Karen Sandler on TankbornPosted by Karen Sandler on Sep 6, 2011 in Blog, Featured, Guest Posts, Young Adult | 7 comments
I’d like to say I grew up in an environment full of diversity, that people of all ethnicities came and went in my house, that all races attended my school. But that would be a lie. I grew up in an all-white neighborhood in Southern California and attended (nearly) all-white schools. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians weren’t unwelcome in my grandmother’s house (she raised me from age 6 through 12), but we just didn’t know any.
So what did that mean in terms of my exposure to diversity as a child? I grew up hearing my grandmother, who most people would say was a pretty nice person (although she had a hell of a temper on her), frequently make racially insensitive jokes. My dad, who is of the Greatest Generation and the kindest, gentlest soul I know, would fret over the idea of me marrying a black man (because of the children, he said). I hated my grandmother’s jokes, I objected loudly to what my dad said. But that upbringing left its mark. Embarrassing, shameful thoughts sometimes stray into my mind that I just want to burn out of my brain cells.
Did I therefore include diverse characters in Tankborn out of some bizarre liberal guilt? Oh, God no. I wrote it that way because that was the way it had to be written. The story demanded it. In the first place, I’m writing science fiction for heaven’s sake, a story that takes place hundreds of years in the future. We may not all be holding hands and singing “It’s a Small World” centuries from now, but I think it’s safe to extrapolate any eventuality with regards to race. Including a scenario in which, although skin color is still a significant stratifier of society, it isn’t white/light skin that puts someone at the top of the heap anymore.
Do I sometimes worry if I, as a white woman, have the right to write main characters who are people of color? Absolutely I do. Often. Really, who do I think I am? I’ve lived my life in a white skin, haven’t walked in those shoes, etc., etc. But what if I wanna, wanna, wanna write this story? What if these are the characters talking to me, these are the characters barging into my book? Who am I to tell them no?
So I risk being flamed by those who might see me as co-opting their story or culture. I’ve also already opened myself up to some pretty disgusting reflections from the other side, i.e., those who don’t see any place for people of color in literature at all, let alone SF.
So I wrote Tankborn because I simply had to. I’m thrilled to see it in print, so glad that young readers will see a non-white face on its cover and read about a diverse cast of characters. And if anyone wants to flame me for it, so be it. I have my big-girl, flame-proof panties on. Have at it.