I attended Malice Domestic last May, and lurked in the audience of several panels.
Often a photographer will take informal shots of the audience for the Malice newsletter and for Twitter. I, of course, slink down in my seat, and hope to pass unnoticed.
At one of the panels I attended, a lady stood at the side of the room and raised her camera.
Down I slunk, wishing I'd gotten my hands on a burka.
Across the aisle, I noticed another lady who didn't like having her photo taken either. She didn't slink down though, she embraced the moment, and lay down across the chairs in her row.
Zowie, I thought, that's a good idea! I wish I could do that. Too bad there were people in the chairs I'd need to my right.
The photographer snapped a few more shots, then sat down.
I glanced across at my Sister in Shyness, who was still lying across the chairs. I should tap her foot and tell her the photographer was done. I had just turned to do this when one of the ladies seated behind Sister leaned over and spoke to her. I couldn't hear what she said, or what Sister said in return.
Another minute went by.
I realized soon thereafter that Sister wasn't avoiding the camera, she was in actual medical distress. She couldn't catch her breath.
The lady behind her, who had leaned in to help, rendered aid. Sister was able to sit up and proceed. She left the panel at the end under her own steam.
Leaving me more than slightly aghast and more than a bit ashamed.
Because of course I'd seen what had happened through the lens of MY expectations and experiences. It literally did not cross my mind that she was in distress, so sure was I that she was LIKE ME.
What -ism is that?
Which brings me to the point: we see the world as we know it. We bring our own expectations and experiences, and world view.
If you're writing about people who aren't like you, it might be a good idea to bring in some beta readers who aren't like you.
There's a new thing in publishing called "sensitivity readers" that supposedly help deluded, ignorant folk avoid making deluded ignorant assumptions.
The idea is that if you're green, and writing about someone who is turquoise, you need a turquoise reader.
Which misses the point completely. Sister and I were peas in a pod. White ladies who love to read, carry weaponized walking aids, and like to sit in the back of the room. I still saw what she did through my world view, and I was 100% wrong.
Not all African-Americans have the same life experiences. Certainly not all Asians. Not all women. Certainly not all teenagers.
You can't ask someone to read your book to find things that are offensive; there's always someone willing to be offended about something.
But you can ask beta readers to help you find where your world view is getting in the way of character development or portrayal.
One blind spot I see a lot, and I've yammered about here as well: writers who describe men by what they do, and women by how they look.
Are the good guys in your book always black?
Are the bad guys always white?
Are the Asian characters always bad at math?
Is the redneck sheriff the smartest woman in the room?
This post isn't about sensitivity and racism.
You're as sensitized as you're going to be today.
And while I care on a cosmic level if you're a racist, the only place I'm going to make a judgment about it is in your writing.
This is about blind spots in your writing.
A lot of us have those about race, ethnicity, religion, and class.
I would have told you I'm as aware as the next person about mine, but I sure won't be doing that anytime soon now.
*just a reminder: this is one of those topics that many people can get hot under the collar about. Your comments are welcome with some provisos: no politics; no blanket statements; certainly no name calling. Thoughtful dissension welcome.