Free Speech, Recommended, Top Stories

Why Do People Tell Me I’m Not Allowed to Write?

When I first started writing, it was on something of a dare. In 8th grade my friends and I ate lunch in the librarian’s office in the school library. We’d had enough of the cafeteria, with its cliques, nasty comments, and seating hierarchies. Since one of us worked in the library helping shelve books (it wasn’t me), we bought our ice creams and fries in the lunch line and hightailed it to the bright, lovely library that took up the center core of the building. Picture The Breakfast Club‘s library, but sized down for middle school.

These library girls were badass. The wittiest, smartest, cattiest, snarkiest girls and I sat around the librarian’s conference table, and with the doors closed, we could say anything we wanted. What we mostly wanted to talk about would have gotten us into trouble in the lunch room, and one day Bree said we should write a story together, incorporating some of this material. I think it was Bree, but it might have been me.

We took out some loose leaf and started working on this story together. I found this intoxicating. Not just the content, which at the time was obscene but in retrospect seems all candy canes and lollipops, but this secret process of writing. We didn’t tell anyone about it. That night I took the pages home, and added some new details pulled straight from the pages of the Esquire magazine my father kept in the bathroom. The next day at lunch the pages were passed around, and we ate in silence, each girl reading. It was my first experience with collaboration and writing, and I didn’t want it to stop.

We passed the story around for a few weeks before Jenny’s mom found out and called my mom, who freaked out and searched my room for the pages, since Jenny said I was the one who had them. I’d unceremoniously dumped them in the little pink trash can under the desk in my room. Obviously that was the first place she looked, and my ass was grass. I got yelled at forever, basically, and hit too, because people did that back then. The upshot, when it was all over, was that I wasn’t allowed to write anymore. It was absolutely forbidden. The idle mind, it turns out, was the devil’s playground, so we were going to have to pave it over. My parents tried, anyway. I found myself out raking leaves in our pretty suburban yard every evening after sundown, with the task of raking until I was finished. I’d rake in long, neat rows, and in the ascending, New English fall moonlight I would compose vignettes and commit them to memory.

It served me well to write this way, to remember stuff, to recite it to myself so I wouldn’t forget it. In this way I have my own oral history, poems passed down from my ancestor youth, that rise to the surface like song lyrics. Writing was pretty much my whole deal after that. And I became a student of story.

My high school English teacher said, “Write what you know,” and told us about how in World War II, marching around Europe, he always had a paperback in his back pocket. He said books let him travel, transported him to somewhere else, and I thought of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a story that every American middle school kid had to read for a while. I thought, “Okay, so what do I know?” I started writing to see if I knew anything. I watched people, and I listened. I would try to write down real conversations I’d had with my parents, discerning want and motivation, but also sorting out what my childhood was about, thinking about where I came from, about the things that had happened to me. I found out that I didn’t know too much, but I could learn.

It became natural for me to write about anything that came to mind, anything I thought was compelling. And because much of what I wrote was in the form of dialogue, I figured I should write plays. I went to college to do just that.

The Performing Arts Center at Sarah Lawrence College was my second favorite place on campus, after the library. I wrote about my experiences, and I looked up to the amazing grad students who were in a few of my workshops. I wrote what I knew, all the love, joy, and fury of disaffected youth. I felt I was involved in an incredible process, wherein I could take everything that had happened to me and figure out how I wanted to tell the story. I decided to be the main character of my own life.

I had professors who encouraged me to not care at all about what anyone would think, not an audience, not family, not friends, to not worry about who I might offend or insult, to just write. I took it to heart, and more than that I respected the artistic and intellectual integrity of the impulse. We all did, and the work coming out of these sessions was really strong. Nothing was off the table. We wrote about hating our roommates, even though half the room knew those girls, we wrote about our own drug use, our parents, the pressure we felt, and while it sounds like therapy, what we were doing was honing our ability to tap emotion in service to story, which is essential when you’re writing drama. We were method writers, we wrote what we knew, and what we knew was how we felt, and we knew that feeling was universal. Our backgrounds mattered with regard to the characters we wrote and the stories we told in as much as they were personal to us, and infused the stories we were writing with that much more of our own guts. But while these backgrounds were a door that each of us could walk through, and kaleidoscope visualize our pasts, they were not restrictive. They did not prohibit any of us from walking through a different door in our imagination. We could travel anywhere.

This glorious 20th century attitude of freedom of expression and individual drive did not make it with me to grad school. I went to grad school because I didn’t know what else to do after five years in the work force that sought to crush me to death with meaninglessness and horrifying boredom punctuated with happy-hour-long bouts of rage. That and I was invited. I’d been doing indie theater in New York for a few years and I wanted the chance to focus on making that work full time, even if it was only for the course of my study.

My experience in grad school started out really well. The nine writers in my year were tight, and we were open, and we had incredible writing professors who pushed until we broke apart and had to rebuild ourselves. We talked about the nature of the theatrical art form, and felt fully that we were at school to add to the intellectual and artistic discourse in the medium.

Talk started building through the academic theater community that there was something wrong with casting directors, and we had to do something about it. The issue was that when a white playwright’s work was produced, casting directors were assuming that they should cast white actors. We were all aghast. That was so exclusionary! As a method writer, I wrote for actors, still do. My favorite thing is when an actor tells me they want to play one of my characters. We did not want our work to be made unavailable to actors on the basis of some casting director’s prejudice. The horror, really. So we writers in our square-tabled room on the 6th floor of Columbia’s Dodge Hall decided to get it sorted. The white writers in the room started adorning the character list pages of our scripts with words to the effect of: Unless otherwise specified, actors can be of any race or ethnicity.

That was the thing for a while, but then the more we started to think about it, and to hear back from the community at large, and by “we” I mean basically the entire student body and faculty of all of the grad school drama departments in American universities, which was also “the community,” it turned out that our simple phrase on a character page was insufficient, and even a little bit racist.

By saying the characters could be of any racial or ethnic background, we were saying that they weren’t specific to any of them, and if they weren’t specific to any of them, in the era of critical race and gender theory, then we were basically erasing their identities. Not cool, thought we. After that, we made absolutely sure to designate characters with specific racial or ethnic labels in order to force casting directors to cast across racial lines.

The idea then became that we needed to give specific thought and consideration to a character’s race and ethnic background before we wrote them—that these identifiers were in fact so essential to every human being that they needed to be set before we created the character so that we didn’t risk writing up someone of a specific identity wrong. The idea was that if you simply conjured a character up out of your imagination and began writing about them without knowing about their background, your own bias would have an unhealthy impact on the way the character was written. For the white writers in the group, the risk we were teaching ourselves to avoid was the possibility of writing, say, a black character without adequately understanding the black American experience.

Given the prevalence of privilege theory at the time, and the concern over the unconscious bias inherent in whiteness, this was an acute concern. I started to ask myself, “Can a white writer ever write black characters in an honest and truthful way?” In the past, I had written black characters based on people I knew, as well as black characters made out of whole cloth in my imagination, as well as characters who were Asian or Hispanic. Now I started to think that I hadn’t done enough research, that perhaps my plays that featured black, or other racial or ethnic minorities, were unintentionally biased. This bias could be made apparent if the character adhered too closely to cultural stereotypes about their race. Which would be bad, obviously, and show that the character was more a conglomeration of biases than an artistic creation.

This was a serious, academic arts concern, and it spilled over into the indie scene. I wasn’t the only one tying myself up in knots trying to figure out if I was a racist asshole too steeped in whiteness to ever again pick up a pen. Slews of blog posts abounded on my social media feeds decrying white people who wrote badly about characters who were not white as a direct result of their privileged whiteness. It was morally reprehensible, was the idea, it constituted erasure, and white people had been shitty to people of color for long enough.

After my experience in childhood of being told not to write because what I was writing was immoral, I was getting the same message as an adult. There were things I should not write about because it was immoral.

In the community, this morphed from the idea that white people were incapable of accurately writing black and other racial and ethnic minorities so don’t even try, into a situation where a writer who was steeped in any kind of perceived privilege should not write a character who is perceived by the metric of the hierarchy of oppression to be less privileged than them. Meaning that a cis-white-het female writer would find it extraordinarily difficult to create a character who was a trans black queer female, because she just didn’t have the bandwidth to bridge the gap between the two identities. Writing what you know became don’t write about identities that don’t match your own unless you seek insight and take direction from someone who identifies as that identity. A whole new profession sprung up overnight: sensitivity readers.

I saw a post from a person who does this as a side hustle. She had read a writer’s play and had some critiques from the perspective of critical race and gender theory. She is a talented writer, and I was interested in her view, but what really struck me was her note that race is more than just skin deep. I thought about this, and something about it didn’t ring true. If race is something that is meaningful in deeper ways than skin tone, okay, but what are those things, how are they defined, how are they quantified? How is a writer supposed to include all the features of a character that define them as belonging to a particular racial group without creating a character that is just a conglomeration of biased stereotypes about their race?

So that’s how we got to where we are now. The American indie and academic theater has come to the conclusion that it is racist for a white writer to only write plays about white people and racist for a white writer to write plays with racial and/or ethnically diverse characters.


Libby Emmons is a writer and theatre maker in New York. She is co-founder of the Sticky series and blogs at 
li88yinc.com. You can follow her on Twitter @li88yinc.

122 Comments

  1. One of the best depictions of birth and motherhood that I’ve ever read was written by a gay man. (Johnathan Odell in The Healing) Talk about writing outside one’s personal experience! I see the whole problem with this mess as a lack of understanding what it is to be an empathetic, open person. Even young children can be seen stepping outside their gender/race/experience to love others. This business of nailing us all into place based on our birth and family of origin is robbing us of too much!

    Thank you for writing this.

    • Lady Amelia says

      It not only robs us, it is inherently racist and sexist. If someone was to say that black actor’s could only play roles that had been written as black characters there would quite correctly be outrage. This “stay in your lane” nonsense is equivalent to “woman, know your place” and must be broken.

    • This makes me think.
      If we want harmony between different groups of people, then we have to make sure there are authentic interactions between those groups, and we have to do this through the individuals that belong to those separate groups… But then if we don’t allow *any* room for failure in these interactions, the Individuals will almost always prefer to stay safe in their own ingroup interactions as much as humanly possible.

      This *will* lead to more outgroup conflicts…

      Another example of how “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

      Your comment allowed for this articulation to a great extent, thanks for that.

    • david of Kirkland says

      The view from the outside is often the best view…sort of like how all science works, observing from the outside.

  2. Reminds me of the Gilmore Girls. Great writing. Criticized for featuring a nearly all-white cast set in a nearly all-white part of the country. People who don’t share your box in the intersectional grid… can’t write with ’em, can’t write without ’em!

    • david of Kirkland says

      As there are white people who live in mostly white areas, stories about reality can be told.
      In the end, who cares if others criticize? Criticism is something you have to take along with appreciation.

  3. Itzik Basman says

    Since cultural appropriation insists on being true to our own experience in our art, then how does anyone write about anything except their own experience?

    That absurd logical conclusion, I argue, exposes the inherent self refutation in the idea of cultural appropriati

    • david of Kirkland says

      And I am pretty sure that a white male, for example, experiences interactions with women and people of “color.” I’ll bet that a black person can comment on white people just fine without having to be lambasted for sharing that perspective.
      When in Rome, do as the Americans do so as not to be culturally insensitive by trying to be sensitive to their culture!

  4. Joshua Yonkin says

    An “academic arts concern” sounds like a major concern to art by definition. I would like to have read an essay with a clear thought out response to what appears to be an absurd mandate placed on the author by certain social pressures. I don’t like the idea of morally conscious art or politically correct art, it becomes something more like propaganda in the end. However, I have written a screenplay set in the early 19th century surrounding Andrew Jackson and the war he fought against the “Red Stick” Indians. If this TV pilot was ever to go further into development, I would want feedback from the ancestors of these tribes because the nature of the story involves direct racial conflict and our shared history as people. I don’t think, though, an author should be held to a strange preoccupation with identity politics, it seems like a very limiting frame of mind to create from.

    • E. Olson says

      Joshua – do you accurately know the beliefs, feelings, and daily behaviors that your great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents held in 1813-14? I certainly don’t, and as far as I know there are no letters or histories from that time that would help me know who my very distant ancestors were beyond basic ethnicity, religious affiliation, and age at the time. So what would asking the descendants of the Red Stick Indians offer you regarding the accuracy of your portrayal? Rather than being able to provide any accurate history, isn’t it far more likely that they (and you as a script writer) would provide their/your current politically correct beliefs, feelings and simply project them (with slight adjustment perhaps) to the people of the distant past? Does this actually make your script more historically accurate or authentic versus looking at the private papers and histories (to the extent they exist) of those involved that were written at the time or shortly thereafter? Of course the danger of actually doing real research on historical events is that the actual truth may not be very appealing to our current politically correct sensibilities involving racial and ethnic diversity and gender roles, which is likely why it is so seldom done.

      • Good questions, E Olsen. The real reason one would ask for ‘feedback from the ancestors of these tribes” is of course to virtue signal that you are sufficiently woke to belong to the “club” and also so your stuff isn’t blacklisted.

        I find the entire concept extraordinarily offensive, to use their term. For instance, I’d be appalled if someone asked me to give them feedback about Jews in the shtetl in the 1800s, as though the memory of their lives were in my blood and I were magically able to divine their experiences. It’s very dehumanizing.

        • @ d yes and no. Many native bands (as they are called where I grew up) still possess an oral culture. Mind that Jewish culture has been literate for thousands of years while in North America no tribe that we know of had a writing system (there are hieroglyphs but who left them is unknown).They pass down the stories from their ancestors. Just because you are not connected to your great-great-great-grand parents does not mean others are not. For them such a thing would not be at all dehumanizing it would be affirmation.

    • JC Calhoun says

      I believe you meant to say that you would want to have feedback from descendants, rather than ancestors. I happen to live among the people who have rapidly-diminishing portions of Creek indian blood…they would have no idea of their ancestor’s attitudes other than that which is taught in fourth grade history in public school. Though often highly polarized, you will find authentic material that is contemporaneous to Jackson/Weatherford much more effective than interviews with descendants.

  5. Autonomous Coward says

    In the past brave writers wrote about stuff society didn’t want them to write about and damned the torpedoes. Just write about the stuff you want to write about and damn the torpedoes

    • TarsTarkas says

      I read it previous to commenting on this particular thread, and have other rants by Larry Correia on his blog. He is a riot! Also has lived one interesting life.

      I find it interesting that the sensitivity readers have absolutely no time or interest to edit or comment on the racist and bigoted rants of the people they agree with.

      If I was ever challenged about cultural appropriation, I would shoot back, ‘Stop speaking in English!’ and ‘The First Amendment was written by dead white slaveholders, so can I safety ignore when dealing with a**holes like you?’ That’s the best I can do in Correia-speak.

  6. Dennis says

    Maybe you just need to leave the bizarre religious cult you call the “American indie and academic theater” and just write whatever the hell you want without caring about their approval.

    • Heike says

      But that’s the support system. How is anyone going to get press and sell tickets without them?

      That’s a lonely existence you propose. Otherized by the Left for being a heretic towards their secular religion, and the Right was long ago cast out of theater and the arts in general. Not much of an audience left there.

    • Lightning Rose says

      What Dennis said. BTW, you have NEVER been freer to publish anything you like given the self-publishing platforms on Amazon and elsewhere. You no longer need an agent or mass-market publisher to have your voice heard. HAVE AT IT!!!

  7. Fickle Pickle says

    Maybe its true that someone who grows up and lives in the bubble of whiteness, especially the white privilege of Columbia cannot in any sense write from the felt-perspective of someone with a brown skin.
    To one degree or another I suspect that James Cone (the truth-telling theologian), Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and many other brown skinned writers would argue such a case.

    On her blog Libby reviews the movie Easy Rider criticizing it for having no discernible plot and that it somehow was promoting a self-centered me first approach to life.

    Never mind that all of American culture is based upon and reinforces such a self-centered way of life.
    The Golden Golem of Greatness and life long professional Grifter being the now-time prime example.

    Some inter-related comments:
    The novel is the principal cultural example/expression of the dreadfully sane self-centered individual. With very rare exceptions every novel revolves around the authors separate self.

    Never mind that there are no separates selves here – none!
    Everyone and everything always spontaneously arises simultaneously.
    How then can anyone possibly comprehensively define where they begin and end.

    Such a solidified self-identity was/is the product of the European “Enlightenment”. As indeed does the essentially adolescent self-centered whats in it for me nature of libertarian economics and culture. Ayn Rand was of course the principal “apostle” of such. The supposed “virtue” of selfishness.

    In one way or another the various early modernist novelists attempted to expand and even escape their self-encapsulated prison.
    The single vision of Newton’s left-brained reason and the mind-forged-manacles created by that single vision.

    Some of the great literary works of the 20th century do not have a discernible plot..
    Three examples Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, the writings of Samuel Beckett and the various novels of Thomas Pynchon

    • david of Kirkland says

      Because if you have “brown skin” your experiences are the same as all others so labeled.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Great by whose standards? IMO Joyce’s novels, Beckett’s prose, and Pynchon’s novels are incomprehensible and unreadable.

      However I agree that although a plot can help a novel, it isn’t necessary. Only an SJW would insist that it have ‘plot’ (meaning a politically-correct goal-driven plot, where the bad guys are all White cisgender Maga-hatted crazy evil bastards and everyone on the other side is diverse and unutterably and boringly virtuous).

    • Jin Molnar says

      yeah, at a second or third stage of Jhana meditation the self may not have any enduring qualities, but as far as I can tell, everybody who participates in the monetized economy has to – at the very least – employ one. The utility worker who keeps the water running and the nag who cooks your lunch don’t typically show up to work without themselves.

  8. D.B. Cooper says

    In 8th grade?

    – Because 14 year-olds are generally discouraged from composing explicit/offensive narratives.

    In the academic theater community?

    – Because you’re white.

  9. Dan Love says

    2nd grade rationality is enough to refute this crap. A white middle class suburbanite knows much more the experience of a black middle class suburbanite than that of a white Siberian rural miner. So what?

    Identity politics is bigotry.

    “cis-white-het female”… I don’t even want to know what that is.

  10. Blasè says

    The thing is, if you’re writing fiction, the writer and the writer alone gets to decide the ENTIRE life experience of the character regardless of their perceived identity. You created the character, their backstory and therefore their worldview. It doesn’t have to be realistic, it doesn’t have to be even close because it’s fiction. The writer OWNS the character and can stand by every single thought or action or they think or do because the character is born of its author. It’s fiction. It’s not real life. What’s wrong with people?!

    • Saw file says

      @Blas’e
      Absolutely agree.
      But after reading 4000+ fiction books, what would I know?
      (btw:+800 non-)

    • david of Kirkland says

      True, but if want acceptance, you need to write what the readers will pay for. Criticism is part of the game. If what you write has no audience, then you can blame the audience, but that doesn’t make your position any stronger.
      If you write what you want to write, then you don’t care about what others think.

    • Yeah. Larry Corriea’s take on this issue (referenced above) is way better.

  11. E. Olson says

    So let me get this straight. Your parents discouraged you from writing because you wrote “mean girl” stories since that is what you knew, but your love of writing could not be thwarted until you went to graduate school to “learn how to write” where you were told that everything you could possibly write would be racist, and hence you should probably not write because it will likely offend someone or some group. If my interpretation is correct, the only remaining question I have is about sensitivity readers. Are you supposed to get a sensitivity reader who is gay, black, Hispanic, elderly, athletic, lazy, male, etc. to cover each and every demographic of the characters in your writing that is different from your own background, or is it just done by some middle-aged women with MFAs who can’t sell their own writing output?

      • TarsTarkas says

        Translation: Don’t write because you’re inherently and irremediably bigoted.

        But we can write anything we want to because we’re punching up.

    • Tersitus says

      Another communicable social disease borne on the idiot wind— get a mask and be sure not to touch anyone. Maybe Lloyd’s will write you a liability policy covering all manner of imagined wrongs.

    • @ E. Olson My guess, a non-white/cis MFA who can’t sell their own output.Not to put them down: I found an excellent article in the Atlantic Monthly titled “The Single Story Problem” that sums up why. Publishers & Agents appear to want stories about non-white characters so long as that story checks the boxes of the oppression narrative. They aren’t looking for the next LA Banks (who wrote vampire stories set in urban black enclaves).

  12. I have my MFA and am a writer. I went to a less-Koolaid-laced MFA program than the writer (columbia is infamous).

    Just to translate, ‘indie’ theatre is theatre that doesn’t make money and relies on gov’t grants or wealthy donors, often mom and dad and their friends. So right there, even if it is wonderful theatre, it is set up for corruption, either through gov’t or through being upper class and ignoring the class (which is very prevalent–the writers are frequently, with rare exceptions, from the upper class and/or intellectual classes and absolutely blind to that, so immersed are they in racial hierarchies).

    Anyway, I’ve seen this coming too and I mistakenly thought it would stay in indie theatre. But no. This is the problem. This insanity has spread its ugly wings to most of Young Adult literature and fantasy (which is supposed to be for profit), supposedly main-stream plays/musicals being produced right now in New York, poetry–And it will only continues.

    The Soviet Union produced crap art because they were interested only in their dogma, not in art. The pseudo-Marxists here, who firmly believe that art is propaganda as opposed to art, who firmly believe ‘everything’ is political (ignoring philosophy, science, religion, and so on), who are blind to not only social class but real humanity, who see art as a way to establish their own power in the hierarchy they suck up to—they are the same as the Soviet Union, Maoist china and so on. Except that there’s no guns forcing them. They are doing this out of their own free will!

    Here’s my suggestion to the author. No one is preventing you from writing. What they are preventing you from doing is writing *in their collectivist community.* So the solution is to get out of that community. Since playwriting is subsidized heavily, that will be very difficult. I’d suggest writing a book if you can. But if you can’t and you must write plays, produce them yourself. Find other likeminded people (they exist). Write what you want. The only thing you would be missing is prestige from within this collectivist group that literally 99% of people don’t care about. If you can shake this off, you will be free.

    • E. Olson says

      d – nice comment. Sort of reminds me of the US news media that totally ignored the center and right side of the political spectrum and gave Fox News a complete monopoly for that “niche” representing about 75% of the TV audience. Perhaps plays wouldn’t need to be subsidized if they occasionally took a Rightist perspective on some issue, or better yet focused on offering a good entertaining story devoid of all “wokeness”.

    • ga gamba says

      What they are preventing you from doing is writing *in their collectivist community.* So the solution is to get out of that community. Since playwriting is subsidized heavily, that will be very difficult.

      Indeed. Might I suggest the author of How to Sell Your Gang Rape Baby* *for Parts follow up with How I Blew Up My Off Off Broadway Theatrical Career to Sell Articles About My Oppression to the Fascists.

      Write what you know, so they say.

      Now, some may say I’m being skeptical, or even offensive, but I reckon the award winning author of the “Most Offensive” play in Jacquetta Szathmari’s Festival of the Offensive in 2014 is tough enough to take it.

      Years ago I, an alumnus, was asked to conduct interviews of the school’s overseas applicants. Doing so, I found every single woman had the same story about needing to study abroad to challenge her homeland’s male-dominated culture. It was as if each girl was given the same cheat sheet. “Say this. It’s admissions officers’ catnip.” I mention this because I think the same sameness of thought has infested other domains including the creative arts. When was the last time you were genuinely delighted, surprised, or, dare I hope, astonished by the creative community? In the English language, Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire did so for me – that’s about a decade ago. I’m viewing Korean films nowadays for interesting stories.

      What passes for creativity nowadays is casting, i.e. the recasting of well-established characters. “007 had better be a Dravidian woman with cerebral palsy!” Books’ characters are denounced for “not being authentic” as if each person of the people of has the same experience and thoughts. The same damn complaint is leveled at chefs’ recipes, fer crissakes. It’s as if the Bechdel test has run amok and the world of artistic criticism and production is dominated by those whose skills are chiefly counting, recognising colours, and determining whether the person is a boy person, a girl person, or a something else person. The skills of 4-year-olds.

      Reading reviews of Ms Emmon’s work and viewing a scene of her play posted on Youtube, I find she’s doing pretty much what everyone else viewing the world through the feminist lens is doing. In and of itself there’s nothing wrong about that, but she’s one of a large and ever expanding gaggle of women saying the same very limited things. It’s tough to breakout from the pack in such an environment, and with Harvey Weinstein sidelined who’s one to suck off for the leg up over the competition nowadays?

      Genuine creativity is a rare thing, far more rare than the number of people pursuing creative careers. Good thing for them most entertainment is derivative. Not everyone can be Andy Kaufman.

      The American indie and academic theater has come to the conclusion that it is racist for a white writer to only write plays about white people and racist for a white writer to write plays with racial and/or ethnically diverse characters.

      If you beat your cohort to the punch there’s a lot to satirise there. If you dare.

      • E. Olson says

        GG – as usual a very insightful comment. Your satire subject suggestion sounds very much like a Woke writer version of Heller’s Catch 22: “If one is crazy, one does not have to fly missions; and one must be crazy to fly. But one has to apply to be excused, and applying demonstrates that one is not crazy. As a result, one must continue flying, either not applying to be excused, or applying and being refused.”

    • Charl says

      d – absolutely. Political correctness is the new manners: the way the upper classes distinguish themselves from the lower classes in order to keep the lower classes out of the ranks of the upper.

      UK publishing is similarly obsessed with identity politics. Yet good luck getting a publishing contract if you didn’t go to Oxford.

      As for the author of this article – move to a smaller city. Other cities have theater groups where they are oblivious to identity politics nonsense. Not only that, but you will enjoy much cheaper living costs. Try Buffalo, New York or Pittsburgh or some other city that is experiencing growth and renewal. Building connections may take more time but they will be deeper ones. However I also agree with the adage to write what you know.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Does America have an upper class? I would have said that it doesn’t, and that the lack of such a class was a boon when America was on the way up but is a curse now that it is on the way down.

  13. Gender, race, and sexual orientation are only really specified by the story. I like to cite the example of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea”. This writer has been congratulated for being one of the first fantasy writers to use dark-skinned individuals as protagonists. But the skin color of the characters is only mentioned once in a descriptive passage. Race is not really an issue in her fantasy world so most readers quickly forget that minor descriptive detail. The movies based on the book complete ignore the specified skin color of the characters.

    Elements of a character’s identity will be erased if it does not factor into the story. But it is not so much that identity is erased as it is irrelevant to the story.

    • TarsTarkas says

      I suspect she was basing her characters on Polynesians, and the Kargs on Norse.

  14. O. R. Ange says

    I’ve always been curious about the flip side of this. It’s problematic for a white person to write about someone outside of their group, but does that work the other way? My assumption is no.

    There is something to be said for the beginning of this article about writing as a child. When you are writing as a child or young adult you are never much worried about achieving fame. It’s hard for me to disconnect these groups of artists from what seems their desire to achieve fame or recognition rather than just creating for the sake of art.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Indeed, you are free to write what you want. You are not free to have others show interest in it. You are not free from criticism.
      It’s fair to grumble back, of course, as it’s just your criticism of their actions. You can even write a book about it! But the sooner you accept live and let live, that liberty allows others to behave as they see fit without regard to how you wish them to behave, and that the world isn’t for you, about you, or with you as a central character.

      • Peter from Oz says

        David
        ”that liberty allows others to behave as they see fit without regard to how you wish them to behave,”
        I agree, but the problem is that so many ”others” are try to circumscribe how we behave. I say we therefore must do our best to take away their liberty, with extreme prejudice. Then they may appreiciate ours. All those who are offended must be denied a voice in politics. All those who call for the dismissal of someone for racist, sexist or homophobic comments, must themselves lose their livelihoods on the basis of being self-righteous gits. Those who would judge others on the basis of a left-wing viewpoint must themselves be judged and found wanting.
        Sinistra delenda est!

    • D.B. Cooper says

      @O.R.

      It’s problematic for a white person to write about someone outside of their group, but does that work the other way? My assumption is no.

      Forgive me for being cynical about your cynicism, but as assumptions go, I’m fairly confident you would find a consensus on both the Right and the Left – sadly, it should be said.

  15. Wentworth Horton says

    Yeah, we get it, a batshit insane ideology has grown like a tumor into the institutions of Arts, Media and Education. And if you are Canadian your taxes feed that tumor. How genuinely comforting is that? To the sundry Profs, writers, bloggers, et al, who come here to detail their new found awareness, congratulations. You are catching up to a 59yr old logger who barely made it through grade 12.

    • Tersitus says

      How ‘bout a Candadian Culural Revolution— send the professors to camps to log timber, and tenure the loggers to teach our child how to endure a few splinters.

  16. That you are perceptive enough to create characters from your experience is what makes you a writer. This talent allowed Tolstoy to write ANNA KARENINA. Go have a drink to clear your mind of this nonsense, and then continue on!

  17. Marian Hennings says

    The idea that whites can only write about whites, but it would be racist and exclusionary to do so, seems designed to tell whites not to write about anyone. I hate to think of the plays and novels we would not have as part of our literary heritage if this had been the standard throughout history.

    • E. Olson says

      Marian – thanks for reminding us of our racist literary heritage – sounds like its time for a good old fashioned book burning of all that white racist literature.

      • david of Kirkland says

        There’s little reason to burn books. They are being published more than ever, while being read by smaller populations. If reading were a thing, journalism and writing would pay.

  18. weminuche45 says

    What they want is to be your editor. They don’t want you writing anything without their review and approval to make sure it fits within their ideology. They don’t want anyone writing that doesn’t play the game their way. They are hoping the fear created will cause you to write only what they want written or that you will quit writing all together.

    • weminuche45 says

      Reason and rationality have nothing to do with this. It’s about power and control.

  19. scribblerg says

    There was a very particular sensibility here that I can’t quite locate, but is quite common today. Self-conscious doesn’t quite get it, but it’s in the neighborhood. In no particular order:

    Apparently she was writing porn, stolen from Esquire, and perhaps other inappropriate stuff among her friends as a teenager – and shocker, her school and teachers clamped down on her. Note the nerd-superiority complex already coming out as she celebrates the library girls. I was also not pleased with high school social culture, and spent a lot of time in the library as a result. But I didn’t turn it into a coffee klatch.

    Shockingly, my time in the library was spent reading…

    I also find it stunning for someone with her pedigree to wake up all shocked about where we are at in terms of the Prog-Marxist enforcing their politics in the academy in the arts. It’s 2019 – and pearl-clutching like this is still meaningful? Welcome to the party, many of us haven’t been able to say what we think in many settings for decades. This is nothing new.

    We have to move beyond outrage into focused action that will drive real change.

    • weminuche45 says

      That last line is VERY true. It requires the risk of sticking out neck out into the culture of fear that has been created though. The risk of not doing it is clearly worse though.

      • TarsTarkas says

        Not if your livelihood or your family’s safety depends on remaining silent. The SJwarm will punish you if you protest. It’s going to take some courage amongst higher authority, and right now too many Canadian leaders are aiding and abetting the SJwarm.

        • Stephanie says

          Isn’t threats to one’s livelihood and safety always what one must endure to fight fascism or communism? It’s not an appealing prospect, for sure, but our leaders won’t do anything about it unless enough people make it clear that is what they want.

          I agree with scribblerg. We’ve known about this a long time and it is time to refocus efforts on fighting it. Perhaps Quillette could inform readers on those who are leading the fight in the political sphere, like Maxime Bernier? I don’t believe he’s been featured here at all.

        • Peter from Oz says

          TT
          Bollocks to that, matey. The SJWs are as weak as as they come. Stand up to them and they fall away.
          I’ve seen it happen on many occasions. We all just have to channel our inner Thatcher and remember that what the SJWs believe in is a denial of reality. The facts of life are Conservative.

    • There is nothing Marxist about this at all, and just because Jordan said so and a bunch of people keep repeating it doesn’t make it so. He’s awesome on Jungian psychology but not so great on appropriate definitions.

  20. Morgan Foster says

    @Libby Emmons

    Through an accident of historical timing you are being pushed to the back of the theater bus because of the color of your skin.

    You say “this happened to me”, and then your article comes to a stop. What is it you’re looking for? Help? Advice?

    Are you merely giving out a warning? Your story is familiar. Thousands of white people have written about it. Millions of white people are experiencing it.

    You don’t seem to have a clear idea of what you want to do about any of this. Do you have one? Or are you merely looking for a recovery group?

    • Tersitus says

      So what do you call it when you wake up from being woke? Reawokened?
      Get up, take a shower and wash off all the night sweats, then go to work and make something useful, level, and true.
      Perish the second thoughts.

  21. This stuff gets on my last nerve. I cannot count the times I have related to a character played by a black “person” because of a similar experience portrayed in the plot. Doesn’t matter if it was a relational situation, a horrible misunderstanding that played out, etc. Many experiences are universal to humans no matter the setting. What a boring little world we have allowed.

    • E. Olson says

      Lydia – I’m sorry but you are completely and totally wrong. Leftist dogma clearly says there can be no such thing as universal human experiences. There are, however, are two dogma compatible explanations: 1) you are actually 1/1064 black and hence can relate to the black experience, or 2) the lines the black actor is saying are actually “white” because they were written by a white writer who does not understand the black experience.

  22. TheSnark says

    The OP seems rather privileged…she has been able to afford several years in the indie theater world, and then getting an MFA.

    In my book people with privilege, whether inherited or earned, have a duty to use it for something useful. But sitting in an academic chair condemning others for excessive whiteness or insufficient sensitivity is not useful. Doing the same on Twitter and etc. isn’t useful, either.

    The OP also seems to have a talent for writing. Well then, WRITE, dammit. You might be ostracized for your current groups, but you don’t seem to think much of them anyway. You might be lonely at first, but if your persevere you will find kindred spirits. And if you can help change the mindset you are decrying, that would be very useful.

  23. Marshall Mason says

    This reminds me of a comedy movie I saw a few years ago, I don’t remember the name. These guys were about to do something but one stopped and said, “wait, we don’t want to be racist, maybe we should include him? (pointing to a black person)” Then he stops and says, “or is it racist to go out of our way to include him?”

    Back when people were thinking clearly, this sort of contradiction was comedy gold. Now we’re living in a real live joke.

    Is it racist to exclude someone because of their race, or is it racist to include them? I used to think the answer was simple: it’s racist to do ANYTHING based on their race. Race is irrelevant. If their race matters to you one way or the other, then that’s racist.

    Then the postmodernists came along and said, race does matter, and you must go out of your way to include them. If you disagree, then THAT is racist. They’ve basically reversed the definition, so now everyone who wasn’t racist (most people) are now racists, and everyone who was (them) became the heroes fighting the racists.

    But they’ve also made it racist to include people based on their race because you’re all privileged and stuff and can’t possibly know their experience. So we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Up is down and down is up and we don’t know the right thing to do.

    How can this possibly benefit people of color with a history of being marginalized or singled out based on their race? Unless it’s not meant to benefit them at all? The only ones it benefits are people with social justice degrees who are otherwise unemployable (who strangely all seem to be white), to serve as a sort of administrative class, to approve or disapprove of other people’s creative works. Companies are starting to hire these people as well, to consult on their PR and advertising, to make sure they’re appropriately sensitive and don’t fall prey to the mobs boycotting them (who happen to be the same group of people they’re hiring to help them solve the problem).

    So what we have is a huge class of white people from privileged backgrounds (actual privilege, the kind that comes from being born into wealth) with worthless social justice degrees and no useful skills using people of color as pawns to gain employment and political power. That is despicable racism.

    • Tersitus says

      Or do like the vulgar leftists. When you’re lost in the social maze, keep going left every chance you get… you’ll still be lost and stupid, but I’m sure you’ll end up politically correct.
      Or you could fire off a virtue signal and hope someone notices.

    • This comment should be posted as a pop-up for anyone signing onto the internet. Really great.

    • Charl says

      Marshall Mason – your comment is perfection.

      Especially the last paragraph and it bears repeating:

      “we have is a huge class of white people from privileged backgrounds (actual privilege, the kind that comes from being born into wealth) with worthless social justice degrees and no useful skills using people of color as pawns to gain employment and political power.”

      I do wonder whether this “administrative class” is schoolgirl jealousy possibly? There are people who lack any talent for writing or enough work ethic to cultivate a talent, so instead they try to prevent the career of anyone who *is* talented in favor of their clique of marginally talented friends. Arbitrarily wielding Political correctness is their way of deciding who is in and who is out. American Thinker had a recent article about this phenomenon of the ruling class who only allow in, and hugely reward, outsiders who are perfectly aligned with the ideology they wish to promote.

  24. chris steele says

    Dear Libby:

    Don’t let these self-righteous indignation junkies tell you what or what not to write. Do not put on the bondage costume they are offering you. Don’t play their stupid game. They are morons and they too shall pass. You be you. Follow your heart. Write something real, even it offends people.

    • Lightning Rose says

      However, publish under a pseudonym where your IP address can’t be traced to your real name. And stay the hell off Twitter. That at least protects your job should the mob come howling.

  25. Farris says

    Ms. Emmons the solution to your dilemma is as follows:
    Simply inform your race, gender, sexual orientation critics that one some days of the week you identify as black, queer, trans, male and atheist, whereas on other days of the week you identify as female, Asian, straight and religious and on weekends when not feeling white or female you may be an amalgamation of the above.
    Also consider asking these critics if black and Asia writers should be precluded from creating white characters, Jewish writers from creating Christian characters, and females from creating male characters? Bravo to you for resisting those who would stifle your creativity. The ability to create believable characters and depictions different from one’s self and experiences is the definition of creativity.
    Empathy is not dead.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @Farris

      It is interesting that sometimes race is a socially constructed fiction, a mere story invented by whitey to justify Oppression. At other times it is as immutable as gravity. In the same way all the other Identity markers might be social constructions, or hard realities as the situation requires.

      BTW no one need ever again listen to a radfem talk about Rape Culture, since that would be an appropriation. She might talk about Victim of Rape Culture, but she can know nothing whatsoever about Rape Culture itself nor can she write about it or speak about it without appropriating male experience. Nor can she talk about The Patriarchy nor can any POC talk about White Privilege since they can’t possibly experience it.

      • Farris says

        @Ray A.

        Agree. One might ask them what it feels like to be born bearing responsibility for all societal ills? Today tomorrow and the next day white male infants will be born bearing the tags rapists and oppressors, having done nothing other than take their first breath. Which brings to mind another question are white male gays privileged up until they are outed or come out?

        • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

          @Farris

          I suspect these intersectional difficulties will come to the fore when the Warriors have absolute power and Equity is enforced everywhere by law. Who gets this plumb position or that sinecure? The fat, black lesbian or the latino transman with AIDS? Remembering that qualifications and the notion of merit were merely tools of Oppression, the only things that matter will be one’s Intersectional Victim Score, and working that out could prove to be contentious.

          I predict that eventually all such questions will be left to a giant computer named the Equitron, which will compute your IVS accurately, taking your whole life into account. Eventually Equitron will control your whole life, since, obviously, given that equal outcomes are mandatory, making all your decisions for you will aid in making sure your outcomes are the required ones.

    • TarsTarkas says

      White people cannot identify as anything not of their skin color or ethnicity. A bad no no. Rachel Dolezal found out the hard way.

  26. Ghatanathoah says

    I remember a few years ago the sociologist Jonathan Haidt published research that argued that the left and the right think fundamentally differently about moral issues. The left focuses exclusively on harm and fairness, while the right does that too, but also focuses on authority, ingroup loyalty, and purity.

    I think all this SJW nonsense proves that Haidt was wrong. Leftists focus just as much on authority, ingroup loyalty, and purity as rightists do. The reason Haidt got his results was because leftist rhetoric is good as disguising authority, loyalty, and purity as harm and fairness.

    The idea that white writers can’t write POCs, that men can’t write women, etc, is dressed up in language of harm and fairness. Ostensibly, the reasoning behind it is that “privileged” writers are more likely to make mistakes portraying “marginalized” people because they lack the practical knowledge to do so. This is the explicit reasoning SJWs give, and it’s based on harm and fairness. They claim to be simply cautioning “privileged” writers so that they don’t portray “marginalized” people inaccurately or unfairly.

    They are not being truthful. The real reasoning behind their behavior is pure “ingroup loyalty.” They believe that stories about “marginalized identities” are the collective property of people with those identities. That means they have the right to “censure” privileged” people for “stealing” their “property” (i.e. “appropriation”). And when they do allow “privileged” people to use their “property” by telling stories about marginalized people, they demand the right to micromanage those stories. It’s vile, insidious collectivism that we should have left behind last century.

    The best way to fight this logic is to attack it at the root. All stories are everyone’s stories. Period. A “privileged” person doesn’t have to be careful about telling stories that aren’t theirs, because all stories are everyone’s, always and forever. You won’t get anywhere attacking their explicit reasoning, because it’s just a cover for the real, insidious beliefs.

    • Chris Steele says

      Ghanatathoah: that is an incisive take on how Haidt’s hypotheses are holding up. “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Disagree About Politics and Religion” is one of my favorite books, the top of my recommendations list. So it seems that the left now emphasizes the same sort of authority, purity and loyalty conservatives always have, but based on their dogmatic theories of social justice rather than ancient religions and patriotism.

      • AesopFan says

        Well said, except I would have said “the left always emphasizes” rather than “now” — they just aren’t as open about their true ideology as the right is.
        Ghatanathoah has explained it well.

  27. luysii says

    Get academia’s foot off your throat. Write what you wish and put it on the web.

    Fortunately music isn’t like that. Academics controlled ‘serious’ composition in the 50’s and 60’s. Roger Sessions said he was a specialist writing for other specialists, and that the music department at Princeton shouldn’t teach performance, as the English department didn’t teach typing. At the same time, Jazz Rock Country and Western, Broadway were roundly ignoring Sessions and his ilk and producing some of what we listen to today. Does the readership even know who he is?

  28. Jasper Dunleavey says

    These gatekeepers will thwart your white actions and pillory you for your white inactions— actions being inseparable from identity—because your whiteness is contemptible. Ergo you are contemptible, and contemptible people are to be silenced.

    The aim is to paralyze. One is reminded of the dichotomy of white flight and gentrification. It is racist for whites to flee cities because of the ensuing decay and its effect on minorities, and it is racist to move back into the cities because of the ensuing reversal of decay and its effect on minorities. Whites mustn’t move, insofar as they insist on their continued and lamentable existence.

    Public character lynchings are a periodic necessity. The taliban shot women in the head, in soccer stadiums. To prevent each victim from teaching girls to read was but a bonus, the true accomplishment being the paralytic fear induced in any woman tempted to teach a girl to read.

    The actual result here is a mass increase in racial consciousness among whites. When has that ever ended poorly?

  29. Jezza says

    Simple guideline: don’t write anything that offends yourself.

  30. Medium Poppy says

    The medium I have chosen to express myself is angry denunciations of anybody who gets more attention than me. There’s a surprisingly large audience for this up-and-coming art form.

    But I live in terror of the day that my efforts are noticed by the broader community of denunciationists.

  31. Charles G says

    This has gone too far. I’ve personally been putting off releasing a book that’s been with the publisher for nearly 2 years to simply not deal with these people and their strange ideas which are directed right at me as a white guy. Now I’m ready to move forward in truth. Thank you to Quillette and Libby Emmons for this article.

    • codadmin says

      Release it. Say your piece and don’t let the leftist racists get you down. There’s a vast community out there on your side.

      The water isn’t as cold as you imagine.

    • ga gamba says

      There is great power in ignoring people, especially those throwing tantrums. It drives them up the wall, though it can’t be sustained for longer than 48-72 hours without being replenished by your new offences to object to. If and when the complaints occur, don’t respond. And if you do a book tour, you may choose to decline to answer questions or respond “I don’t know.”

      Best wishes for your new book.

  32. codadmin says

    Racist if you do, racist if you don’t….that’s just how the fascist left view ALL white people.

    Deal with it like you deal with bears shitting in the woods…..Make the actual racists who falsely call you a racist the villains in your next book, maybe?

  33. This story is all too familiar, “I thought I was on the side of right until they came for me…”.

    It doesn’t illicit a lot of sympathy here because the basis for coming to this conclusion revolves around “me”. It had to be happening in her academic environment to others in a way OP supported and/or noticed before it was directed at OP and she changed her stance on the issue. Willful ignorance is not an excuse.

    Seems there are more and more of these submissions here and while they garner recognition and discussion, my response is similar to the 59 year old logger above… a sarcastic, “Congratulations for having climbed out from under that rock in the 11th hour to try and save your own skin.”.

    • TarsTarkas says

      If you’re white and you do an autobiography, isn’t that racist?

      • John du Raspail says

        “If you’re white and you do an autobiography, isn’t that racist?”

        Under the new rules, probably so. Report to the gulag, comrade.

  34. lucillalin says

    I also got a negative reaction because of my writing as a teen – my mother glimpsed my notebook and thought that my violent and frightening story meant that I was really unhappy teen. No, I just like scary stories. These days I warn her on advance if a horror story I’m going to publish is too much for her. She’s the only one whose feelings about my stories I take in to consideration.

    We writers are often outsiders. Many of us look in to our own culture, ethnic group, time etc from the outside just because of our character. I’m sure I’ll get every culture and ethnic group wrong when writing, including my own. That’s why I write speculative fiction, where I’m always free to create my own cultures and whole mythologies. Fascinating stuff! Except that these days this purity test culture has invaded speculative fiction genre as well!

    I’ve written pages and pages of thoughts about the subject “what can we write about” after this became a debating point few years ago. At the moment my opinion is “if the story is good enough it doesn’t matter”. Shakespeare’s stories are often set in to cultures he knew nothing about, yet he managed to be both timeless and universal.

    Correia is correct on this. Writers are free to write what they want. Readers are free to read their want and the online “book community” is free to analyse and over-analyse how they want, but they have no right to sabotage another writer. And that “sensitivity reader” business sounds like a protection racket.

  35. Pierre Pendre says

    What we need is a literature purged of any vestige of imagination and the destruction of all past literature that does not meet this criterion. Fiction is the enemy of the good.

  36. Sander Malschaert says

    Another beautiful illustration of the folly that is identitarianism. Thanks for a clarifying read.

  37. John du Raspail says

    “The American indie and academic theater has come to the conclusion that it is racist for a white writer to only write plays about white people and racist for a white writer to write plays with racial and/or ethnically diverse characters.”

    That’s … horrifying.

  38. Barney Doran says

    Write what you goddam well please. It’s your mind, your pen and your choice If people don’t want to read it, that is their choice. If someone wants to criticize it in order to warn others about reading it, that is their call. But for some nebulous elites to set limits on what is acceptable to write is simply book burning without the flames. That slope slips, and quickly.

  39. this essay has strong parallels to a story a few years back when Lena Dunham was criticized because the “Girls” on her show were all white. “How can you live in Brooklyn with an all-white social circle – this isn’t rural Kansas.?”

    (I never watched a minute of “Girls” and am agnostic on Lena – I have no skin in the game)

    Lena responded that she was only writing from her first-hand semi-autobiographical experience.

    obviously the critics knew nothing about the prevalence and persistence of social segregation in the US. even in “diverse” big cities. yes you can live in a major metropolitan area and have a social circle that is exclusively of one color. that’s reality for probably 95% of America regardless of where they live. (I would exclude college campuses and the world of professional athletics).

    listening to the critics, Lena hastily wrote in a black boyfriend. from what I read, the plotline seemed forced and contrived. i can easily imagine some critics saying “how can Lena write for a black male character – she’s a privileged white woman”? LOL

    the object lesson is that the cultural left will not hesitate to eat its own when an artist fails to check every conceivable box of race/gender intersectionality.

  40. Aerth says

    Damned you do, damned you don’t.

    First mistake you made was assuming you, as writer, have any obligation to “correct” directors. No, you don’t.

  41. Stephanie says

    “The American indie and academic theater has come to the conclusion that it is racist for a white writer to only write plays about white people and racist for a white writer to write plays with racial and/or ethnically diverse characters.”

    What you must logically conclude is that white people must not write. This is obviously the conclusion they hope you will draw, so that they, from their overpaid administrative positions, can control the art through their intellectual slaves.

    Don’t let them do it. With this piece you’ve already cast yourself out from the indie community, so you’re best off doubling down and going your own way. I echo the sentiment expressed a few times in the comments above: write fiction that reveals the truth about how vile the authoritarian race peddlers are.

  42. Long time reader, never before poster here – I’m just smart enough to know I have a lot more to learn from reading comments than I’ll ever have to offer, but I’ll wade in on this one.

    First off: fork writing what you know, that’s so flipping boring! Write what you want to read! If you’re dying to know how the story ends, your readers will be too.

    I’m a female science fiction writer who has posted multiple books up on Amazon, several of which have garnered pretty decent sales and kind reviews. (and yes, that is the best way to go!) If you want to celebrate diversity in your characters, try SF! My characters include representatives from multiple alien species, time travelers, sentient plants, plus a couple of humans stuck in here or there. I certainly don’t agree that one ‘type’ of person can’t create characters of another ‘type’. I’m trying to stay positive here, but that SJW attitude is appalling. Sheesh, so I can only write straight white women middle-aged human characters? If I did, will I have to delete those books decades from now when I’m a straight white old lady? If I wake up tomorrow and decide I’m trans, can I have my male characters back? Seriously, I can’t ‘understand’ men enough to write them, but I’m free to decide I am one?

    I assume most of the SJW type would be highly offended if anyone suggested they couldn’t be friends with people of other backgrounds. We don’t need to have massively similar experiences to make friends or enjoy hearing tales from their lives. The typical book (or play or show) is merely a story a writer relates about events that happened to their fictional friends. When I write a character, no matter how esoteric his/her/its background, my job is to first suss out the character as well as I can, just like getting to know a new friend, then find ways to share that character’s experiences in ways my readers can appreciate. For example, take my sentient alien plant. Obviously, no human could ever fully empathize with Cranky, but I can write scenes that illustrate his jealousy when his Grower flirts with another being, and you can feel his feels. I’m not a twenty-nine year old male FBI agent, but I can create scenes that illustrate his fear and frustration over the sudden onset of agonizing migraines. People have far more in common than different; no identity group has invented new emotions the rest of us can’t comprehend.

    • Dan Love says

      @Kim

      “For example, take my sentient alien plant. Obviously, no human could ever fully empathize with Cranky, but I can write scenes that illustrate his jealousy when his Grower flirts with another being, and you can feel his feels.”

      One of the best things I’ve read on Quillette.

  43. It was so gratifying reading this. I’m a writer, or trying to be, and I feel so self-conscious and tied up in knots about how I’m coming across. It makes me furious, and also tongue-tied and finger-tied, that these people are having such an effect that they come right into the space where I once felt freer to write a first draft.

    I submitted a short story to a comp recently here in Australia and now I’m panicking about whether my character choices will make me s obviously racist and stock-standard white supremacist because I included a white male as one of my characters. He’s not referred to as white except his name is Brendan Ward, which is a pretty Anglo name. Originally I had named him a Middle Eastern name, but I made the decision to change it because the character is homeless, and here in Melbourne the homeless people I see most are overwhelmingly white men.

    Of course, if I’d kept him as a Middle Eastern-heritaged writer I wouldn’t be able to win either because I’d be stepping over some boundary or other.

    You can’t win. I loathe and despise this SJW bullshit (and I’m politically Left). It couldn’t have done a better job of dividing and alienating us all even further if the bloody CIA had invented it for that purpose. We desperately need each other, to come together in renewing our communities, in finding new ways to live societally, financially, environmentally. We have SO much potential, if we can just shake off this latest sociopathic-led nigtmare. To be divided and conquered and taken hostage by a bunch of online dicks incapable of broad solidarity kills me, kills us.

    We must find ways to push back on this. I suspect it will take all of us being branded the usual labels – you’re always a white supremacist, huh. I want to see us free enough to not give a flying fuck whether people think that, in order to push back on this insanity that’s ruining people’s lives away from the cesspit that’s the corporate web 3.0.

    • Sue,

      May I pass on the advice I was given?

      If I may generalize, there are three kinds of writing communities out there: the writers, the Starbucks writers, and the authors. The writers are the ones just starting out, they love writing, and are eager to learn more about their craft. The Starbucks writers are those artistes who love to strike thoughtful poses with their laptops in public places and make a big stink about how the system must be geared against them because the crowds aren’t lauding their ground-breaking slash Harry Potter fan fiction or their 200k word experimental gender novel. The authors paid their dues, did their time, sucked up the hard feedback from their betters and now produce works strangers willingly seek out and enjoy, and almost all want to encourage others to succeed as well. Hang with the writers, learn from the authors, and roll your eyes at the Starbuckers. (No offense meant, Mr. Schultz, I often imbibe lattes, but I do my writing privately at home.)

      You are going to get bad reviews, we all do, and often for the stupidest, weirdest reasons. I had a two star because the reader had to stop because I included a foreshadowing mention of climate change. In a SF book that’s about, if he had bothered to read to the end, how the climate is warming due to damage from visitors from another dimension. Oh, well. The authors will tell you to celebrate the arrival of the low-star fairies, because that means you’ve reached a level of success that intimidated someone. To generalize again, the majority of attacks you’ll get will come from Starbuckers who can’t handle other people succeeding where they failed, and SJW crud is just one of their methods.

      So write whatever you feel like writing, post it with pride, treasure the useful feedback, and ignore the asshats who try to pull you down.

    • Dan Love says

      @Sue

      If, indeed, you did not make any definitive implications that Brendan Ward is a white man, and if a grievance warrior seems to want to make a hullabaloo about him being a white man, all you need to say is “Why did you assume a black man can’t be named Brendan? Are you racist?”

      You just have to find a way to turn their strategy against them – out virtue-signal the virtue-signaller.

  44. Jin Molnar says

    The moment (and that moment came to pass quite some time ago – decades – whatever) that a sizeable mass of people with power (reach / voice / influence / money) say that “being white is privilege”, it no longer is.

  45. Screw the Idenititarians says

    It makes a lot more sense if you come to understand critical theory and everything that’s stemmed from it as a kind of personality disorder writ large, and given free reign. The people who genuinely believe in it and proselytize for it do not understand empathy as a strength; they view as weakness. With contempt.

    Categorizing people according to their physical characteristics is another symptom of their diseased thought processes. It allows a hierarchical system in which an individual is either above, or below them.

  46. Kevin says

    Thank you for this piece; I enjoyed it as I did the comments. I all seriousness I think you should write a play about a the emotional struggles of a white playwright whose art is attacked because when she writes plays about white people she’s labeled a racist, and yet when she writes plays involving people of color, other ethnicities, sexual orientation, social class, etc, etc.,(or of various Intersectionalities( she is also attack as a racist. In a tip of the hat to another recent SJW related piece here regarding Star Trek you could call it Kobiashi Moru (The No Win Scenario). Seriously. I would go see it. Thank you again for this article.

Comments are closed.