Isn’t reading amazing! It’s a great escapism. Growing up, nearly all of the books I read, the lead was nearly always a white CIS character. Black characters were reserved for those from the USA. This taught me that the world saw black people either as impoverished Africans or from the USA. That was my main exposure to what it was to be black.
Ok, that’s a lie. Black people were also entertainers, athletes or servants. On screen they were the token rather than the main, the side character. If they weren’t there to entertain the audience either by their physical or musical abilities, then they were unimportant. This was why programmes like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Desmond’s, The Cosby Show were such a breath of fresh air. They provided representation of blackness in main stream media. With all of these programmes, they allowed a voimerism into family life, and for me, the only black child in a white family, a measuring stick into what it was to be a westernised black person. The problem with all of these shows though was that they were at odds with my own upbringing. They all preached conservative christian values to some extent, with a rogue ruffian thrown in to add that level of diversity needed. Of course, you need different characters to bounce off each other, for each of these shows were a comedy. Yes, my British friends, there was Eastenders and other shows that had black people in, but they nearly always ended up as side characters when I was growing up, continuing with narrative pushed out to the world, blackness was an afterthought and thus black people were unimportant. In the case of Grange Hill, representations of Asians had a similar fate.
How does that impact a person? How do you continue to dream, hope and strive for better when society has already parcelled you up and placed you into predefined box sets?
My criminal escapades would be laughable, because being black, I have to be ready with an alibi and proof should need be. If I were to start a criminal empire, as is suggested by my skin alone, I’d get lots of white people to steal in shops I enter knowing that the guards would probably focus on me. But reality rarely features into ingrained racist stereotypes. These stereotypes exist because they are thrust upon us. This is what X person does because they are X.
These narratives are harmful to all within society. The idea that “if you can’t see, you can’t be” means that a lot of people in power refuse to believe that black people can be successful on their own terms. It’s not just that they push an idea onto me, but that they push an idea onto those in authority, those in power. These depictions fuel hate and promotes the hierarchy of skin tone, white being at the top. True meritocracy cannot exist in such confines because those with a lighter colouring are given a birthright to expect better from society. Countless of my none-white friends have lamented that they have to work twice as hard, get better results to receive half the recognition. I myself was left shocked when my CEO of a company asked me who had done my work as they couldn’t get their heads around my competency, but adding insult to injury, asked for me to make room for my colleague who needed to catch up- he was on a much higher pay than me. It’s not enough as a black person to fight to succeed, you have to set a path for those that follow in the hope that it’ll be easier for them, whilst maintaining an air of humbleness.
So what happens when you take away the usual expectations. When you focus on character, rather than physical attributes? This is what I have done with Vampire Emily.
I want Emily to be whoever the reader wants her to be. I have purposefully refused to describe her racial appearance other than having a scene with her shoe measurement and being a woman with hair on her head. The rest is up to the reader. I would hate for Vampire Emily to be perceived as another exclusionary book in terms of race. Yes the main character identifies as female, the rest is up to you. See how simple that is to say. In practice, it was much harder to do.
I already know that people will get frustrated that I don’t describe the MC appearance, that some of her kills are just that kills. After all, she is a vampire and knowing the gender or looks of the victim is akin to asking for more details about the cow of the steak you just ate. I hope my readers can move beyond the norm of having physical descriptions of each character so that they can imagine them to be who they want.
I’m not racist but, I’d like a main character to represent physically what you need them to represent. This is for little me who desperately wanted racial representation within books. To have black characters as complex and developed as others without it being on a topic of diversity. But blackness isn’t the only overlooked racial representation so let Emily look however you please.