Confessions of a Green Banana.

I don’t talk about my writing releases too much here, but I had the first book of a category romance series come out in January.

I also had the fantastic luck of being reviewed for the whole trilogy by a prominent romance review site.  The woman who runs the site is wonderful: intelligent, articulate, and just a cool person, from what I’ve read.   The people who read the site and comment seem fairly awesome, as well, and I was interested in their opinions.

In the third book in the trilogy, my heroine is half Chinese, half… well, not Chinese. (It’s left sort of vague.)

And in the comments, somebody called me on it.

Writing, literally, what I know.

The commenter remarked that “making characters half-something sounds kind of like whitewashing or toning down their race to make it more marketable.”  (She also remarked that she was not hating on bi-racial or multi-racial people, and I believe her: it was an observation more than a real rant.)

It brought up an interesting point, though, and I have to say it made me squirm even as it made me think.

The thing is, I am half Asian, half white, and proud to be what I usually call a “hybrid.”

I’ve written quite a few mixed-race characters.  I wrote a short story in an Asian romance anthology, that had a mixed-race Vietnamese heroine and a full Vietnamese hero. In my chick lit novels, which were usually trios of main POV characters, I’ve always included an Asian character — Chinese, Phillipina.  In Turning Japanese,  I wrote a character who was Japanese-Italian and goes to Tokyo to work at a manga (Japanese comic) publisher.

What’s going on here?

It wasn’t that I was whitewashing for the sake of acceptance or marketability.  With this particular series especially, but in category romance in general, I don’t think a pure Asian character is a drawback. (I could be wrong, but my editor’s never brought it up.)  I just always made the characters half-something.

Until the commenter’s post, I didn’t really look at why. I figured, it was what I know. We write what we know, right?

Now, I’m realizing

I write half-Asian characters because I’m somehow afraid I’m not Asian enough to write them believably.

Jesus.  Just that sentence was tough to type.

The trigger.

It was one review, and a good one at that.  One comment, and not anything scalding. (As a writer who has had a fatwah declared on her by a reviewer, I know from scathing, trust me.)

I just… I’m sort of gobsmacked that I never really thought about what I was doing. Or rather, really looked at the emotional rationale behind my choices.

Just sketching out this post, I suddenly remembered terms like Twinkie and banana (meaning “yellow on the outside, white on the inside” for those not up on the terminology.)  Both terms that frankly, nobody has ever called me in a non-joking manner.

Or, as another hybrid and I used to giggle to each other, rice crackers.

I remembered an incident I hadn’t thought of in years.  When I went to Berkeley, an Asian guy came up to me and asked, without preamble, “what are you?”

As if he had a right to know.

I also remembered I answered “Irish,” then stared his ass down until he slunk away.

Marinate.

Maybe I’ll write a full blooded Asian character down the line.  Maybe I won’t.  Racial identity is an element of my personality, I won’t pretend it isn’t.  But it’s a confusing one.

Noticing a “thing” is different than over-correcting and running hell-bent to “prove” something.

I don’t have to do anything.  Not right away.

I just need to sort of sit with it for a while.  And see what develops.

 

 

 

8 Replies to “Confessions of a Green Banana.”

  1. Be kind to yourself. 🙂

    Interesting, honest post.

    I write about a lot of races and a full spectrum of sexuality because my world is that. I often never SAY what someone’s race is–as if to say by not saying “Is it important?” When I wrote Double Down, TD was black in my mind, yet I don’t think you will see a single line in it referring to his race.

    My children are half Mexican, half white. One looks darker than the other two. One looks as IRISH as IRISH can be (and yet I am not Irish). I think she struggles with being “less Mexican” somehow. It is awful the way the world tries to box us into our identities. I tell my kids to be proudly Mexican-American, PROUDLY Hispanic . . . and sometimes I wonder if I make their white half “lesser” as a political statement in these hate-filled times.

    It’s a strange world we live in.

    E

  2. Very commendable, getting out your sentence. And I agree, knowing is worth a lot, and over-reacting would not be wise, or pure or honest, either.

    Race can be a tricky thing. A few years ago I followed along with a rereading of LOTR on the Tor website moderated by Kate Nepveu, who is Korean-American. She pointed out (without being overly dramatic or condemning) Tolkien’s racism leaking into the prose. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I had never noticed it.

    This got me thinking about race in regards to my own work. I certainly didn’t want to turn off any readers, let alone offend anyone. The conflicts in history I based my story on were largely rooted in racism. Will the fact that I’m a white male of Northern European ancestry writing a series in which most of the primary protagonists are Germanics – fair of hair and skin – caught up in conflicts with two other racial groups – based on the Romans and the Huns – leave some readers cold, or worse turn them off or offend some? God, I hope not. I decided to just be aware through the rewrite process, and not to overreact.

    It’s funny what will rattle our cages, get us thinking. That’s one of the things I love about this gig – the introspection and analysis of other viewpoints it inspires. Thanks for your honesty and insight, my mentor.

  3. I think this post is brillian: a great insight into what it’s like to have to deal with these sorts of issues.

    I’ve never had to experience this, but I have moved a lot between Australia and New Zealand, which I guess you could compare to the difference between Canada and America. A kind of friendly, and sometimes not so friendly, rivalry. And as a kid, moving between countries regularly, I found it tough being picked on just because I had a funny accent wherever I went (it kind of turned out Kwozzie).

    Thanks for the insightful post!

  4. It *is* brilliant and insightful! But I noticed something else, too. I think there are issues in our writing that we don’t realize we’re being vague about until we’re called on it. I have this vague uneasiness somebody could call me on something if they wanted to go to that much trouble – lol!

    What a gift to be made aware of this instance.

  5. I’m half Metis. In Canada, the Metis people are the result of decades of intermarrying in the 19th and 20th centuries between native Canadians, usually Cree, and Caucasians, usually French or Scots. My father’s family was Metis marrying Metis for 200 years, until his generation started marrying out. My mother’s family were Swedish immigrants. I didn’t know about my heritage until I was in my 40s, when a cousin began doing genealogical research. When I started to say, “I’m half Swedish, half Metis,” people would kind of demand to know if “half Metis” meant anything. As if the word they were hearing was the earlier, considerably less enlightened version, half-breed. Yeah, it does. The Metis are a people with a language and a culture. As are Swedes. And I’m the result of two people from unrelated backgrounds finding each other. I don’t feel Metis, but I don’t feel Swedish either. I feel like me, and me is where I create from. It’s everything I can do.

  6. What you write about is the issue all ‘Third Culture Kids’ face… and there are a lot of us out there! (third culture being the one you are as a mix of what your parents are and/or where you live vs where you were born etc) don’t stop!

  7. Thank you for sharing this post, Cathy. I can definitely relate to what you are saying. I am not bi-racial, but was often called a similar name – Suzy Q (chocolate on the outside, white on the inside) -because as an African American kid growing up in the inner city, my tastes in music, food, etc. were considered “white.”

    My protagonists are often similar in makeup. (Surprise!) I guess this is partly because of who I am. Though I do make a conscious effort to allow the reader to become engaged in the story before they become aware of the main character’s race.

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