Outside help

Today in the Antiracist Book Club, a frank and incredibly helpful essay recently posted on the UK site Media Diversified. Under the title “How to Write Women of Colour and Men of Colour if You are White,” Kayla Ancrum lays it all out in what amounts to a self-help kit for white writers. Seriously, I feel like she should be charging for this (except then I would never have seen it. And, by the way, Media Diversified deserves your support).

“When writing people of color,” Ancrum advises, “producing quality work comes down to three things. Research, Persistence and Consideration.” Using the example of a white author creating a Black woman character, she goes on:

It is important to start by trying your hardest to forget anything you think you know about black women and black female identity. As a white person, anything you would know about them you probably learned from media that is not controlled by or monitored by black women themselves. Meaning that it is likely not a good representation of black women at all.

Or maybe you just have a black friend.

This, you should consider in the same way you would a control group for a science experiment. One or two subjects would not provide conclusive evidence in regards to any hypothesis. Having one or two or even five black friends can’t help you with understanding the complex history of black discourse . . .

She follows this up with a sound suggestion: Go on social media and find out what sorts of portrayals get people of color really pissed off. “This can improve your writing,” she adds cheerily, “in that not only will you avoid being offensive, but you now have the chance to be progressive and kick stereotypes out the window!” Read the rest of the post for, among other things, Ancrum’s discussion of how white guilt can turn into white defensiveness and prevent us from educating ourselves.

I think something I really love about this post is its pragmatic nature. It makes me happy to think that my whiteness, which handicaps my writing, is something that can be addressed, understood, and (though never solved) dealt with. And that I can learn to write better books. Hooray!


  1. Kayla Ancrum says:

    Oh my gosh! This is the nicest thing ever! I’m so glad you enjoyed my article and that what I said rang true for you.

    Also, I’m reading about your book right now and it sounds absolutely fantastic so far. I may just have to pick up a copy. :]

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