Confessions of a EWOC – Ethnicity

Confessions of a EWOC (or Erotic Writer Of Color) are topics, concepts, and ideas that occur when I’m writing and presenting some of my stories. These are just thoughts that pop up sometimes that I feel I should share as I weave through the wonderful world of writing erotica from my perspective.

Earlier this week, I was working on the summary for a short story that I was about to send off for an anthology when I realized that, in no point in that story, did my main character mention that she was African-American.

It was written in the first person. There weren’t any moments where she would have to make that proclamation. Even though there is one Caucasian character in the story and everybody else is either African-American or African, when I was writing the story, I never thought about creating a moment where my lead character had to address her ethnicity and I wasn’t about to go back and add an artificial moment for her to do so.

That’s not to say that I hid her ethnicity. It’s layered all over that story but not in the most obvious ways. It’s all from the perspective of her character and in the one moment where she does address it, it’s so deep into the story that, if the reader wasn’t paying attention, it might be a surprise.

As I was writing the summary, I started to wonder if I should mention my characters ethnicity at all.

For me, it was obvious. As a person and writer of color, I look at the world from that perspective. The story wasn’t about her being black. It’s about her realizing that she’s been in love with this woman that’s she’s been friends for a long time and they choose to consummate their relationship. The fact that my main character is African-American and her best friend is Ghanian are characteristics of who they are not what they are.

I fought with the idea of if I should put that information about my lead character in the summary or not.

It’s not that I’m trying to be sneaky or dishonest. I just wonder how giving that information would add to the overall effectiveness of my story. Does it change the power of their passion for each other? If this story were about an American woman who was Caucasian who fell in love with a woman from France, would I need to mention that the American woman was white?

No, it wouldn’t. So, why should I do it now?

The only reason I’m even pondering this is because a few years back I had a beta reader look over one of my stories. It was about a lawyer in New York who ends up having an intense relationship with one of his clients. It was told from the first person as well and the reader said she had no idea that my main character was African-American until I got into the sex scenes.

Much like this story, my characters ethnicity was apparent through his experience and behavior. I mentioned the fact that he went to a HBC (a historically black college). Most of the other characters that he spent most of his time with were African-American. His paralegal was Puerto Rican but there was no real reason to address his ethnicity until he was about to have sex with his Caucasian client.

The beta reader said she thought it was jarring. I took that with a grain of salt because all the information you needed to know that was there. I just didn’t reveal it in the most obvious way.

That got me thinking about this concept of the default ethnicity always being Caucasian unless it is specifically addressed. I write a wealth of stories with characters of many different ethnicities. When I’m writing stories in the first person, I lock into my character’s perspective and tell the story through their eyes. If I don’t need a moment to justify their ethnicity that’s important to the story I’m not going to force it in there. It doesn’t make any sense to me to do so, if there are better ways to do so, without stating the obvious.

If I’m writing a story that takes place in India. All the characters have Indian names. The cultural aspects of the character are encased in East Indian culture, would I have to create a moment to reveal that my main character is Indian? I don’t think so but if you discovered that character was Caucasian after investing your energy into think they were something else, I can understand the confusion.

I ended up mentioning it in the summary because I had enough words to spare and I didn’t think adding that information would hurt in the selection process. I just found it odd that I felt that I had to do so.

Well developed characters are just that. Knowing the ethnicity of your character when you read them shouldn’t make that much of a difference if the story is well constructed.

So, from now on, I’m going to read stories thinking that the characters are people of color unless I’m specifically told that they aren’t because when I think of tall, dark, and handsome Idris Elba comes to mind and not Joe Manganiello.

idris-elba-shirtless

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