The main reason I want to self publish is so my characters can be complex, and can evolve in a way that feels organic to me, as a writer – without having rules imposed on them because of their race, gender or creed. It is a fantasy novel, but I still describe my characters, and honor their journeys in a human way. If I can’t do that, I don’t see the point in writing. Therefore, I can’t endure “sensitivity readings.”
To give an example of what I’m up against: I have deep characters of all races. Modern “sensitivity reading” rules would say you can’t describe a black person’s skin as “mocha” because it reduces them to a food. However they have no problem with “vanilla” for white people. And the only alternative they offer to “mocha” is “brown” or “tan.” Worse yet, if your black character is too nice and good, like a sage, it’s offensive because it’s a trope. If she’s too traumatized and makes big mistakes, it’s offensive because she’s a bad stereotype.
When I went on forums to read about this, many black people signed in saying that personally, they were more offended seeing white people described as “vanilla” and other romantic words, while they themselves were only getting words like “brown.” They PREFERRED “mocha,” and things like this, because it’s more romantic. However, others did prefer “brown.” But the general sentiment was “I don’t get why white people care about this so much. To each their own.” Some also mentioned that they prefer having characters who look like them, who are complex and real – like anyone would. Yet, despite the mixed responses among real people whose races are being described, publishers will not publish you if you break many, many rules about how you’re allowed to handle a character of a particular race.
I can’t do this. I need my characters to be REAL. My White, Black, Asian, and Indian characters all have complex personalities and traumas. Some overcome, and some don’t, and it is unrelated to their skin color. I need it to stay that way.
Many publishers, sensitivity readers and writing forums are now suggesting that people don’t describe their characters’ skin, or appearance, at all! But this doesn’t work for me either. I’m a very visual person, who loves people with extreme vigor. So my descriptions of people tend to be poetic, honorable, and symbolic, describing things about their physique or the impression they leave, which leave a strong and poetic impression of the person. Removing their physical appearance defeats the purpose of writing, or having characters, since part of the experience is being immersed in those sensory impressions.
To me, it’s a moral imperative to honor the beauty, complexity, and journey of all my important characters, regardless of what they look like. My books are extremely “character” oriented. They cover themes like trauma and recovery, religious realization, coming of age, love lost, mourning and guilt, self-discovery. I need room for my characters to breathe.. to evolve naturally… without carefully stepping around parameters imposed on them by people who think everything is about race, and who get offended by something they do, based on their gender or creed. It is against my principles to dehumanize people this way, so I feel I need to self publish at least for now.
I would not condone publishing themes that REALLY were amoral, if I had a publishing company of my own. But I guess my morality is just not the same as the common ones today. To me, those seem arbitrary, dehumanizing and restricting.