One Writer’s Journey

June 4, 2015

Bias: Writing about tough topics

Last week I read a post about author Matt de la Pena.  Apparently his Tweet, “Something I can’t ignore: Tomorrow’s #teenlitcon in Minn will be 95% white. The juvenile detention centers I just visited were 95% brown” got quite a bit of notice.  It was tweeted and retweeted and went wild.

As a population, we writers for children and teens tend to be lightly pigmented.  Yet we are called upon to create literature for a diverse audience.

Recently, I finished the second rewrite of Black Lives Matter for Redline Editorial.  This was not a topic I would have chosen.  It simply hits too close to home.  No, I’m not black but I live just outside of Ferguson.  Our school district cancelled classes for two full weeks because of the riots.  Let’s just say that I was a woman with firm opinions.

My academic background is history and anthropology.  In anthropology we learned that it is really hard to study your own culture because you are simply too close to it.  You have biases that you aren’t even aware of.  I accepted the assignment anyway because I knew this was an important issue and I hoped I would learn something.

Among the things I learned was just how essential this book is because our society is highly polarized.  This was brought home to me when I would tell people I had this assignment.  I can’t even tell you how often I was asked — you aren’t publishing this under your real name, are you?  The person asking the question was always white and always worried that some scary black person would come hurt my family.

As frustrated as I was, I still wasn’t certain that I had managed to put my biases aside to create a solid work until I got to do this last rewrite. The academic who reviewed my manuscript is an American Studies department chairman with books on the topic.  Yes, she had things for me to add but she also told my editor that she was proud to be associated with the book.  Then she connected with me on Linked In.

That was when I knew that I had pulled it off.  It isn’t easy to write about a topic that hits close to home and it may take you more than one try, but it can also be well worth the effort.




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