I Am Not A “Person of Color”

I probably should have posted this one sooner, but I had bigger thoughts about other things, so they went up instead. In any event, I hope this provides some retrospective context about my feelings on labels.

My first personal encounter with the concept of being “of color” occurred in college. Prior to then, I’d heard the term and vaguely had the idea some people associated it with people like me, but it had never been brought to bear in a conversation I was part of. People used words like, “Asian,” “Asian American,” “Japanese,” and “Japanese American.”

Then, early in my freshman year, a white person asked, “As a student of color, do you – ?” I don’t remember the rest of the question. Even now, the jarring impact of the words, “student of color” is what resonates with me most about that remark. I remember answering the question and also letting the person know I didn’t identify with the term, “student of color” and preferred not to be referred to as such. The person never used it again, but I kept thinking about it.

Fast forward almost eight years – yikes, it’s been almost four years since I left school! – and at last, I think I have the vocabulary to articulate why being called a “student of color” bothered me so much.

As a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, there was never a time when I wasn’t exposed to a mix of Asian and non-Asian cultures. I grew up with books, songs, and movies in Japanese and English, and though my few friends (at the time) were mostly white, my relatives and our family friends were mostly Asian – and within that group, mostly Japanese. My parents took my sister and me to Japan every summer to visit our relatives there, where an odd reverse effect took place.

In the US, I didn’t look like most of the people in my class, but I knew how to (mostly) talk and act like them. In Japan, I blended in with the street crowds, but quickly realized my relatives didn’t expect me to know how to act Japanese. What I learned in those years – without knowing how to articulate it – was the complexity of being diaspora Japanese. I could and did identify with both places, but also felt rejected by each of them in different ways. Still, I never stopped seeing myself as Japanese – I just accepted I would be different from the people across the Pacific, and different too from others in the US who called themselves Japanese or Japanese American.*

Maybe this all meant I was a super self-centered kid with tunnel vision (FYI, that hasn’t changed), but in all that time, I never considered identifying as anything other than Japanese. My parents never spoke of our family using terms like “Asian,” “Asian American,” “people of color,” or “nonwhite.” We knew we were Japanese and nothing more had to be said.

During these same years, I was encountering my fair share of racism and microaggressions, from white and nonwhite people alike. I was hurt and thought, “they’re racist,” but I didn’t really understand what this meant or what the larger implications were. I was also participating in my share of racism and microaggressions with little to no effort to check myself, and I didn’t think much about the institution of whiteness until I got to college.**

Then came the day when “student of color” was thrown at me. I was completely unprepared and my gut response was denial. I wasn’t a “student of color,” I was Japanese (or maybe “Japanese American”). How dare this (white) person stick a label on me that I never claimed for myself? And, moreover, why did it have to be a label signifying difference – “of color” – but not ACCURATE difference – in my case, “Japanese.” I had always been a stickler for accuracy, especially when it came to identifying people, maybe because I knew how much it hurt when people misidentified me as some other type of Asian. I rejected the “of color” label and made clear to all my college friends I wasn’t to be called by this term. Thus passed the remainder of my four years.

A few months ago, when I started following online communities of marginalized writers, the term popped up again, this time as, “people of color,” or “POC.” At first I was annoyed – were people uncaring enough to be referred to by a term that really didn’t mean anything? “People of color” – that was the same as “nonwhite,” right? And didn’t “Japanese,” “Black,” or “Oglala Lakota” signify just as much nonwhiteness – while also retaining the respect of specificity? But then I realized – if marginalized writers want to effect change in the US publishing industry, we will have to work together, and probably with some privileged white folks, too. “People of color” means nothing and everything – because in a fight where the opponent is the institution of whiteness, our side needs a name, too, a name bigger than any one person or culture or ethnicity – and that name is POC. People of color is a term of solidarity – or perhaps it has been coopted as such, if white folks originally invented it to uphold white supremacy. In this sense, I absolutely support its usage.

But. It’s been clear from some of the responses to marginalized voices that certain folks see us as a monolith. That one POC can be switched out for another with impunity. That having one or two “Asian” authors on the list is enough – no more, because how can the third or fourth or fifth or hundredth Asian author possibly have a unique story unlike the stories of the first two?

I can’t resolve the gatekeeping issue by myself, but I can take steps on a personal level to force recognition from the privileged folks who interact with me. Below is a short checklist that may help:

  • I self-identify as Japanese. You may refer to me as Japanese.
  • You may also refer to me as Japanese American. I prefer Japanese, but JA is ok.
  • You may refer to me as Asian or Asian American if you are discussing these communities. I refuse to stand as the sole representative for either one, but I self-identify as a member of both.
  • I self-identify as a member of the POC communities advocating for marginalized voices in the US publishing industry. I do not self-identify as a Person of Color. If for some reason you can’t use Japanese or JA when referring to me, you may use “nonwhite.”

In my own eyes, I am first and foremost Japanese. All other race/ethnic labels listed above are ones I identify with in relation to those communities, but not ones I identify with as an individual. I will not stand as the sole representative for ANY of the labels listed above. Japanese, Japanese Americans, Asians, Asian Americans, POC, and nonwhite people are not a monolith – not together, not separately.

Regarding my preference for the term “nonwhite” over “POC,” the reason is simple: some white folks get uncomfortable when whiteness gets mentioned. “People of color” is essentially saying nonwhite – without using the word “white.” I respect and support the argument that omitting the word “white” helps decenter whiteness from the discussion by removing it as an option, but in my experience, the number of white people who get uncomfortable about open discussions of whiteness is greater than the number of white people who will understand the politicized absence of the word “white” from “people of color.” Since white people are the ones with the worst track record of depicting Japan/Japanese culture, one of my personal goals as an advocate for marginalized voices is to push as many of those white people as possible beyond their comfort zones and, in doing so, confront them with their own culpability in continuing to privilege their voices over nonwhite voices.

I realize my experiences with white people reacting to whiteness may not reflect other people’s experiences, which is why I will continue to use both “POC” and “nonwhite” in discussions of the collective, but “nonwhite” in relation to myself.

Phew, that was a lot of words about words, wasn’t it? Thanks for reading and, as always, check out the Resources page for additional/differing opinions (and less wordy opinions).

*The next post will discuss my thoughts on “Japanese American” identity.

**I’ll have a different post about how my experiences in education shaped my understanding of racism and its partners-in-crime, colonialism and imperialism.

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10 Reasons I Won’t Be Your Japanese Beta Reader

Hello reader of internets, it’s time for your bi-weekly-ish dose of JA attitude, courtesy yours truly. Today’s post is directed at non-Japanese folks writing about Japan/Japanese culture, but may also be useful if you’re a Japanese person who has been or is considering being a cultural beta reader.*

Generally speaking, if you’re a non-Japanese person writing about Japan/Japanese culture and you ask me to be your cultural beta reader, I will say no without a second thought.** Below are the top ten reasons why:

  • I am not your token cultural insider

o   I will not be the person you point to and say, “SHE approved it and SHE’S Japanese!” when your work is criticized for its cultural representations

o   Nor will I consider being the ONLY cultural beta reader on any project

  • I am not an expert in the area(s) you want feedback on

o   My knowledge of Japan/Japanese culture is a combination of my lived experience and research I have conducted for my own purposes – your work is unlikely to map onto these areas point for point – and even if it did, apart from being creeped out, I’d still tell you to get more than one cultural beta

o   I do not possess an advanced degree from the hallowed halls of colonial academia – if you care about these things

  • I am not a researcher-for-hire

o   This blog and the occasional tweet are about as much investment as I’m currently willing to make in your work

o   Do not use me to verify things you did not first try to verify on your own – I will ask for evidence of research. If I feel you tried insufficiently hard, I’ll tell you so – and I won’t offer any feedback until you do your part.

  • I am not your scapegoat

o   I will not be the person you blame to avoid your own accountability

o   If you are truly committed to writing about Japan/Japanese culture, you are also truly committed to accepting criticisms about your representations of Japan/Japanese culture. If you disagree with the second thing, might I suggest finding something else to write about?

  • I am not your faceless POC robot

o   I will not be the person you enlisted so you or your publisher could tick a box

o   If I agree to be a cultural beta reader for you, it is a two-way road. I will expect to be able to get to know you and I will expect you to do the same for me. And I will reserve the right to terminate the agreement at any point if I feel you are not honestly representing yourself or your intentions with regard to my culture.

  • We have differing ideas about the parameters of the writer/beta relationship

o   In other words, you won’t be getting any extra labor out of me for free. Chances are, you won’t be getting any extra labor out of me for any price. See the bullet point about not being a researcher-for-hire.

  • Your reasons for writing about Japan/Japanese culture don’t hold up

o   Anime/manga fan with little to no idea of what Japan is like outside of these mediums? Tend to use “-senpai” and “kawaii” in your otherwise all-English daily vocabulary? Yeah no.

o   You “feel” you are Japanese – when you aren’t. Yeah no.

o   You “admire” Japanese culture. Do you admire white culture? Yeah no.

o   You want to write “diversely” – take a look at the “diversity” you are representing in your work. For example, if you are writing from a JA perspective – are you JA? How much time have you spent in JA communities? What can you tell me about JA cultures and communities without looking at any external sources? Now tell me about the external sources you did consult. In detail.

o   And the all-important question: what exactly is this story that only you can tell?

  • You fucked it up too badly for me to even want to read your work

o   I will not commit to being your cultural beta until AFTER reading sample pages. And by sample pages, I mean you will send me your entire manuscript and I will randomly read selections – so don’t think you can get away with polishing chapter one and keeping the racist garbage in chapters two through whatever.

  • Your social media accounts/other public persona indicate you are a racist asshole

o   No, following me on Twitter will not endear you to me, especially if I go to your feed and it is full of white people whitesplaining life.

  • You are not worth my time/emotional investment/mental health

o   This reason is probably at the core of the other reasons listed in this post – to be a beta reader is ultimately to be in a position of greater knowledge but lesser power.

o   In other words, even if I’m right and you’re wrong, you’re the one who decides what goes on the page. At the end of the day, YOU are still the one with the power to hurt ME.

o   Other people have said in other places on the internet that it takes WORK to be a beta, especially when you are beta-ing because you have an inside perspective on something. This is entirely true.

o   So then, to see subjects that form the core of your being and the foundation of your identity, carelessly thrown at the page like a drunken dart game is – well, how do you think it feels?

o   Here’s where history sucker-punches you. In my personal reading experience, non-Japanese authors have an atrocious track record when it comes to depicting Japan/Japanese culture. The racism I have encountered is partly perpetuated by depictions like these. So, sorry-not-sorry, but I’m not going to be your Japanese beta reader today.

You may have noticed I used “you” a lot in the above list, rather than “your work.” This is because I believe writers need to be held thoroughly accountable for their representations of marginalized peoples and topics, especially when writing from outside those experiences. That book did not just wink into being. A human wrote those words, another human repped them, another human edited them. I don’t believe in pulling punches or sugarcoating. If you did wrong, you did wrong, and I am going to tell you so. You, not your book. And I will expect you to do better next time, if you choose to write again.

This post is just one JA’s opinion. It by no means applies to all Japanese people or even all JAs. WE ARE NOT A MONOLITH. But do remember, no matter what your stance on cultural betas, YOU as the writer will ultimately be held accountable for any and all cultural (mis)representations in your work. (In other words, regardless of whether I or other Japanese people were your cultural betas, I’ll still call you out if you screw up.)

Thanks for reading! Check out the Resources page for thoughts in a similar vein!

*If you’re a Japanese person writing about Japan/Japanese culture and you want a beta reader, talk to me! (Yes, it’s totally a thing to have beta readers from your own culture because none of us know EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME EVER ABOUT JAPAN. I have trusty Japanese betas inside and outside Japan. That said, depending on the scope of your work, I think it’s probably possible to be a Japanese person writing about Japan and not consult cultural betas, though I imagine you’ll still have to do some degree of research. For example, Murakami Haruki’s novels strike me as the type of work he wouldn’t necessarily need cultural betas for, but I would be surprised if he also did zero research. I did hear – but haven’t confirmed – he was criticized for stereotyping the residents of a certain Japanese village, so, if true, just goes to show you don’t – and shouldn’t – get a free pass regardless of your background/status.)

**Possible exceptions: if I know you personally AND I don’t think you’ll make a total hash of it; if you’re a nonwhite writer WITH a social media history/other public persona indicating you are not a racist asshole; if you’re a white writer…sorry, find someone else.

A Day for Tea

My first memory of tea is not of tea, but of “ocha.” That was what my mom called the clear green liquid she brewed in a funny-looking brown pot, with a handle closely resembling a second spout. I didn’t encounter the white-people version of tea until elementary school, when I visited a friend’s house for a tea party.* These days, I drink all kinds of tea, but my first association with the word “tea” remains the ocha we drank at home. Tea is my go-to comfort drink, and one I especially need now, as I’m writing this post.

Early this morning, I read two essays, each by an Asian American author.** I admired the points made in both essays and did what I could to RT and like them on Twitter, so more people would read them. A few hours later, I checked Twitter again and found an explosion. White and nonwhite writers alike leaped online to voice disagreement, sometimes reasonably worded, sometimes heated, with the first essay. The prevailing assumption seemed to be that the author of the first essay was saying, white people should not write nonwhite cultures.

I’ve voiced my opinions on white people writing nonwhite cultures elsewhere on this blog, at length, so I’ll just say here, I don’t believe white people should *never* write nonwhite cultures, but I believe they have an extremely poor track record of doing so and could stand to educate themselves at length before continuing to do so. But to return to the essay and people’s responses to it, I can see why white writers reacted defensively (albeit, in most of what I saw, with their usual ignorance of their privilege). I am more confused and troubled by the negative responses I saw from nonwhite writers.

I am a nonwhite writer. I read that essay. At no point did I think the author stated or implied white people should never write nonwhite cultures. Seeing nonwhite writers – most with published work and much more experience than I have under their belts – explode over this essay on Twitter, I have to wonder – why? What did you see in the essay that set you off so explosively? And especially – why slam this author when I see you yourselves constantly advocating the need for #ownvoices and for the US publishing industry to put its money where its mouth is as far as opening doors for nonwhite writers? This is what I don’t understand.

Some of the responses I saw from nonwhite writers accused the author of hypocrisy because this author has been a leading figure in the push for diversifying literature. I saw several comments along the lines of, you can’t champion diverse literature for all writers and then slam white writers trying to participate. To be honest, I think you can – I think you can slam any writer who poorly and disrespectfully represents your culture. Why? Because the movement this author works with is not about propagating poorly researched, disrespectful “diverse” books. In fact, I doubt any movement sincerely supporting “diverse” books would do such a thing. And I don’t believe any writer who sincerely believes in the mission to diversify literature would do such a thing – any writer, not just the one who wrote the essay. I don’t believe agents, publishers, editors, readers – anyone, really, with a stake in books – want to bring books lacking in execution into the world.

When I returned to Twitter for the third time today, I saw some nonwhite writers had come forward to clarify and/or defend the essay. I appreciate their comments – and I am sad they had to make them in the first place. I also saw a response posted by the author of the essay on her blog. It was articulate, thoughtful, and didn’t give an inch. I am glad she wrote her response – and again, I am sad she had to do it.

I don’t expect nonwhite people to be a monolith, whether they are writers, editors, agents, etc. A lifetime of being nonwhite has shown otherwise. We argue, fight, insult, defend, laugh, and cry – as all humans do. But today, I was saddened and shocked to see so many nonwhite voices piling onto one person who, as far as I could see, only took the time to articulate more fully the thoughts that her now-critics espouse everyday on their own social media accounts. I am not saying the author of this essay is perfect or that her views are – no one is perfect or has perfect views. But I see no reason for the outburst and melee generated in the wake of what, to me, was a timely, perceptive, and straightforward account of one of the biggest hurdles facing nonwhite writers in the US publishing industry today.

As always, check out the Resources page for other perspectives! Thanks for reading!

*But let us not forget the colonization of nonwhite people that accompanied the origins of “European” tea. British Empire, anyone? Also, ironically, I had seen Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast before ever drinking “European” tea, so I knew my mom’s teapot didn’t look like white people’s teapots.

**I’m writing this on February 17, 2016, so if you weren’t on Twitter today but you run in these circles, check your feed from today to see which author/essay I’m talking about. If you’re outside the community, check my feed from today. I RTed both essays. For the record, I’m not in the habit of naming specific people or book titles on this blog, to avoid making them targets.

Racism 101: The “Konbini” Approach

If you’ve ever been to Japan, chances are you saw a “konbini,” a Japanese convenience store. Some of them will be recognizable to US residents – 7-11, for example – others, less so. The konbini is a staple of contemporary Japanese life and for good reason – they are waaaay superior to their US counterparts in terms of product selection and quality, and they are freaking EVERYWHERE.* Today, though, I’m going to talk about a different type of konbini, one that occupies a more unpleasant space in my life.

The story opens with a familiar scene: a group of white students hanging out at school, and me, the only nonwhite person there. They’re talking anime and manga because they’re big fans – I stay silent, because I’m not. Later, as I’m leaving, someone, maybe currently a JPN 101 student, or maybe just an ardent anime watcher – enthusiastically trills, “Kawaii!” in praise of whatever character, show, or story currently being discussed. I keep walking, but something bothers me.

After a few more half-heard, half-cut-off conversations, I notice a pattern. These non-Japanese anime and manga fans won’t use Japanese words in front of me. Some of them refer to each other with terms like -senpai, -san, and -chan. I only overhear them in passing because it stops when I join the group. If something “cultural” is being discussed – an outfit, a historical narrative, a belief system – sidelong glances are shot at me and sometimes my opinion is solicited. Often, I am asked about how “authentic” something is. As the only Japanese person present, I become at once The Other and The Authority On All Things Japan. I don’t like being typecast, but I don’t feel up to a round of Racism 101 either, so I just answer what I can.**

The conversation ends and the group breaks up, but I know this will happen again. And here’s where I get annoyed. If a non-Japanese person is arbitrarily flinging Japanese words around because they are oh-so-in-tune with x anime and/or convinced they are “Japanese” in spirit – there’s a word I want to share: weeaboo. Look it up. FYI, it is not a compliment. I could rant about weeaboos at length,*** but in my personal experience, something more hurtful and insidious is at work here: selective “anti-racism.”

Selective “anti-racism” is racism by another name. In my experience, it consists of outsiders tailoring their behavior in the presence of an insider, based on their outsider perceptions of how that insider “should” be treated. Now take the previous sentence and replace “outsider” with “white” and “insider” with “POC.” Ah…

Here is a truth from a nonwhite person: if you are white, do not assume you know how a nonwhite friend/acquaintance/that stranger over there wants to be treated with respect to their culture. Here is another truth from a nonwhite person: I can tell when you are “turning off” your racism on my “behalf.” Here is a third truth from a nonwhite person: you are not being a “better” person or an “ally” if you practice selective anti-racism.****

If I’m being confusing, let me use a non-race example: murder. Say you kill someone in front of someone else. Now say you kill someone not in front of someone else. Is the second murder somehow more “ok” than the first?

Racism is still racism, regardless of whether it happens to someone’s face or behind their back. You don’t get a free pass just because you don’t wear a pointy white hood or because you don’t call me “little Chinese girl” (actually happened to me). If you find yourself consciously adjusting your speech and behavior with regard to race when you are around me, newsflash: you are racist. You should ALWAYS be conscious of how you speak and act about race, around EVERY person. To quote Mad-Eye Moody, “constant vigilance!”*****

Anti-racism is not like your favorite snack from the konbini. It is not something you acquire when you feel like it and discard when you don’t. It is not something you whip out to ingratiate yourself with nonwhite folks. It is not something you exploit to feel better about yourself, or to further the bullshit statement, “but not ALL white people – !”

I am tired of the konbini approach to anti-racism that I see among so many of the white folks I know. Stop insulting my intelligence. Stop being a hypocrite. Stop thinking you’re in the clear just because I haven’t confronted you (yet).

If you read this far and plan to disregard everything I said, let me leave you with a final point: your choice to disregard what I said is an exercise of your (white) privilege. So, congratulations, you’re still a racist after all.

Thanks for reading! As always, check out the Resources page for similar opinions, different opinions, and unrelated but totally awesome stuff.

*Visit a konbini if you’re in Japan! They are seriously awesome.

**Future post on racism, school, and friendships in retrospect.

***I don’t currently have a post planned about weeaboos, but check out ThisIsNotJapan for a zero-fucks-given breakdown of a Japanese perspective on weeaboo culture.

****This is not to say nonwhite people are never racist – we are. But the lion’s share of racism I have personally encountered comes from white people.

*****Don’t get me started on JKR’s new wizarding schools.

“Diversity” is not…

For some time now, “diversity” and its various iterations have been buzzwords in the US publishing industry, especially in the online writing communities I follow. On the face of it, I don’t *not* support diversity, if we define diversity simply as, “a variety of interesting things.” Interesting things are good and there is always room for more of them. Organizations like We Need Diverse Books are working hard to bring more of these interesting things to the table. Publishers like Lee & Low Books are putting their money where their mouths are, by disclosing internal diversity stats and soliciting submissions from marginalized creators through contests like New Voices and New Visions. BUT.*

It is not enough. Recently, I watched a nonwhite agent champion two books featuring nonwhite characters and cultures, written by white clients.** I watched Twitter and the blogosphere explode as white and nonwhite readers gushed over these books. I got curious, so I dug a bit deeper and looked at the authors’ backgrounds and at reviews of the cultural representations in these books. Personally, I always find it an iffy process to gather information about someone online, as you never really know if they just posted what their agent/publisher told them to post, or what they chose to leave out for reasons of their own, so bear this in mind as you read the next part.***

One of the authors gave no information whatsoever on her website (though to be fair, it looks relatively new) about the cultural research she did. The reviews seemed overwhelmingly positive, though I haven’t yet found a review by a reader from the nonwhite culture represented. Nor did I find any assessment of the book’s cultural representations, beyond a quick mention that yes, it features a nonwhite MC who does not align with stereotypes. Side note: You do not get cookies simply for writing a nonwhite, non-stereotypical character. NO character of ANY color should be written as a stereotype. This is Writing 101. Next.

The second author had spent some time in the nonwhite country she wrote about and offered a few blog posts on her website detailing her experiences. The reviews seemed fairly positive, though I did see a few reviewers (unclear whether they were from the nonwhite culture represented) note discrepancies in the book’s cultural representations. Again, I’d be interested to hear from this author how exactly she did her cultural research.

Both of these books are being heavily touted as “diverse” reads. Hmm.

As a nonwhite reader, if a book about a nonwhite culture is being recommended to me, especially if it is being recommended as a “diverse” read, it sure as hell better be written by a nonwhite person, preferably (strongly preferably) by a person from the culture being represented. Why? Because true “diversity” ≠ white people writing outside their experience. No. What you have there is nonwhite cultures depicted through a white lens. The white-as-norm framework is still in place. You have not gone outside the box. You have simply added glitter to your box, or maybe hung some mirrors on the inside, to make it seem bigger than it is. This is why, whenever a white writer says they write nonwhite characters to be “inclusive” or “realistic,” I cringe. Yes, the world comes in all colors. But you, white writer, will always be white. Your do-gooder “inclusivity” is glitter. Your book’s “reality” is a fantasy. You don’t know how not to be white.

It’s not your fault for being white, just like it’s not my fault for being nonwhite. It is, however, your fault when you thoughtlessly assume the privilege of writing “realistic” stories that, to you, will never be more than a fantasy. It doesn’t matter if you lived x number of years in y country. It doesn’t matter if you “feel” you belong to m culture in mind, body, and soul. Your voice is a white voice. And white ≠ nonwhite.

If you still disagree, let me remind you that the nonwhite people in this country have heard and experienced this message our entire lives. White ≠ nonwhite. Your failure to understand that you are exerting privilege by writing nonwhite characters is a symptom of the White Supremacist Box you call home. You may know it better as, “The Way Things Are,” “Status Quo,” “Normal,” “Colorblind,” “Post-Racism,” or some other equally uninformed term.

Inside the Box, you feel safe. You feel comfortable. And it is from this position of safety and comfort that you find yourself writing nonwhite characters without questioning your privilege. It is from this position that you tout your nonwhite-character-book as a “diverse” read, without questioning whether your voice is really the one that most deserves to be heard in this conversation (hint: it’s not). It is from this position that you erase and dislocate nonwhite voices writing their own stories, and allow your agents, editors, publicists, and fellow white authors to do the same.

Some of us don’t have the safety and comfort of a Box. Some of us live the “realities” that you imagine from inside the Box. Hmm. Lived experience v. imagined experience. What sounds more convincing? What sounds more informed?

“Diversity” is not and should not be, White People Writing Nonwhite People. Those of us working to “diversify” the US publishing industry are not doing it so that white people can have glitter and mirrors. We are not doing it because we like being fetishized, stereotyped, Orientalized, and otherwise fantasized about by outsiders. It is not about you and your do-gooder ideals. Your “diversity” is our reality. So sit down, close your mouth, and let the rest of us talk for a change.****

*This is probably a good point at which to say, this post will be written in the context of race representation in the US publishing industry. Check out the Resources page for discussions of other marginalized representations!

**I’m not going to name the agent, the authors, or the books. I’m not here to make specific people feel bad unless they personally attack me first. Ha.

***It appears I’ll have a post about author accountability in the future. Since I have opinions.

****If you don’t like the way I say things, a ton of other people have said similar things. Check out the Resources page!

Dear Japanese people writing about Japan

Hi. Hey! If you’re a Japanese person writing about Japan and you found this blog, welcome!* I’m so glad you’re here and I really hope we can connect if you’re comfortable doing so. We need MORE Japanese voices publishing in English!**

Ok, happy dance over. Basically, if you’re a Japanese person writing about Japan, I’m going to assume you know what you’re doing. In other words, I’m fully confident you can own your Japanese identity and decide how you want to represent it without any help from me. That’s not to say you’re omniscient – no one is – but I don’t think you need the step-by-step guide + rant at the core of my two previous posts, addressed to white people and nonwhite, non-Japanese people writing about Japan.

Instead, today I’ll share a couple things I’ve done and/or learned in the course of my own writing about Japan.*** This post is going to be more self-reflective than instructive, so if you’re looking for advice, please check out the Resources page to hear from writers more knowledgeable/experienced than I am.

The following information relates to my current WIP, a YA fantasy series set in contemporary Japan, with an all-Japanese cast.

Some questions I asked/am asking myself while writing:

  • Why am I telling this story? Who am I writing for?****
  • What aspects of Japanese culture/history/etc will I need to research?
  • How will I conduct my research? What types of sources will I utilize?*****
  • How does my personal background (Japanese, born and raised in US) color my perceptions of Japan?
  • How much of my personal background/experiences do I want to incorporate into my writing? In what ways?
  • How will I demonstrate awareness of my background (did not grow up in Japan) in my writing (about characters born/raised in Japan)?
  • Who will evaluate my representations of Japan in the CP/BR process?
  • How much, if any, explanation should I offer to outsiders (i.e. readers unfamiliar with Japan/Japanese) in terms of vocabulary, mentality, cultural practices, etc?
  • Who in the US publishing industry is likely to be my best bet for pitching/querying, once I reach that stage? What kind of pushback should I expect as far as “whitening” my book and other concerns?
  • What kinds of responses do I expect if/when my book goes out into the world?

Some things I’ve done for research thus far:

  • Spoken with family and friends in Japan
  • Spoken with Japanese family and friends outside of Japan
  • Utilized Japanese family/friend connections to reach out to other Japanese people, inside and outside Japan
  • Expanded my grasp of Japanese reading and writing –> see previous note about how a lot of Japanese books don’t get translated into English; this also applies to research materials, so I highly recommend developing some kind of Japanese reading ability
  • Resurrected certain childhood memories with my mom’s help (I grew up on a steady diet of Japanese shows, songs, food, books, practices, etc, but unfortunately a lot of this dropped off when I stopped living with my parents)
  • Searched for and acquired research materials, with an eye to WHO is producing WHAT and HOW they are doing it (books, articles, blogs, interviews, art, music, videos, objects, etc)
  • Tried out some of the cultural practices described in my WIP –> my goal is to try each practice in person or to talk with people who have firsthand experience with it, with an exception for historical practices no longer extant
  • Tentatively planned a research trip to Japan (not sure if this will be financially possible, wouldn’t be the end of the world if I don’t make it since I’ve already been many times, but it sure would be helpful)

I’ve left some stuff off both lists, but I hope it’s enough to give a general idea of how one Japanese writer goes about writing her culture. Keep in mind this is just my take on the matter. Japanese people are not a monolith. Every Japanese person who decides to write about Japan will go about the process differently. Heck, my process will change when I start researching in earnest for my next book!

If you think I’m full of it because I’m not agented or published yet, let me direct you to Lisa See, a Big Deal Author who writes about her own culture (Chinese). She conducts massive amounts of research for her books. I’m no expert on Chinese history, but nor have I ever seen any Chinese readers critique Ms. See’s representations of China, so I’m going to guess she’s doing a solid job.

Again, if you’re a Japanese person writing about Japan and you have thoughts to share, please reach out! Thanks for reading!

*I would LOVE to check out your work! DM me on Twitter! See Contact page for details.

** There are plenty of Japanese voices publishing in Japanese – sadly, a lot of them don’t get translated into English. I’m advocating specifically for English because I’m a US-based writer and my blog mainly focuses on the US publishing industry, but feel free to chime in if you’re a Japanese person writing about Japan in a language other than Japanese or English!

***If you have comments/suggestions/questions regarding what I’ve done or what you’ve done, please reach out!

****I’ll be answering this question in a separate post because I have complicated thoughts about it.

*****Will have a separate post (or several of them) on my thoughts about what research means and how I feel it should be done.

Dear nonwhite people writing about Japan

In my previous post, I discussed some ways of thinking I’d like to see white people adopt if they are going to write about Japan. Today I’m back with part two of what is really a very long, complicated conversation that I wish more people would have in more visible places than this blog. But enough wishful thinking.

Nonwhite* people are racist. Nonwhite people perpetuate stereotypes. Nonwhite people hurt other nonwhite people and people of other marginalized groups. I do not exempt myself from any of the above – I do all of these things. I’m working on doing less of them.

This post addresses nonwhite, non-Japanese people writing about Japan.**

In my personal reading experience (mostly books published in the US, written in English), I’ve encountered far more works about Japan by white people than by nonwhite people (both Japanese and non-Japanese). Yet, the few works I have read by nonwhite, non-Japanese people have been largely less offensive to me than the Vast Majority Of Works By White People. Below is a partial list of what I mean when I say “offensive.”

  • Building a world with Japanese character names, settings, practices, and cultural objects – and then claiming it isn’t Japan
  • Appropriating Japanese names, practices, and cultural objects by using them incorrectly and out of cultural context –> if you are really just trying for a world that doesn’t look like ours, start by reading N.K. Jemisin, who tackles this beautifully
  • Using Japan/Japanese culture as a convenient backdrop for white saviors/ideologies to carry the day (white imperialism in YA! – for all those who think we are “past” racism)
  • Constructing Japanese characters based solely off of stereotypes
  • Representing Japan/Japanese culture as a monolith
  • Incorrect Japanese –> if you are going to include Japanese terminology in your book, LEARN the language and CHECK your usage with a Japanese speaker

Both white and nonwhite writers are guilty of the above, but white writers do it much more frequently. (WHY DO YOU DO THIS WHITE WRITERS PLEASE STOP NOW)

I don’t know why the numbers pan out this way. If I absolutely had to guess, at least insofar as works by nonwhite, non-Japanese people based in the US, I might think a lifetime of combating institutionalized white racism has instilled these writers with some kind of cultural-awareness radar, a seventh sense for being sensitive to cultural differences. I know that, as a nonwhite, US-based writer, my radar goes on high alert whenever I come across an outsider piece written about a nonwhite culture. But I can’t speak for every nonwhite writer out there and I certainly can’t speak for any nonwhite, non-Japanese writers, not being one myself.***

I do want every nonwhite, non-Japanese person writing about Japan to consider the following questions:

  • Why are you writing about Japan?
    • Ask yourself why you are writing about JAPAN specifically, not some other place and some other culture.
    • If your answer is something along the lines of, “I admire/am fascinated by/obsessed with Japanese/anime/manga/etc,” –> read the next question
    • If your answer is something along the lines of, “I lived/taught/worked in Japan for a week/month/year and I am now an EXPERT on all things Japan!” –> read the next question (and no, you’re not now an expert)
  • Why are YOU writing about Japan?
    • What can YOU as an individual contribute to the existing body of writing about Japan? Do you have something to say that absolutely no one else can say? Are you sure?
      • Example: If your life experiences or your family’s experiences were impacted by Japanese imperialism – I absolutely understand wanting to address in it in your writing and I hope you’ll let me know so I can read it!
    • If your answer is something along the lines of, “I don’t see enough JAPAN in the books I read! I want more JAPAN! Diversity for diversity’s sake!” –> read the next question
      • FYI, diversity for diversity’s sake is often a dangerous argument. More on that in a future post.
  • Why should your voice be privileged?
    • Once your writing is out there, it will automatically be privileged above the voices that ARE NOT yet out there. This includes JAPANESE voices, both inside and outside Japan. Please consider whose voices you may be erasing/silencing.
    • Once your writing is out there, if it is problematic, it will damage opportunities for insider voices to be heard by setting a problematic standard
    • If your answer is something along the lines of, “I have to tell this story because there is nobody else to tell it!” –> Reread bullet in bold. There are plenty of other voices to tell it and, depending on your answers to the above questions, they may be voices that should be privileged above yours.
    • FYI, certain nonwhite, non-Japanese voices SHOULD be privileged in telling certain stories about Japan –> you know who you are
  • How will you do your research?
    • FYI, books, whether it be 30 or 300, are not enough.
    • FYI, manga, whether it be 30 or 300, are not enough.
    • FYI, anime, whether it be…we clear now?
  • How will you acknowledge your privilege in your writing?
    • What I really mean here is, will your writing demonstrate cognizance of your outsider status? Are you conscious of the life experiences, biases, etc that color your perceptions of Japan and Japanese culture?
  • What POV will you use? Why?
    • If you are going to write from a Japanese POV à RESEARCH
  • How will you evaluate your writing for problematic aspects?
    • Yes, there will be problematic aspects in your writing. If you can’t see them, get some betas you can trust.
  • How will you evaluate the qualifications of your critique partners/beta readers?
    • Hint: If your CP/BR doesn’t know more about Japan than you do and you are asking them to evaluate your representations of Japan, find someone else.
    • Hint: If your CP/BR does know more about Japan than you do, check carefully to determine how MUCH they know and WHAT they know.
      • Studying Japanese in school doesn’t automatically qualify someone to evaluate your representations of Japanese mythology in your novel.
      • Just because your CP/BR is Japanese doesn’t automatically qualify them to evaluate your representations of Japanese mythology in your novel. NO ONE PERSON can wholly represent a race or ethnicity.
    • Do you have multiple readers who are Japanese?
      • Because Japan and Japanese people are not a monolith.
  • How will you handle critiques of the problematic aspects in your writing?
    • Hint: If your CP/BR indicates your perspective is skewing your representation of Japan/Japanese culture, LISTEN and LEARN and FIX
  • How will you handle unexpected research questions?
    • DO NOT take shortcuts. You don’t get a free pass for not being white.
  • How are you responding if publishing folks try to make your work more white-friendly?
    • Examples: Making a character white, changing the setting to a western country, switching a name to an Anglo name, whitewashing your cover, etc
    • FYI, they probably won’t call it “white-friendly,” so be on the lookout for code speak
  • How are you responding to critical reviews of the problematic aspects in your writing?
    • Your book is now out in the world. People will be reading it. People will be criticizing it. Are you ready?
    • More than your feelings are at stake here. If a Japanese voice critiques your representations of Japanese culture and/or people, listen, apologize, offer solution, and follow through.
    • Apologies are not just for white people. If you’ve made it this far as a nonwhite writer, chances are you KNOW how it feels to see your own culture misrepresented and appropriated by outsiders. So please, don’t do the same thing to us.
  • How are you evaluating industry responses to your writing?
    • Maybe your book made a bestseller list, or a list of recommended “diverse” reads.
    • Consider who is NOT being put on the lists. Are there Japanese voices being shoved aside in favor of yours? What can you do to hype Japanese voices so they DO make the lists?
  • What is your next step?
    • Will you continue to write about Japan? Will you continue to privilege your voice above Japanese voices? Why?
    • If you do continue to write about Japan, how will you improve on your representations next time? How will you evaluate whether you improved?

Thanks for reading this far. If you are a nonwhite, non-Japanese writer, please know I didn’t write this post to make you feel bad. I wrote it because lately I see a lot of nonwhite writers writing outside their own cultures, including some who write about Japan, and my concern is these works aren’t being vetted as closely as they ought to be. A nonwhite author “making it” in the US publishing industry is still much rarer than it should be – and if you did, kudos to you!**** But I believe, as a nonwhite writer myself, that neither we as nonwhite writers nor the rest of the folks in the US publishing industry – agents, editors, white writers, etc – should settle for something just because it is “diverse.” Meaningful representation is respectful representation. It is representation created by someone who took time and effort to do research, and who thought about the high stakes involved in writing outside their culture because they know how it feels when an outsider gets it “wrong.” If you have ever, ever felt this way after reading an outsider’s representation of your culture, then please, don’t do the same thing to mine.

*POC (person/people of color) seems to be used more frequently online, but I prefer the term nonwhite, for reasons I’ll explain in a different post.

**There will be a separate post on Japanese people writing about Japan. Did you really think I would skip it?

***I would actually really like to know what goes through the minds of nonwhite, non-Japanese people when they choose to write about Japan, but I haven’t found any interviews, blogs, or other firsthand accounts on this topic. If you are a nonwhite, non-Japanese person writing about Japan and you’re willing to talk about why, please contact me via email or Twitter!

****Tweet me with the title of your work so I can read it. Seriously.

Dear white people writing about Japan

When I started lurking at the edges of online writing communities a few months ago, well before this blog was established, I looked especially for stories about Japan and for storytellers whose experiences would mirror or expand upon my own. I found plenty of stories about Japan. But among the tellers of those stories, I found almost no one with a background similar to mine. And perhaps most troubling, the stories I did find were, for the most part, highly problematic in their representations of Japanese culture. Most of the people writing the problematic stories were white.* So, today, I have a few thoughts for those white people and for any other white people planning to write about Japan. Since I tend to be wordy, I’ll share them in list format.

Before you (white person) begin writing:

  • Why are you writing about Japan?
    • Ask yourself why you are writing about JAPAN specifically, not some other place and some other culture.
    • If your answer is something along the lines of, “I admire/am fascinated by/obsessed with Japanese/anime/manga/etc,” –> read the next question
    • If your answer is something along the lines of, “I lived/taught/worked in Japan for a week/month/year and I am now an EXPERT on all things Japan!” –> read the next question (and no, you’re not now an expert)
  • Why are YOU writing about Japan?
    • What can YOU as an individual contribute to the existing body of writing about Japan? Do you have something to say that absolutely no one else can say? Are you sure?
    • If your answer is something along the lines of, “I don’t see enough JAPAN in the books I read! I want more JAPAN! Diversity for diversity’s sake!” –> read the next question
      • FYI, diversity for diversity’s sake is often a dangerous argument. More on that in a future post.
  • Why should your voice be privileged?
    • Once your writing is out there, it will automatically be privileged above the NONWHITE voices that ARE out there. This includes JAPANESE voices, both inside and outside Japan
    • Once your writing is out there, if it is problematic (and it will be), it will damage opportunities for insider/nonwhite voices to be heard by setting a problematic standard (translation: some white people accuse nonwhite people of not being “authentic” enough in embodying their nonwhite culture, based on racist/stereotyped depictions of that nonwhite culture in white-dominated media – this happens in publishing, too, and your problematic work risks becoming part of that problematic white-dominated canon, which in turn slams doors shut in nonwhite creators’ faces)
    • If your answer is something along the lines of, “I have to tell this story because there is nobody else to tell it!” –> Reread bullet in bold. There are PLENTY of other voices to tell it, including voices that SHOULD be privileged above yours.

At this point, if you made it past the previous question with a non-bullshit answer (the odds are about 0.0001% based on the work already out there), keep reading.

  • How will you do your research?
    • FYI, books, whether it be 30 or 300, are not enough.
    • FYI, manga, whether it be 30 or 300, are not enough.
    • FYI, anime, whether it be…we clear now?
  • How will you acknowledge your privileged, white (and probably western) perspective in your writing?**
    • Conscious or unconscious, your privileged, white (and probably western) perspective is there. You cannot escape it. If you really must do this, acknowledge your privilege. You are going to get stuff wrong. Be prepared for criticism. Be prepared to fix what you got wrong. Be prepared to say, “I got [x] wrong, I’m sorry, and I am doing [y] to fix it.”
    • Being a member of We Need Diverse Books or being featured on a blog about diversity is not enough.
  • Point of view – white, Japanese, or something else?
    • If you are going to write from a nonwhite POV, whether it be Japanese or something else, I cannot emphasize the previous bullet point enough. ACKNOWLEDGE your white privilege. It doesn’t go away just because the character on the page has a different skin color. RESEARCH – if you think you need to do x amount of research, multiply it by 10, at minimum. GET READERS from the group you are writing about.***
  • How will you evaluate your writing for problematic aspects?
    • Yes, there will be problematic aspects in your writing. I guarantee it. Now figure out how to fix them.

While you are writing:

  • How are you acknowledging your privileged, white (and probably western) perspective in your writing?
    • You should NEVER stop thinking about this.
  • How will you handle unexpected research questions?
    • Do not take shortcuts. NO nonwhite culture is your sparkly plaything, to be distorted and misrepresented at your leisure. (Side-eye: white writers who fill their books with Japanese words, names, settings, cultural practices, etc, then turn around and say, “oh, it’s not really Japan!” –> this is white privilege and erasure of nonwhite cultures) Respect. Put in the time, put in the work. If you can’t, write about something else.
  • How are you evaluating your writing for problematic aspects?
    • You can try leaving this for last (i.e. after you finish the first draft), but you’ll probably just end up with a lot of extra work and a sad face.
  • Are you still absolutely sure your voice should be privileged?

After you have written:

  • How are you evaluating the qualifications of your critique partners/beta readers?
    • Hint: If your CP/BR doesn’t know more about Japan than you do and you are asking them to evaluate your representations of Japan, find someone else.
    • Hint: If your CP/BR does know more about Japan than you do, check carefully to determine how MUCH they know and WHAT they know.
      • Studying Japanese in school doesn’t automatically qualify someone to evaluate your representations of Japanese mythology in your novel.
      • Just because your CP/BR is Japanese doesn’t automatically qualify them to evaluate your representations of Japanese mythology in your novel. NO ONE PERSON can wholly represent a race or ethnicity or culture.
    • Do you have multiple readers who are Japanese?
      • Because Japan and Japanese people are not a monolith.
  • How are you handling critiques of the problematic aspects in your writing?
    • This is just generally good CP/BR advice, but be RESPECTFUL and GRATEFUL that someone took the time to read your 200-300 page draft
    • Is your privileged, white perspective getting in the way of understanding the critique you received about a nonwhite culture?
      • Hint: If your CP/BR indicates your perspective is skewing your representations of nonwhite cultures, LISTEN and LEARN and FIX.
    • If your CP/BR indicates you need to do more research, do it.
  • How are you responding if publishing folks try to make your work more white-friendly?
    • Examples: Making a character white, changing the setting to a western country, switching a name to an Anglo name, whitewashing your cover, etc
    • FYI, they probably won’t call it “white-friendly,” so be on the lookout for code speak
  • How are you responding to critical reviews of the problematic aspects in your writing?
    • Your book is now out in the world. People will be reading it. People will be criticizing it. Are you ready?
    • More than your own privileged, white feelings are at stake here. If a non-privileged, nonwhite insider voice critiques your representations of nonwhite cultures and/or peoples, listen, apologize, offer solution, and follow through.
  • How are you evaluating industry responses to your writing?
    • Maybe your book made a bestseller list, or a list of recommended “diverse” reads. Read the rest of the list. Are there any nonwhite writers on it?
    • Consider who is NOT being put on the lists. Are there nonwhite voices being shoved aside in favor of yours? What can you do to hype these nonwhite voices so they DO make the lists? (No, they are not being left off because “we just chose the ‘best’ writing.” This is bullshit. See the Lee & Low diversity survey and think about who puts those lists together.)
  • What is your next step?
    • Will you continue to write about Japan? Will you continue to privilege your white voice above nonwhite voices? Why?
    • If you do continue to write about Japan, how will you improve on your representations next time? How will you evaluate whether you improved?
  • Are you still absolutely sure your voice should be privileged?

As you might have noticed, my personal experiences with white folks writing about Japan have been less than stellar. Hence the monster post.

If you are a white person writing about Japan, understand the investment you are undertaking, if your goal is respectful representation. I will not say “non-problematic,” “authentic,” “correct,” or any other similar term because these terms assume writing can be wholly non-problematic, authentic, or correct. Japan is not a monolith. Japanese people are not a monolith. Japanese culture is not a monolith. As a Japanese person, I am so, so tired of seeing my culture misrepresented, appropriated, and shat upon in other ways by white people. Just stop.

Next time, I’ll discuss non-Japanese, nonwhite folks writing about Japan. Thanks for reading!

*There will be posts on nonwhite, non-Japanese folks writing about Japan. Because yes, I also have opinions about them.

**You are not exempt if you identify as white + some other type of marginalization. Why? Because people who identify as nonwhite + that type of marginalization ALSO EXIST. And if it is their culture up for discussion, your voice does not belong in that conversation. There are plenty of places for white marginalized folks online and elsewhere. Go look for them.

***There is SO much more that goes into writing a nonwhite POV if you are white. I’ll have posts about it, but in the meantime, check out the Resources page!

No representation v. bad representation

FYI: This post is written in the context of race representation in the US publishing industry. Check out the Resources page for great insights into other types of representation!

I’m by no means the first or the last nonwhite reader/writer/person to weigh in on this topic, but as someone from a culture that gets frequently (mis)represented by outsiders, here’s my two cents: no representation is BETTER than bad representation.

Note, I didn’t say either of the above options was the best. The best (as I see it) is respectful, informed representation, preferably created by members of the group being represented.* Bad representation is the opposite: disrespectful, uninformed, and yes, white people are not the only perpetrators, but I’ll save that for a different post.

That said, as anyone who has been following diversity discussions in the online reading/writing communities will know, we are a long way from gaining equal opportunities for nonwhite creators in the US publishing industry. The numbers skew heavily in favor of (white) creators representing races and cultures outside of their own. Take a look at assorted surveys and graphs published by Lee & Low and CBC Diversity (both listed on the Resources page) if you want to see the cold, hard numbers.

I’ll have future posts regarding my thoughts on white representations of nonwhites, but today my focus is explaining why I believe no representation is BETTER than bad representation. And yes, unfortunately, Japanese people and Japanese culture are frequently represented by non-Japanese who either don’t know shit and/or don’t give a fuck.

So, here it is: bad representation has consequences.

If you don’t believe me, check out my FAQs (Frequently Awkward Questions) page.

Here are some of the consequences:

  • Damages efforts by members of marginalized groups to represent themselves (the deck is stacked against us, I refer you again to the Lee & Low and CBC Diversity numbers)
    • Case in point: There’s a lot of internet hype about diverse books right now. But, more often than I’d like, when I check out the list of recommended reads, I see a bunch of books written by people who don’t belong to the group being showcased. Again, it’s ok to write outside of yourself, but in doing so, be cognizant that the voices of insiders ARE and SHOULD be privileged above yours.
  • “Diversity” for diversity’s sake! – Marginalized groups do not exist to lend sparkle to your story. If you’re touting this idea, or something similar, think long and hard about why.
  • Encourages creation of similar work
    • Books by white creators about nonwhite peoples and cultures continue to outnumber books by nonwhite creators about nonwhite peoples and cultures
  • Encourages creation without ACCOUNTABILITY
    • Accountability is big. There is not enough of it, not when white creators represent nonwhites, not when nonwhites represent nonwhites. There will be posts.
  • Forces marginalized creators to battle an industry filled with misconceptions about marginalized groups – misconceptions nurtured by bad representation in the first place
    • A great example is books about American Indian/First Nations peoples. Can you name an American Indian/First Nations creator besides Sherman Alexie? Can you name two? Three? More than three?
      • If you said, “no, because they don’t exist” – you’re wrong
      • If you said, “no, because…well…why?” – keep reading
      • If you said, “yes” – hey, we have something in common
    • Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, is a great starting point for further reading
  • Gives readers of marginalized groups (especially young readers) the impression that XYZ form of bad representation is THE authoritative one because it made it into PRINT (ask me again how much I believed in the power of books as a kid, ask my friends, ask every nonwhite reader you know)
  • Perpetuates stereotypes and other forms of racism
    • Thinking of a certain steampunk Japanese-inspired fantasy series here…
  • Reinforces the institution of racism in US society
    • Definitely check out the Resources page – people smarter and more eloquent than me have written insightful, hard-hitting pieces on the (white) racism that pervades US society and culture
  • Sends the message that there is a market for XYZ form of bad representation
    • Sadly, there is – I walked into my local bookstore the other day and saw, on prominent display, a Chinese-inspired fantasy by a non-Chinese author that has already received criticism from Chinese readers. I then scoured the YA section for some of my favorite Asian American YA authors – I only found two. Anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

Bad representation happens and continues to happen. And it has had consequences and will continue to have consequences. Not one of the consequences listed above is a good thing. It hurts the peoples and cultures being represented. It reinforces a white-dominant narrative and way of thinking. It closes doors in the faces of marginalized creators struggling to make their voices heard in an industry that is too often hostile and/or insincere about its calls for “diversity.”

So, a personal request. The next time you sit down to write from an outside perspective, think deeply about why. It’s not just about you. If you’re aiming to get published, you can bet you’ll hear from your readers. And if you do get published (congratulations), remember that your work, having made it through all the burning hoops and iron gates, is going to have an impact. It’s up to you to determine what that impact will be.

If you read this far and think maybe my blog isn’t the right fit for you, check out the Resources page. There are many, many great websites out there. I hope you find one you like!

*No, I’m not saying you can’t write about Japanese people and Japanese culture if you aren’t Japanese. There are a few non-Japanese out there who have created respectful, informed representations – they are just vastly outnumbered by the non-Japanese who have created really disrespectful, really uninformed representations. Yes, I’ll have a post on this later. Probably several. Advance warning for anger.

The things I am not

Marginalization applies to more than race and gender and height.

As a short Japanese female writer, I’ll be focusing this particular blog on how writing intersects with race, gender, and height because those are the areas in which I am most frequently marginalized. But race, gender, and height are just three out of a long list of ways in which people can be marginalized.

I don’t believe it’s impossible to write outside of your own experience. But I also don’t believe that, as an outsider, my voice should be privileged above the voices of insiders if the experience in question is not one I have had. My goal is not to erase or exclude these insider voices from this blog, but rather to acknowledge my limited knowledge from the start and to direct my readers to more informed Resources. Inevitably, because no type of marginalization exists in a vacuum, I will end up addressing one or more types of marginalization that I have not personally experienced; I only hope I will be able to do so in a way cognizant of my own privileges and my outsider status.

Below is a PARTIAL list of types of marginalization in which I feel my voice should not be privileged (in other words, please look elsewhere for insider discussions of these):

  • Classism
  • Disability
  • ESL learner experiences
  • Immigrant/expat experiences
  • LGBTQ+
  • Non-cisgendered people’s experiences
  • Races/ethnicities other than Japanese
  • Religion

For insider voices on the above topics and on other types of marginalization, check out the Resources page!