Tag: racism

Why Is My Protagonist Vietnamese?

It’s long been a topic of discussion in literary circles: Should a straight white man (hey, that’s me!) write about other races? Is it cultural appropriation to do so?

I had to ask myself (and my wife) this question while writing ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN. My wife was uncomfortable with the idea until she read the most of the book, and there was a period of time when I considered trunking the manuscript out of fear that I’d fucked up.

Writing about races and experiences outside of your own is a tricky thing. It’s difficult to do and has been done poorly too many times to count. For a long time white people have been the dominant voice in our culture and, because of that, have often misrepresented or straight-up villainized other races and cultures.

Despite my own misgivings and worries, I decided to go through with writing my novella with a Vietnamese protagonist. There are a few reasons why:

  • Diversity matters. I want to see books in the world that are about people other than white guys. Does that mean I should be the one writing them? Eh… maybe, maybe not. I think it depends on how I approach it and how respectfully I execute. In Anh’s case, he is a mixed first generation American (like my own son), and I purposefully played down the “otherness” of his nationality.
  • There are themes I want to explore in my writing that can’t be done with a White protagonist: Without making Anh a race other than White I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to discuss racism as I do in the novella. His companion throughout the story, Amy, is a White woman who isn’t racist herself, but enables racism by turning a blind eye to it. If Anh was also a White person, he wouldn’t be able to point out the micro aggression and ignorance that follows minorities around.
  • I want to write about Americans. To my point above, I feel it’s okay to write about any race from the perspective that they’re American. Now, does that mean the experience of a Creole-speaking African American in Louisiana is accessible to me? No. Not at all. And I wouldn’t attempt that without a lot of research and sensitivity readers. Even then, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable. That said, there are plenty of American experiences I do understand that need not be bound by race. Those stories are accessible to me and ones that I want to tell.
  • Anh’s full name is a pun. This was important to me. Amy’s name is a pun, too.

I’m still learning about how to approach writing about people and experiences outside of my own. I’m probably not always going to get it right, if ever. But I also think it’s important to try for the reasons I described above (except the last one–that’s a one time deal).

Stop Asian Hate

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 20: Protestors hold signs that read “hate is a virus” and “stop Asian hate” at the End The Violence Towards Asians rally in Washington Square Park on February 20, 2021 in New York City. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, violence towards Asian Americans has increased at a much higher rate than previous years. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) reported a 1,900% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

This week eight people, six of whom are Asian women, were murdered. There is speculation about the killer’s motives but I don’t really care about any of that. No matter what his motives were, it’s clear that he targeted these women based on their race and gender. These were hate crimes.

Racism against Asian’s has always existed in America. Off the top of my head I can think of the LA riots where Korean stores were targeted, a young Mark Wahlberg’s racist attack of two Vietnamese men (among other hate crimes), the 100-year history of racist portrayals in American media, Japanese internment camps during WWII, the treatment of Chinese workers building the transcontinental railroad–the list is long.

The start of the Coronavirus pandemic pushed this racism to new heights, led by our former President Trump. His rhetoric has led to a dramatic increase in hate crimes against Asian people. The racism inherent in our country is constantly searching for a reason to act violently. It doesn’t take much–perhaps just a stupid, false nickname for a disease–and hateful people will perform hateful acts.

I married a Vietnamese woman. Our child is half-Vietnamese. It breaks my heart to see her sadness at these attacks and it angers me to feel her fear that it might be her or our son someday. Her fears are warranted. While my whiteness protects her when we’re out together, she’s had racist things said to her while out alone. No one should have to deal with that.

Those of us that aren’t racist, that don’t hold so much hate in ourselves, need to be better. I believe that’s the majority of us. We need to step up to protect those that are targeted for their race or gender. We need to shout down people who repeat the despicable rhetoric so many of our politicians now spit. We need to make this country safe for everyone.

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