So for the #90DaysBlogChallenge the prompt is ‘how do you feel about diversity in romance?’ I will broaden this and talk about fiction and non-fiction. A few years back I wrote about this, but a few things have happened within the last say four months, I really feel the need to address readers directly, rather than writers or even specific genres to answer this prompt.
Is fiction diverse enough? Short answer- yes in terms of the high numbers of writers of colour present, offering something different. I did a thirty day promo for male authors of colour in the summer, in the height of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I met some wonderful authors of colour during this time. Also the many non-authors of colour who appreciate diversity, and write using a diverse character line up, let’s not forget their input into creating diversity within fiction. Nope, I don’t believe it is diverse enough when you look at the number of authors of colour, who are signed to the big publishing houses, or household names that are outside of say Urban Fiction authors. There is a massive lack and I would love this to change.
But I want to focus on something different, to respond to this writing prompt: ebnotics that are purposely used in writing, by an author (who may also more likely be of colour). Who wishes to express themselves, who they are, or highlight who their character(s) are.
Readers: Ebnotics are not ‘errors’
Now I sincerely hope I don’t offend anyone, but most of you know me very well. I am not afraid to talk about race, be honest, or call out things how I see it. A few months ago I picked up a book by a African-American author he happens to write non-fiction. However I got really busy and bought the audio book to save time, and ensure that I read the book. Do you know the first thing he did in his opening chapters was say, ‘this is me, how I speak, I use ebnotics and my books published are not filled with typos, so don’t get in my reviews and talk s*hit’. I laughed so hard as I knew what he meant. Firstly, I had a review like this for a book of mine, when I decided to use ebnotic language to highlight how my character would really talk. They are there because I put them there, not because they are any kind of typo.
Fast forward a month or so ago, a African-American author friend of mine who is female, posted on Facebook ‘ all black female authors report to this post, I have a serious question’. I did not see the post but she messaged me and asked me ‘Kim what do you think of this, a BETA reader tried to say my character is too black.’
I read the small paragraph that this reader referred to, all my friend had done was show her character talking about her hair to a white man, that had never dated a black woman and referred to herself as a ‘sista.’ Which is what any black female would do, with no wrong doing here. To me it showed great character development as this is ‘how the character would talk.’ So my response to my friend was, ‘don’t you dare change your work, because that is how the character would talk, you know it and I know it, and you know it that’s why you wrote it. Readers who get this will not think or say ‘she’s too black’. It was totally good humoured also how she wrote it.
Fast forward, again I got another review on my same book saying that there are errors, nope my characters speak with ebnotics, and this was conscious choice of mine when I wrote the story, and I will not edit that out! It’s there for a reason.
I reflected on this, and I remembered when I wrote a Russian and Irish character using ebnotic language to reflect their accents, I had no problems what so ever! But as soon as it’s for a black character there’s a complete different story. The same for my fellow African American authors, across the Atlantic too. Me as a Black -British author I will embrace the ‘blackness’ in all my characters I write, always. I will also do the same for characters who are of another ethnicity. I don’t just write with one race of character if you’ve read anything of mine you’ll notice this.
My point here is this: readers who are not from the same background of the characters they are reading, or the author who wrote the book need to understand that:
1. Some authors of colour decide, wish to, want to, and do use ebnotics in their language and writing. And it is their choice and no error. So in a way no, diversity in fiction is still not there and there is a lot of work to do, if this is not recognised.
2. We will not ‘say or be sorry’ for embracing our blackness, within our characters, who are black and brown, or for using mother tongue words, styles, or even speech.
The fact that the male African American author had to state ‘ leave my language alone’, the African American female author had to question ‘ is my character too black or too fierce?’ And check in with her community. And then I decided to place in the blurb of my book ‘character’s in this book speak with ebnotics, and the author has made this choice’, shows me that when authors of colour embrace their roots, or use characters who they would like to see more of in their work there’ s a lack of appreciation, and regard for this and it then causes (some) of us to wonder if we should ‘tone ourselves down’, ‘question our work’, ‘make statements to show we embrace our ebnotics from our mother languages.’
Really all we’ve done is develop our characters in ways that are true to the characters and their speech, or nature.
What’s interesting is, these comments of ‘being too black’ and lack of understanding of ethic characters’ ebnotics in these examples are for books outside of Urban Fiction. Which makes me wonder, if all three of us were Urban Fiction authors would these comments happen? Probably not. Which is a damn, shame. I guess non-Urban Fiction authors are likely to have readers of different backgrounds to their characters, or even them as writers as they are writing more mainstream work for the masses. Why can’t authors of colour embrace ebnotics, blackness, and be free? We should never be pushed to question our work, or place disclaimers on books about the language used that some may not deem ‘correct English’ when we have decided to characterise and use ebnotics.
Personally, I love it and will continue to use ebnotics where needed with my characters, and really that’s the end of that. Secondly, my parents are of Caribbean descent, they were not born in the UK. My whole family speaks with ebnotics when they wish too, and not use correct English. I grew up listening to ebnotics in speech and understand it and can talk it myself well! So of course I will characterise my characters knowing full well what I am doing.
So dear readers, in case the memo was missed an author’s use of ebnotics in their work are not incorrect, editing issues, or there for any other reason than: they are placed there, by us, for us, and because we want them. We will continue to embrace black and browness where and how we wish to with no shame. It’s no different to an Irish, Russian, or London cockney accent, in real life, or in fiction or non-fiction writing. It’s who we are skin deep and we love it, and bring diversity with it.