Discussion: Should the “non own voices” authors be burned as witches for DARING to have marginalized MC? Are #Ownvoices the ONLY way to write about minorities?

Hi friends,

For today’s discussion post I wanted to talk about a topic that’s become so sensitive: ownvoices stories and writing about minorities.

 

Let’s set the scene first and give you a peek into the #ownvoices trend!

In 2018,  Kosoko Jackson,  a young adult fiction writer, wrote a tweet that said:
“Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during horrific and life changing times, like the AIDS EPIDEMIC, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”
In essence he said, that stories about marginalized people should be written by authors of the same identity group.
It’s also the central motto of the #ownvoices movement, whose goal is to improve diversity in the book industry by matching authors to subject matter.
Of course this all seems so logical because what better way to improve the representation of marginalized authors than to have them write what they know/are?
The stories would not only be more diverse but also would feel more honest as the author would share an identity with (one of the) main character(s).
So why am I making waves today about this?
What triggered this topic was a friend’s comment on IG about how she did not dare read books about minorities if the author was not part of said marginalized people.

And honestly…I was mad!

Why?

Because it’s kind of an insult to writers to think they can’t write from another POV successfully!
Of course minorities have to be respected but they don’t have to become an excuse used to bash authors daring to write about them while not being part of their identity group!

Many authors write their stories from different POV and most of them are characters who share few or no common character traits with the author!

 

Has anyone questioned male writers who wrote female leads and vice versa? No or rarely. No one screamed murder!

The same can be said if a gay/lesbian writer writing an heterosexual romance or an author of color writing a white main lead. No one usually question them! So someone from a marginalized group can write from the majority POV and no one bats an eyelash but try the opposite and you’d be burned like a witch? That’s double standard and total hypocrisy!

 

Of course being part of said minority will probably give an added layer, an extra shine to your story! It will ring authentic and legitimate. And I have loved some formidable own voices stories like Birthday by Meredith Russo.

But I think that as long as you are respectful, as long as you research properly, talk with people from these marginalized groups and if need be use sensitive readers you can write from any POV you want!

Now if you are patronizing then expect to face much criticism and I’ll be the first to hold the pitchfork!

But if you are talented, empathetic, meticulous in your research and respectful then yes, you can.

 

To conclude my “case” I would send you to two very interesting posts part of our #ownvoices tour.

 

The first is written by Susan Fanetti, a white female indie writer who explains why she dared writing about main leads of color: read it HERE.

 

The first is from Talia, @redhotink as she used part of an interview that I had done with Suanne Laqueur to describe why she thinks Suanne did a fantastic job writing about a MC who is Porto Rican and bisexual while Suanne is… not!  Read it HERE.

Now it’s your turn! Are you determined to read #ownvoices only? Do you think authors can write about marginalized groups they are not part of?

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Sophie

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19 Replies to “Discussion: Should the “non own voices” authors be burned as witches for DARING to have marginalized MC? Are #Ownvoices the ONLY way to write about minorities?”

  1. So true Sophie. So true! It’s like only a murderer can write a murder mystery because they’re the only ones who has experienced it properly. Duh! Of course not!! If love is love and hate is hate then anyone should be able to write about anything. ❤️

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Exactly Dani! The same actors can interpret and play people different from their characters authors can write people with other beliefs, sexual preferences etc!

  2. I dunno, but i just think this has the potential to get out of hand. Murder mysteries can only be written by police officers, courtroom dramas by lawyers, male authors can’t have female characters, and so on :/

    I don’t think any author is writing in a vacuum, and never met other people.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Exactly my point Norrie!!!

  3. Gosh yes to this post- people should be able to write about povs that are not their own- that is the whole point of writing! Just as long as you’re empathetic and endeavour to understand, then I think it’s a positive thing to try and share stories from different backgrounds. I can completely understand the argument with contemporaries/historical fiction that someone from a marginalised background can give a book a more authentic voice- which is why it’s good to seek out own voices, but that doesn’t mean other writers should keep their mouth shut (especially when it comes to injustices!)

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Exactly! The more we write and talk about these injustices the better! Yes own voices often add authenticity to the read but as Lashaan said some own voice authors must have written some bad books while non own voice have written master pieces!

  4. I remember when I first heard people debate about this, I was stunned that people would shamelessly exclude writers just because of where they come from… I’ve read stories about slavery from a caucasian author… It reached deep into my psyche and conveyed the proper messages. It is just part of an author’s duty to do their research and fine-tune their characters throughout their process. I’m sure there are countless own voice authors who have written books on X subject that was simply weaker than one written by a non-own voice author. People need to wake up! Great post, Sophie! 😀

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Thank you Lashaan!!!

  5. “But I think that as long as you are respectful, as long as you research properly, talk with people from these marginalized groups and if need be use sensitive readers you can write from any POV you want!”

    Well said, Sophie. I also read #ownvoices novels, but sensitivity readers and research can make all the difference in the world.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Thank you Teri! And as someone said making a book takes a whole village, sensitivity readers included 😉

  6. I agree with you, Sophie! Well said! I think it’s absurd that people can’t include diverse characters , just because they’re not part of these categories. And then when you don’t include diversity, you also get burnt like a witch. It’s like you can’t win , no matter what. If you’re making proper research, you can write about a place you haven’t been, so why you can’t write about people who belongs in minorites? 🙂

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      My thoughts exactly Sophie! And yes authors can’t win nowadays that’s what it seems.

  7. This is something I have feelings about. People complain, when white authors don’t have enough diversity in their books, but then they also complain, when the diversity is not done well. Seems kind of like a no-win situation. However, if a white author elects to take on telling the story for group to which they do not belong, they MUST do a lot of research and utilize sensitivity readers. I think wanting more diversity is not just about the stories, but also the people telling the stories. Publishing has been dominated by white authors, yet, we all know there are authors of other races, etc out there, who have stories to tell, and in my opinion, they are the best people to tell those stories.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Yes they are probably the best people to tell their stories even if other writers could too. But as you said the vast majority has been white for a very long time. It is probably unfair and due to the fact that if you want to publish traditionally you have to convince the deitor and the publisher that you are worthy. I can guess that some prejudice existed and probably stull exist in that world. That’s why I think that ebooks making it possible for indie authors to self publish was incredible and could help writers of color or from marginalized groups to have their own voices heard!

  8. I totally agree with you. If they take the time to do their research and to actually capture the culture of the minority then anyone should be able to write about anyone. I actually found it super funny that the one person wrote “Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people.” because the Civil rights movement is generally from 1954 – 1968. So can only people aged 51-65 write about the civil rights movement too? It doesn’t make sense. Does a 28 year old black person instinctively know more about the civil rights movement than a 28 year old of any other race? I’m sure they experience a lot more racism, but you can say that about other minorities too. Do you have to be a black history major to right about the civil right movement then? And what about other events. Do you have to be German or Jewish to write about the Holocaust?

    I have no problem with the #OwnVoices act because it is cool when a minority author writes about what they know. It gives a unique perspective. And we need more minority writers in general, so anything that puts them in the spotlight is a good thing. But we can’t let #OwnVoices mean that authors can only write about their own race/religion/gender. It just doesn’t make sense and would make writing super exclusive.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Oh your comment about the Civil right movement is so true Brittany!!! And yes writing would become too exclusive.

  9. I think a lot depends on the focus of the book more than the books themselves. If you’re writing a book about slavery in the US, I think it should be written by someone who understands racism. But if you’re writing a book that has a bunch of diverse characters, I think that’s fine. That’s what sensitivity readers are for. To make sure no one is being portrayed in a harmful way. I prefer own voice, but I will read just about anything. I’ve asked authors about this and they all mostly agreed that it doesn’t have to be own voice if the story is done well. I want all voices heard and I agree that we used to have males writing female characters all the time. They sucked a lot of times,but no one told them they couldn’t write it. I think someone who is straight can write gay characters (with some help). Sometimes I think writing a book is a group effort. I personally love books with all different types of diverse characters. It’s more the plot that matters for me. I want to read a book by someone who really gets it. We just can’t have it both ways and no one is ever happy. It’s either “we need people to stop writing only white, straight characters” or “why is that white author writing a book with a black gay character” Beta readers, sensitivity readers, and having a diverse group of writer friends to help you should go a long way into creating a book full of diversity that is done well. I do love reading own voices books though.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      I completely agree with you and yes writign a book is indeed a group effort and that’s something that’s not emphasized enough. We often have this idea of the lonely writer being the only one to write, correct , edit etc but that’s so far from the truth! Most authors have beta readers, then editors, if need be sensitivity readers, ARC readers and people to format the book and others to make the cover. As you’ve said that’s a whole tribe!

      1. It really is and I appreciate that they get so much help from so many people.

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