I find myself being very introspective of late. Perhaps it’s just that time of year. Perhaps it’s the fact that I have a short one-act play burning in my back pocket that’s all about the responsibility of writers and the power that writers have over the grand narrative. It might have been disingenuous of me to eliminate social media into that above creative thesis. Anyway, I’m getting off track thinking about a project that most of you haven’t even seen. Let’s focus on what you might have actually seen. My website has quite a few pieces on it that I’ve noticed fall into a broad catergory: Men thinking about their past and their relationship with the women in their life. Now, upon this realisation I thought to myself: God, am I really that boring? Then it lead me to the thesis point of this whole piece: Who Should You Write About?
When it comes down to it, I’m Mr Whitey McWhiterson. I’m a fairly young cis straight(ish) white guy from a relatively middle-class background. In fact, probably the only thing aspect of me that isn’t middle of the road is my blue eyes, and even that isn’t anything extraordinary. I write about pretty typical subjects for someone of my upbringing. In my non-fiction work it’s often about the intersection of pop culture and literary theory. My fiction work is often this post-modern pastiche about the nature of those who create, or the above theme. I set my fiction in familiar settings to myself: theatres, trams, suburbs, cafes.
My dialogue feels ripped from half-remembered conversations at a garden party. Characters that feel so bourgeois that every single one of them could unironically carry a glass of white wine with them at all times. Writing in the shadow of Melbourne, I guess you could it. Now, you might look at it as a cry of self-loathing about the things I write. However, when I write these things I don’t hate them. I quite enjoy some of my writing and my hope is that others do to. However, the reason that I’m looking at the conventions of my works is to establish a baseline. I’ve laid the foundation to pose a question about my work. Is my work diverse?
The honest answer is no. Due to the nature of our culture, the default assumption tends to be that characters are white, and I should be doing more in my stories to make them consciously diverse. I do think there’s a certain value in what I do. Most of my stories examine the relationships of men and women, hopefully to address some of the problematic aspects of male thought. Essentially, I’m writing back at the culture I grew with, which is a fairly white hegemonic culture. Now, with my commitment to be more diverse comes a double-edged sword.
For example, I’m in the very early stages of planning the next play that I plan to write. There are only a couple of characters that I have crystallised in my mind. One of those characters is an older male white filmmaker who worked in the booming Australian film industry of the 70s and 80s. Another is an Aboriginal woman. The final character I have in my mind is a recently immigrated woman, who is probably Muslim. Now you can imagine that if I’m not careful and deliberate about these characters that it could go very wrong. The reason I highlight this is not to bemoan my current situation. I ultimately think that the project will be more worthwhile at the other end if I put in the effort to make it worthwhile.
It all comes back to the core question of who to write about? It is imperative on us as writers to write more diverse characters to increase representation of those who are under-represented. In terms of pop culture (and let’s face it, world history), white guys have had their day in the sun. We can still write white guys but it must be a more concentrated choice. We have a responsibility as the creators of culture to decentralise the white guy from pop culture as the only way he got there was via a system of cultural imperialism. I’m complicit in this. So, going forward I shall try to do better and by all means, hold me to account.
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