If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
It’s a pretty common phrase, and it’s one I’ve used myself. But I’m wondering if I should stop using it, at least in some circumstances.
I’m thinking of the problem of representation in fiction right now. I’m thinking about it quite a bit. I like to consider myself a socially responsible person, someone who’s aware of her privilege and does what she can to help others. So when I see evidence of serious problems with under-representation in fiction, I want to help. I want to be part of the solution.
But then my lily-white ass runs into commentary from people of colour (or from whatever other disempowered group) suggesting that my contributions may not be welcome. I don’t have the in-depth understanding of their cultures and communities to write authentically, and I don’t have the authority to point out that my portrayal was authentic to at least some parts of the community. What’s needed isn’t my voice, it’s #ownvoices.
And I’m a big sucky baby who’s just trying to help, so this stings a bit, but then I get over myself and start wondering, what can I do to help? I’ve been shown a problem, I’m a Type-A, goal-oriented, fixer type… what am I going to do?
Well, there are certainly some good suggestions out there. Allies should pressure their publishers/agents/others in power to open up to more diversity. I think that’s great, except I’m a midlist author on my best day and I don’t think my publishers or agents give a good goddamn what I think. (Well, my agent is a lovely woman and I’m sure she cares what I think – but not in a “put pressure on her” sort of way, if that makes sense). KJ Charles and her agent have made an offer to mentor/support two authors who will bring diversity, and I think that’s brilliant, but it’s KJ Charles! She’s obviously got a lot more value to add than I do.
What I’ve been thinking about lately (and this is absolutely an idea in flux, so please feel free to comment/disagree/refine) is that maybe this isn’t my problem to solve. Maybe I can be both not part of the solution and not part of the problem. Is it a sort of arrogance, possibly another expression of my privilege, to assume I have a role to play in every social issue that catches my attention? A White Saviour is not needed, here (or anywhere).
It feels wrong, like I’m stepping off to the sidelines and saying this isn’t my problem.
As a reader, I seek out diverse books. As a blogger (such as I am) and member of the writing community (such as I am) I will continue to seek out, respect and consider the opinions I hear from diverse voices.
As a writer of m/m, I will continue to struggle with whether my work is appropriative or fetishizing. If I come to the final conclusion that it is, I’ll try to be strong enough to stop writing it (but damn it, I’ll keep looking for reasons to believe it isn’t). I’ll continue to include diverse characters when I am confident I can present them in a respectful manner.
But by my current way of thinking, I won’t push myself to do to much more. I’ll support #ownvoices as I’m able, but I think I should be cheering from the sidelines on this one rather than on the field myself. Am I being lazy/cowardly/weak?