Issues of race are one of the most sensitive topics in modern society, and people have to deal with them in all kinds of environments, including writing workshops. But what does it entail? In what ways the questions of race arise during these discussions and how do they influence their results?
To begin with, writers of color, be they students or professors, face a dilemma: on the one hand, they feel kind of obligated to speak up when the issue of race arises (after all, it is the issue of their identity, and they are supposed to be sensitive about it); on the other hand, they resent this responsibility (after all, don’t we live in the world where these issues should have already been resolved?).
While the majority of issues discussed at workshops are universal and can be perceived in the same way by anyone, there are cases in which some people have their own positions, defined not by their points of view, but by different life experiences. For example, a deaf man perceives the world in a way completely different from a man with normal hearing, and no amount of explanations will allow one of them to get into the shoes of another. They are simply different, have different perceptions of life and can only share their views but never fully understand each other.
The same goes for race. A person of color perceives the world in a way different from that of a white person; it doesn’t mean that he is worse off or better off, he is just different, and when it comes to the experiences, the chances are he simply knows better.
However, it is exactly what a lot of people don’t seem to understand. There are numerous cases when writers of color are told during these workshops that their characters are not what they are supposed to be – because they have a preconception that, for example, a Hindu character should be exactly like this, they cannot accept it to be different, even though this character is created by a writer of Hindu origin who is likely to have more insight into it.
On the other hand, sometimes the very fact that race is such a sensitive topic does a disservice to proper depiction of these issues. A lot of workshop leaders tend to avoid discussing race altogether for the simple reason that in modern world it is all too easy to offend someone. Thus, race becomes a taboo topic and popular misconceptions grow even stronger.
Either way, the color-blindness, the presupposed ideal of our society, becomes the first victim. If a person of color is asked to contribute during a workshop, all too often he is asked for exactly this reason – to get an opinion of a minority, not because his point of view is interesting or valuable in and of itself, but because it comes from him.
All this shows that we still have a long way to go.