I. This is the crux of what disturbs me: to any white observer (and some of color) who is not educated in anti-racist thought, this whole mess will look like a bunch of well-intentioned white writers reaching out a hand to the dangerous, scary community of color and getting it bitten off. This isn't because that's what's happening (it's not). It's because the issue of race is so indelibly framed as something that has white people at its center. White people act; people of color react, and so long as the white people are trying, the people of color had better react nicely. Master deserves respect.
This wouldn't fly anywhere else. If a doctor, attempting to understand the mindset of artists and encourage other members of the sciences to treat them with respect, wrote a rather self-congratulatory essay that got several points wrong about artists, no one would blame artists for discussing the points she got wrong. Because generally, society does not frame "being a doctor" as "the proper way of being from which all else radiates." It does define being white that way.
People of color have to live in a world where they are defined as being Not Right, and even their discussion of this must place white people at the center. Otherwise, it is taken for granted that they are angry. Scary. Irrational. To a person, especially a white person (but not always, because people of color are subject to the same racist messages that permeate white-dominated society), who looks at a split between white people discussing race and people of color discussing race, "the people of color are angry, scary, and irrational" is the default conclusion unless they've learned something about anti-racist thought, and society will back them up on this.
That doesn't mean it's right. After all, if someone has never really been taught that other languages exist and are valid means of communication, when someone tries to speak to him in a foreign tongue, all he'll hear is gibberish. But that doesn't mean everyone who speaks French is an idiot. It just means he doesn't understand them.
II. The flagship post of this round of discussion seems to have emerged as deepad's post here. It's an interesting post, and if you're interested in the way being from a marginalized race and culture affect one's lenses on fiction, it's worth a read.
The reactions to it are kind of interesting as well. There's a tendency to hold it up as Something White People Should Read For Their Edification. It pretty obviously was not written that way. If it's read that way, a lot of white people will come away feeling insulted, going, "She told us we're doing something wrong and that there's no way for us to fix it! That sucks!"
She isn't telling us anything, at least not that she isn't also or primarily telling people of color. She's just talking about her own experience. And, yeah, most of us white folks are going to read it with at least the teensiest feeling that it's All About Us. Every human being starts off wanting to read things that way, and privileged groups like white people get that desire reinforced all their lives. And so it's an understandable gut reaction for us to have, when reading that post: hey! She's blaming us no matter what we do! That's not fair!
So long as we then proceed to take a step back and remind ourselves that actually, it's not all about us, and it's not fair to ask that she make it so.
The fact that deepad later wrote a post which is Something White People Should Read For Their Edification was very thoughtful of her, but it's also pretty telling about the way the discussion of race is framed.
III. For a while I've been tossing back and forth in my head some of my ideas on what I think of as the marked and unmarked case (although most people know that as a linguistics term so it may not be the most helpful explanation). I'm not going to try to get it all out here, but I think I should touch on it.
The basic advice usually given on "writing the Other" tends to be, "Don't think of them as the Other."
This is a good enough place to start. But you can't stop there. Because simply expanding your definition of what's normal to include what was once "the Other" doesn't really change anything. What you have to do eventually is destroy the concept of normal, the default.
The concept of "white" has been expanding for the past few hundred years (this should be enough to start a careful observer wondering about just how much of a social construct race is, and how much of a lie whiteness is). But even though Irish people and light-skinned Jews are now generally considered "white," there are still people who fall firmly outside of its rubric. Some of them may eventually be included in it, but others will be forever outside. Not because there is something inherently Other about them, but because our Default excludes them.
In a sense, the problem isn't the Other; everyone is Other to someone. The problem is the Default. So once you've tried not thinking of them as the Other, try not thinking about whatever privileged class you belong to (there's usually at least one) as the Default.
IV. This post is fascinating to me, and at some point I might want to discuss the idea of liminal minorities. But since I know I'd wind up reframing the discussion to be at least partially about issues that affect me--that is to say, not race--I'm going to wait on it for now.