I don’t remember the title that I gave my first novella, but I remember the characters that I created. 

My serial protagonist was a detective named Marty, who along with his girlfriend, Christine (and their unnamed dog) solved a different mystery in each book. It was a series that took place principally in their hometown  of St. Petersburg, FL and, sometimes in other places-like space.

The part of this memory that always makes me chuckle is the setting. I was eight. I lived in Washington State– I didn’t know anybody in St. Petersburg, FL. I knew nothing about the city, but my detective in his trademark Hawaiian shirt and Giligan’s Island-style hat went traipsing all over it in order to solve these mysteries.

The other part of this memory that I’ve been mulling over lately  is that Marty and Christine were white. I don’t remember what Marty looked like specifically other than his clothing, but Christine had long, straight, blonde hair, green eyes, and perpetually lives-in-sunny-Florida-tanned (though still very much white) skin. 

My characters didn’t look anything like me, but they looked everything like the characters that I constantly read about. They looked like Encyclopedia Brown, and Anastasia Krupnik, and Ramona Quimby, and Harriet the Spy. They were a conglomeration of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Boxcar children. In many ways my characters reflected the utter whiteness of not only my literary life, but of the world around me.

Movies, Saturday morning cartoons, commercials, fairy tales, Disney princesses all reflected the same image: Whiteness as normative. Whiteness as the default. Whiteness as beauty. Whiteness as The Standard. 

What to make of my dark skin (you-look-nothing-like-your light skinned-and-beautiful-mother), thick glasses, and hair that refused to be straightened in this context? I was a parallel line, an uncrossable deviation from The Standard.

I grew out of writing about Marty and Christine at some point but my new and better-developed characters were still, unquestioningly, white.

2 Comment on “Writing White (Part I)

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