Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Cultural differences in romance

Monica Jackson is doing a great job in blogland reminding us that romance doesn’t – and shouldn’t - just come in shades of white. I’m interested in how authors and wannabe authors portray diversity in their work. Do white writers consciously consider issues of race, ethnicity and diversity as they write? Do you make efforts to ensure your novels reflect the non-uniformity of our societies?

Like the US and the UK, Australia is a very multi-cultural society, although patterns of immigration, race relations, and ethnic and racial balances are different. Nevertheless, many of the issues are similar. As a writer, I want to ensure that the Australia I portray reflects the reality. Yet I’m very conscious that as a white, Anglo-Celtic, middle-class Australian, my experience as a member of the majority culture is very different from those who belong to minority cultures. I’ve been heavily involved in equal opportunity issues for most of my working life, so while I’m aware of the major issues, I’m also very aware that there are a zillion ways in which cultural differences are manifested that are subtle, perhaps sub-conscious, but which add up to a very different experience and, sometimes, a very different ‘way of knowing’ than the majority culture can really understand. For this reason, I’m very hesitant to pretend that I know enough to write heroes or heroines from very different cultural backgrounds to my own.

The loosely-linked series I’m currently working on is set in a small fictional town on the edge of the outback. I made a conscious decision when I began writing it that, while I didn’t feel qualified to write Aboriginal heroes or heroines (the issues surrounding the indigenous experience in Australia are very complex), I didn’t want Aboriginal people to be invisible. Nor did I want to succumb to the stereotypical images of Aboriginal people – either positive or negative. So, I have a major secondary character who will appear in all the novels (Adam) who is a Murri, and there are mentions and references to consulting with local elders, as a normal part of the way in which the community works. In the second novel, the hero will discover that his mother was Aboriginal, one of the ‘stolen children’ who never knew her own family due to the forcible removal policies that operated here until the 1970s. I won’t make a Big Issue out of it, but it is one facet of his journey to come to terms with his own life experience, within a fairly complex plot.

Will Adam ever get his own story? Probably not, because a) I don’t think I could adequately portray the experience of an Aboriginal man, and b) he’s still young, yet :-) But you never know… by the time I get to the end of the series, he may have his own HEA.

So, while I can only view indigenous issues through a white person’s eyes, and through the things Aboriginal people I know share with me, I hope that Aboriginal readers will regard it as a respectful view.


Anonymous said...

Bron, one of the reasons I'm so hesitant to describe my characters in any graphic detail is because of the power of imagination.
As a reader, I don't need to know that the hero is Anglo Saxon, Hispanic, Chinese, or African American. I invest myself, for the duration of 'their' story, to their unfolding relationship.
I've never imagined an ugly hero, nor an unattractive heroine, because to each other, they are beautiful and ideal. And so, to me.
Culturally? I would be hesitiant to portray any culture I'm unfamiliar with, simply because of my own ignorance of the unique nuances. I'm talking about nuances that would be easily identifiable to the race in question without being a clumsy stereotype.
Ye gads, I've babbled on far more than i intended and still didn't make a point.



thischristinex said...

And dangnabbit! I forgot to type in my name in the above post.