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.