Should White Writers Write Black People?

“I’m a young white writer. Can I write stories about black people?”

About once a month, this question is posted on a writing forum I browse. I’m often annoyed at seeing it because the answer to the question is obvious.

It’s yes.

Writers can write about whoever and whatever they want to. They must hold themselves accountable when they step outside of their own personal experience. With the proper research, a good writer can write authentic voices for characters from all backgrounds.  Good writers should never be limited by who they are.

Some people disagree with this. Joanna Johnson, creator of Good Trouble, is one such person. After a screening at the ATX Television Festival, she discussed the importance of having diversity in her writer’s room.

“People of color can write about white people because that’s the world they have lived in,” Johnson said. “I don’t think white writers can write black, Asian or Latino characters authentically. We need more [diversity in the writers room], and I will continue to do that.”

Haven’t white writers written authentic voices for those kind of characters in the past? Not every episode of The Wire had a black writer, but that didn’t stop it from having authentic voices for its black characters. The experiences of blacks, Latinos, and Asians are human experiences. Minorities are not aliens from another planet. White writers can understand the pains and struggles of people unlike them using empathy.

If this mentality catches on, it’s going to discourage white writers from writing characters who don’t share their experience. Writing a black, Asian, Latino, queer, or transgender character gives a white writer the opportunity to learn about another lifestyle. I’d hate to see that happen.

I don’t know if there is further context to this quote outside of what Deadline posted in their article. There is no video of the entire discussion that Ms. Johnson had . I’ll update my thoughts on this if a video comes out later.

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