One of my professors in grad school preached a lot about the danger writers might fall prey to the political correctness bug. While there is nothing wrong with being kinder and gentler as a society in our discourse with each other, being PC has not really had that effect. In fact, it appears to have had the opposite. People get into bitter discussions and vitriol flows freely in comment threads and on social media sites. If it sends the average Joe down that path, what is it doing to writers?
Brock Pope informs student writers this is a daily battle. We have to guard against it every time we sit down at the keyboard. The PC mentality is so engrained in our society that all rational thought leaves the building. Everything has become an attempt to ‘marginalize’ people. Recently, I had a scene with my detective, a Native Samoan. My critique partners both suggested it be cut as it was stereotyping. I trust my girls, and I always take their suggestions seriously. However, as writers we have to know when to fall back on our own counsel and what we know and have learned.
When I was going over the piece later, I kept hearing Pope ranting in my head against writers who cave to the pressure “not to offend” or to maintain a “PC” approach. Ultimately, I cut the bulk of the paragraph in question, not because it was stereotyping but because it was info dumping. I researched Native Samoans thoroughly and what I said was not stereotype but fact. There is a difference. When we make every male black character a basketball player, it’s stereotyping. They are not all brilliant basketball players, and they don’t even all like the sport. However, if I write an Italian character who talks with his/her hands, I am not stereotyping. Talking with our hands is a genetic factor in who we are. Attend my family reunions, you can pull major muscle groups dodging the arms.
What bothers me most about this PC culture is we’re slowly wiping out and demeaning our own histories. By demanding others not acknowledge who we are, we are also denying it. I grew up on Italian jokes, loved them, still do. Do we probably look silly talking with our hands? No doubt. But it’s part of who we are, and I wouldn’t change it anymore than I would my name. There are hazards to writing characters that have diversity. We’re encouraged to do it, yet told not to write characters outside our own culture. These things are in opposition. Trust writers to write. Allow them to create characters from any number of cultures, full of a richness that is part their culture and part their own unique personalities.
Writers today can spend too much time worrying about offending people and not enough time writing real characters. As writers, we must ignore the culture wars when we sit down to write. Otherwise, we are censoring our writing more than we’re editing.
How do you silence the inner editor who seeks to censor you?