Authenticity, equality, and hope.

The question of authentic writing is a constant theme in my Multi-Culture Literature class. Mostly, it's a question of whether a writer of one ethnicity can write authentically about a character from another. There's also the related question: can a woman write authentically as a male character, and can a female write as a male?

Discussion has been animated, to say the least. At times it's verged on the acrimonious, and I'll admit I'm one of the most opinionated members of the class. My argument is that at our core we're all the same, all human, all thinking and feeling people. We've all experienced pain, loss, happiness and every other emotion on the spectrum. Also, not all people of a certain ethnic/cultural group are exactly the same, have had the same experiences. It's a gross over-simplification to say a member of one ethnic group can't write authentically about another when the individuals are so diverse.

One prime example is the Orange Award-winning Property by Valerie Martin. Martin, a white woman, writes about the volatile relationship between a plantation owner's wife with her husband's reluctant mistress, a slave. I've read the book, and it's excellent. Martin manages to portray both characters seemingly effortlessly, though I know much research must have gone into the writing in order for it to come off so well. And I've found no complaints from African Americans about the inauthenticity of the book, nor any remarks of offense at Martin's subject matter.


Valerie Martin is not the only writer to ever write authentically about those of another race. She's my example, because I've read her book. To say no writer should create characters of another ethnicity is to further the racial divide, to marginalize other ethnicities and cultures as though they're not capable of being understood. I don't believe that.

I believe the racial divide is shrinking, at least here in the United States. The color of a person's skin isn't the issue it used to be. We've elected a black president. Prior to that, we've had black persons in very high positions of power: Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, to name only two. We're becoming a nation true to our mission, that all men are created equal(ly).

Appropriate this topic should crop up on Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Known as the Great Emancipator, Lincoln was our Commander-in-Chief during the war leading to the abolition of slavery. Today is his 200th birthday. All over the country there are celebrations: readings of the Gettysburg Address, libraries presenting programs about the man and his life, as well as other special observations around the country.

We have come a very long way in this country. It isn't perfect, but it's certainly headed in the right direction. The time for healing is long past. All the hatred, the bloodshed, the segregation and prejudice have been a national shame far too long. But now, there's hope for peace and equality. Responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of Barack Obama. Whether Republican or Democrat, hopefully we can all agree his election is proof positive things are, at last, on the mend.


" He has stood that day, the world's foremost spokesman of popular government, saying that democracy was yet worth fighting for. He had spoken as one in mist who might head on deeper yet into the mist. He incarnated the assurances and pretenses of popular government, implied that it could and might perish from the earth. What he meant by "a new birth of freedom" for the nation could have a thousand interpretations. The taller riddles of democracy stood up out of the address. It had the dream touch of vast and furious events epitomized for any foreteller to read what was to come. He did not assume that the drafted soldiers, substitutes, and bounty-paid privates had died willingly under Lee's shot and shell, in deliberate consecration of themselves to the Union cause. His cadences sang the ancient song that where there is freedom men have fought and sacrificed for it, and that freedom is worth men's dying for. For the first time since he became President he had on a dramatic occasion declaimed, howsoever it might be read, Jefferson's proposition which had been a slogan of the Revolutionary War – "All men are created equal" – leaving no inference other than that he regarded the Negro slave as a man. His outwardly smooth sentences were inside of them gnarled and tough with the enigmas of the American experiment."

– Carl Sandburg

One thought on “Authenticity, equality, and hope.

  1. I completely agree with you. It is an individual thing, not everyone can pull off writing for another gender/culture/lifestyle/mindset – but some people can’t pull off writing their own type of character!
    There are writers who “get it” and getting it often transcends all social boundaries into just plain “humanity.”


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