superstars who transcend their racial identity: Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, but do they know about Pearl Cleage or E. Lynn Harris?

And therein lay my problem.

When I chose to self-publish, I was faced with those damn categories. Fiction? Yes. Romance? Kinda sorta maybe sometimes. African American? Ahm, yes, mostly, I guess, but that’s not really the point. 

Except that in the writing world, for purposes of marketing, it becomes very much the point. To whom are you speaking, becomes the central question. I decided that I’m speaking to women to color for the most part, but sadly for me in terms of prospective sales, an even more limited sub-group than that.

I am speaking to women of color who don’t fit the mold. Women of color who don’t use that phrase as code for “African American.” Women of color who understand and may have shared in much of the minority experience but also don’t pretend to relate to much of it. Women of color who refuse to be defined by their race. Women of color who refuse to define others by their race. Women of color who read about human experience and consider it a bonus but not a necessity that the characters share the same racial or ethnic heritage as themselves. Women of color who recognize the unique lens they have looking at the world from the perspective of being ‘the other’ but make no judgment because of that lens.

It’s a tough fence to straddle and it remains to be seen whether there’s even a market of women such as this. And I have to admit, I’d love to be proven wrong: I’d love find out that all of the tortured analysis I just engaged in is irrelevant, and that readers are by and large post-racial, even if we as a society are not.

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Woman-Centered Fiction Writer, commenting on books, culture and the human condition.

7 thoughts on “Are Readers Post-Racial?

  1. Interesting thought. I have sat here for the past 5 minutes thinking about how to answer it, and yet, I still don’t have a defininitive answer. I do believe we tend to gravitate toward similarities in race and culture…Maybe because that’s what we know best from experience? Either way, this post raises a good point.

    Mistress M

  2. I do feel this way as well. I know I don’t fit the mold of the “African American”, particularly beecause I was not born here. I go out of my way to let my co-workers understand that I am from the Caribbean. At my place of employment I am defintely the minority – just 2 of us of African descent, and neither of us American. However, there are Indians, Taiwanese, Chinese, Irish, Australian, and yes White Americans. I’ve always been neutral to race and I mingle with everyone. After all, that’s how we grew up in the Caribbean. Living here though, I fear that my color is the first way in which people identify me, while I’d rather be identified first as being a woman.

    1. I understand and share your feelings. It’s interesting how we learn to define who we are in terms of how others see us. But like you, I’d rather define myself. Thanks for reading my thoughts and for sharing yours.

      1. I feel the same sentiments, Nia. I was asked a question as to why I wrote an interracial romance and I didn’t really have an answer. I didn’t do it on purpose, I just wrote a story with characters. When it came time to market my book I was hit with trying to decided where my book fit. I tend to feel like this in my real life also.

  3. Love this article!
    I now feel empowered about being a woman of color. That was not the case years ago! Born in Chicago to parents with a multi-culture of ethnicities, I often felt inferior due to my skin color. But now nearing 40, I no longer allow the perceptions,labels given or ignorance define me! I AM ME!!! But living in a country that LOVES labels & to categorize, that becomes difficult! Im not “Black” enough or sound lile Im trying to be “White” or Im too hood/ghetto when slang terms are used or because Im an “African American” some foreigners of color seem believe I come from a lost culture and cant identify with me! ITS A SHAME that we dont define our selves as simply HUMAN!!! If we looked at the big picture of being a human on planet Earth with one of many solar systems, it may minimize our insecurities and self-focused ways a bit more. Just a thought for myself to recall daily…I’m just another human being walking out this thing called life and the universe would appreciate it if we could all lovingly co-exist!

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