Should writers be able to write characters of other races and nationalities?
Should they be able to? Heck yes. I have no doubt that people definitely have the capacity to write characters of other ethnicities or cultures.
But should everyone be writing people of color that they themselves are not?
Yes and no.
Firstly, I say yes because as a woman of color I have grown up reading novels upon novels and watching many movies and shows with protagonists which are so different from me, both culturally and racially.
Nothing would make me happier than to see characters that look like me, talk like me, deal with cultural problems like me. Indian-Americans, such as myself, have fought the daily struggle of deciding if you’re too Indian or too American, or just trying to convince your very Asian parents that just because you had fun yesterday doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun today.
I want, no, I demand, that writers take it upon themselves to branch out of the usual cookie cutter and please add in more culturally inclusive main characters. Not side characters or minor characters because you don’t want to do the research required. Main characters.
But I say this with a word of caution, which brings me to all the reasons I have to say no.
While I would love to see more cultures represented on T.V., I will NOT stand for misrepresentation. Like, please, please, please do your damn research.
I’m sorry, but not every Indian I know has a thick accent like Raj from Big Bang Theory. Not all of us do yoga on Saturday mornings or wear a bindi. Not every Asian is smart. Not all of us want to be doctors or engineers. No, I don’t speak “Indian” and I am not “a Hindi”.
Please figure out the difference between Hindi and Hindu. Understand the fact that Indian people don’t speak Indian. Rather they speak Hindi, English, Hinglish (a recent development), Tamil, Telugu, and so much more. Because your poor writing will show. And I promise you, it’s not only rude to the people you’re writing about but it’ll reflect the poor research on your part.
And maybe it’s more convenient for you to write characters which resemble yourself. I know it’s ten times easier for me to write an Indian-American character than a Vietnamese one. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. What it does mean is that I’m going to buckle down, research the heck out of a nation’s history, interview close friends who may belong to particular groups, and figure out everything I need for my story to work.
So if you’re going to feed into stereotypes and promote biased, negative views of specific cultural or ethnic groups, hold off on writing people of color all together. But if you’re willing to do your research, understand the culture, come to know why certain things are the way they are, then by all means, please write a character from whatever group you want!