Racism, Sexism, Bigotry and Writing
Full disclosure: I am a white male.
UPDATED 11:25 PM ET
JUST A QUICK NOTE: If you think threatening the life of another human being is OK EVER, you need to ask yourself how screwed up your morals are. If that is what you think a good American does, then you have gone to one too many Klan rallies (one IS too many) or one too many Trump rallies (again, one IS too many). To think of all the greatness humanity is capable of, it saddens me to the core of my being that so many of us choose to be so awful.
When I wrote the below, I was unaware of the specific things that had been said to Moses Ingram. Please forgive the entirely too temperate tone of the piece that follows. Bigots have no place in this world. Are you a bigot? You might not know it! That’s why I wrote this essay. To help you learn from your mistakes and STOP being a bigot whether you are a writer or not. It’s actually easier than you think.
Here is my original essay:
Why do we still need to have this conversation? If you have a problem with someone or a TV show, or a company, being "woke," by definition, you are a bigot. Sorry if my bluntness is too blunt for you, but...
If you find "diversity" offensive when it is "shoehorned" into your favorite show, franchise, or other piece of media, you are a bigot.
Merriam-Webster defines "bigot" as "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance"
They don't include the word "gender" in there, but it belongs.
So, when all those Star Wars fans were criticizing Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran during the sequel trilogy of Star Wars, and now Moses Ingram in the new Obi-Wan Kenobi show for not being "right" for the roles they were cast in, and that "diversity needs to be organic" within the story and not "shoehorned in," they're being bigots. Essentially, white male supremacists. It's a super subtle form of white male supremacy, but that's still what it is.
Where is all this coming from? A galaxy far far away...
In the days of and following the first weekend that the new Star Wars show, Obi-Wan Kenobi was available for streaming, many Star Wars fans have expressed racist views regarding Moses Ingram, who stars in the new series as an evil Inquisitor. Just today, I saw an odd claim from a fellow Star Wars fan. It came in a tweet in reply to the official Star Wars Twitter somewhat clumsily announcing that any racism toward an actor of color new to Star Wars would not be tolerated. The reply to this tweet claimed that fans have always been ok with characters of color in Star Wars, citing Mace Windu, Lando Calrissian, and more, adding that it was only the “forced wokeness” that fans had a problem with.
This person went on to explain that “forced wokeness” is when casting is done to check off a box on a diversity checklist—essentially saying that the writing had to be "organic" and good enough to justify inclusion of a person of color in the role. They seem to approve of the writing for Mace and Lando, but not the new female Inquisitor character. Hm, I wonder what is different here... no I'm not--it's because she is black and a woman.
Hold on--HOW is this White Male Supremacy, exactly?!?
FIrst off, justifying racism because the writing isn't good enough feels, to this white male Star Wars fan, the height of white privilege. Especially considering that most writers are white males, as are most producers, directors, and most people who work in TV and movie production. As a writer I know first hand that my default character choice is ALWAYS a white male.
The moment I come up with a story idea, it's a white dude who is the star.
Am I being consciously racist? No. Am I being racist at all? Oh hell yes. Can I instantly counteract that racism by asking myself the simple question: "Could a woman and/or person of color be this character?" DEFINITELY. Am I a bad person for being racist? I was raised in a white family with mostly white people in my school, on the TV shows and movies I watched growing up, all the lead characters, heroes and authority figures were white males--basically I was culturally coded to not include women and people of color at all. Again, am I a bad person for being like this? Only if I continue being like this.
Think of it this way: you're a child--you see a lit match for the first time. You touch the flame--it hurts you and leaves a burn mark on your skin. Was that was a stupid thing to do? Sure was! Did you know that it was going to burn you? No. Were you still stupid? YES.
However, now that you know what happens when you touch a flame, if you touch a flame again, you are being intentionally stupid. The solution is simple: STOP.
Likewise, now that you know your baseline, default idea for what a human looks like is a white male, if you continue to only write white male lead characters, you are being bigoted. Sure, if they're just rotten actors, or make acting choices you don't care for, or their voice just bugs you, it's ok to not like them in a role but if the only thing you feel is "off" about them is that they are a person of color or aren't a guy, yeah, that's likely bigotry again.
But Pete! Are you saying all of the characters I write going forward MUST ALL be Latinas or Asian lesbians?
Of course, not!
However, when you continue to need an excuse to consider a woman and/or person of color for a character, you are being bigoted by always assuming the best person for this character to exist as is always a white male. You're not imagining all of the possibilities humanity is offering you.
And as a fan, if you have expectations that prohibit your own enjoyment of a woman or a person of color portraying a character if they aren't written well, then you're being bigoted, too.
It's fine to go after the writing, I actually find the character Moses Ingram is playing to be a little flat. Ingram's performance, however, is FIRE.
At the end of the day, if you have a problem with any character based on their gender, ethnicity, skin color, or anything else that is based on a group they come from, that is you embracing the wrong ideas about what humanity is. You need to think about more than just your own opinion, your own angle on the casting of an actor, or even the decision of a writer to have a character being of a particular background or another. Maybe there is an extra layer of meaning there that you haven't noticed. Or maybe there isn't. Ultimately, if you have a problem with a woman or a person of color playing a particular role or being a character in a book, or comic, or in any other kind of media, that's called bigotry. It's wrong and it's not what America represents and it's literally not what humanity, itself, represents.
Humanity is literally diverse.
So, it's probably best if you evolve with the rest of us old white men and choose diversity because that's also what equality and fairness looks like. It's supposed to be what America looks like. It's why this country was founded. At least, that's what is says on the brochure.
Just to go back to the writing part real quick: there is a lot to writing women and/or people of color when you're new to it and you want to take it seriously. But you know what? It's a great excuse to introduce yourself to a woman or a person of color and get to know them. You're going to make mistakes and get things wrong, but if you're an honest writer, you get things wrong all the time anyway. It's about getting better and doing better. As long as you keep doing both of those things, you'll have the cache to just apologize, say you'll do better and keep writing.
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