Influences: Why I Write Black Characters
It may seem obvious, but I don’t write black characters just because I am black.
My blackness has always been dotted with other cultural influences and I had excellent opportunities to see and experience different things as a young person.
I am from Oakland, CA. Some would say the area is a little rough, but if you look closer, you see the beauty of multiculturalism everywhere. Every black neighborhood had a token white family, just like white neighborhoods had their token blacks. There was a Chinatown and for miles up and down a particular street (aptly named International Blvd) you could find Elote before Elote was cool. Right on the corner, sold from a cart with questionable cleanliness, there was corn, cojita, mayo, chili powder and lime. And it was good. I won’t even get into how close biriyani, Korean BBQ, lumpia, Egyptian, Jewish and any number of foods or cultural experiences were to me at any one time.
Food wasn’t the end of it, as directly over the bridge (you pick which one) I could arrive in San Francisco where I could see any number of performances spanning dance, music, and theatre from a multitude of nations. Attractions that emphasized cultural awareness were ALWAYS cool.
We cherish cultures in the Bay Area.
In addition to that, my parents were very different people. My mom was straight up, old school R&B (Marvin Gaye and Al Green) while my dad was Rock and Roll (Joan Jett and Nine Inch Nails). Pile that on with the number of times we moved (including one special time we lived in Stone Mountain, GA…) and I was as open to differences as could be.
When I started writing, I was a middle schooler and we were back living in Oakland. Back then I just wrote about what I liked and modeled my characters after my friends. I drifted away from writing until about 2010 when I was invited to a Facebook writers group and that experience was eye opening. I made friends I’ll never forget and thank god for them because they showed me how important it was for me to express myself through writing again. I also learned about publishing and released my first book in 2014.
That book, Inside Out, is about a detective working in Oakland to catch a serial killer.
And yes, my detective is Black.
His girlfriend is Black.
Lots of his co-workers (police officers) are Black.
The book reflected my life in Oakland as well, not just pure Blackness, because of course we don’t exist without other humans around us. The district attorney is Hispanic as well as my characters’ supervisor. The coroner is white as well as the quirky lab tech but at the end of the day, I wrote a story where the most important person is Black.
Now, I am getting to why I did that. Thanks for sticking with me.
My main character is Michael Taylor and outside of the fact that he is based on a certain celebrity that I had a crush on during that time, there was no way he couldn’t be Black. During the time that I was writing and releasing this book, I was keeping my eyes on the books around me. I was kinda bothered by the fact that so many of the books I’d been seeing, traditionally or independently published, showed Blacks in a less than flattering light. I was tired of seeing a ton of books about drug dealing and criminals in the Black community.
YES. Those things are a part of our culture, especially my Oakland culture, but those behaviors are a product of the negativity we have been forced to live with for hundreds of years. If every Black man or woman who engaged in criminal activity had a genuine choice to continue that or have a prosperous position that would help them feed their family, I promise they would pick the better path.
That’s why, my characters are Black AND doing well.
Michael is a detective above corruption, he’s not a womanizer, he’s intelligent, he believes in monogamy, he saves money, he wants to be better, he’s in good shape, he’s polite, loves his family, he’s tough and determined.
I wrote what I wanted to see.
I want people who read my books, Black, White or otherwise, to understand that Black people can be more than drug dealers, killers and gang bangers and that Black authors know about more than “the streets”.
Don’t box Black authors in.
We continually show that we have the capacity to create worlds that take readers away from their toil, we enlighten and entertain.
Additionally, I wanted to show people that reading Black characters is not a genre.
Just as Blacks should be accepted everywhere, so should they be in many kinds of books. Just as they can be villains, they can be hero’s. Just as they are killers, they can be healers. Just as they are criminals, they can solve crime.
I had many opportunities as a child to see positivity in my Blackness but not everyone has that experience, so, I write Black characters because they inspire me and because I hope my characters will inspire others.
Keep an open mind and you can be inspired by all the colors.
Tiffany Christina Lewis’ books can be found here.