Life's like a movie. Write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending. -Kermit the Frog
When I was a little kid, I loved Bugs Bunny, Kermit the Frog and my God, I wanted TO BE Miss Piggy, she was so awesome!
I wondered if I'd ever be as smart as Bugs and I wondered if Kermit and Miss Piggy were for real married... but the one thing I never wondered about when it came to these characters was "race".
And that was the cool thing about cartoon animals- their personalities were key, their personalities were what made audiences fall in love with them.
This makes sense because personality is what brings a character to life, right? It's what makes them more real.
This brings me to a question that kind of bothered me a lot yesterday:
If personality is the main ingredient in bringing a character to life, then why do so many writers feel uncomfortable creating a character whose race is different from their own? In other words...why is race such a big deal when personality is of paramount importance?
It seems like the problem may be that many popular television shows and a good bit of the humor offered by popular comedians teach us that people within certain race/cultural backgrounds have similar personalities and interests.
So, if I don't frequently associate with real people who are identified with a particular race/cultural background, then I, quite naturally, subconsciously defer to the prevailing stereotypes pumped out by pop culture.
After thinking about this way too much yesterday, I came to this conclusion: Unintentional stereotyping can lead, even the open-minded writer, to viewing people of other races as foreign creatures. And writing from the perspective of a foreign creature is an arduous task.
It's too bad that stereotyping based on race is so prevalent within pop culture because, as we all know, in reality everyone has a personality type.
Mine is "INFP" (click here for the definition of an INFP personality) but I happen to have dark skin and live in the southern hemisphere of the United States of America. My personality type has nothing to do with the color of my skin or the place where I live. Yes, it is affected by these outside influences, but the core of who I am does not change.
There are Irish INFP's, Polish INFP's, Italian INFP's, Asian INFP's, etc... and if I had lunch with any of my fellow INFP's I have a feeling we'd get along pretty well because we share the same personality type/interests.
The Solution- Well, a Tiny Part of the Solution
It took me a while to realize this, but when I got to be about 16 or so it finally occurred to me that when people see me, they oftentimes don't really see me, they see a black girl and assumptions are made based on the color of my skin.
When I'm writing, I don't have to be a girl who is judged first and heard second. Instead, like an actor whose appearance somehow allows them to play any role imaginable, when I'm writing I can become whoever I want. It's exciting and liberating.
Similarly, when I read about characters whose background and way of life are different from mine, it's exciting! And if a character's personality draws me in, I won't stop to question the author's authenticity by thinking, "Wait a second, the author and the main character aren't the same race, how can I trust that this is an accurate depiction?!" That question is irrelevant because race is just a tiny part of a person's culture and an even tinier part of what makes a person a person...when you get right down to the root of what human beings are, we're just personalities squished inside of bodies. Regarding storytelling, the body containing the personality doesn't matter all that much- it's the personality that's of key importance.
So, I think Kermit's right, we should keep believing in the value of our fellow humans, viewing each other, not as foreigners, but as neighbors who we can relate to. And we should keep pretending, this is what helps us relate to each other and in so doing, promote unity.
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