The One Thing White Writers Get Away With, But Authors of Color Don't
Instead of addressing those questions directly, I would like to take a step back and look at the assumptions with which they're laden. In doing so, I can't help but recall the reception of another book I recently read, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. If it sounds familiar, that's because it won the Pulitzer for fiction earlier this year.
Johnson's book is about North Korea, even though Johnson is plain old American. Even so, there are few questions as to the authenticity of his account. In fact, the book has been billed as a, "nuanced picture of what life in North Korea might be like," that "open[s] a frightening window on the mysterious kingdom of North Korea." Instead of being asked, "Why, as an American, are you writing about North Korea?" Johnson is praised for the depth of his research. Reviewers assume that the white author has done his homework, and can be trusted as an authority. With Cheng [Bill Cheng's novel Southern Cross the Dog], on the other hand, eyebrows are raised. The underlying question isn't about authenticity. Rather, the question is: "Don't you have your own heritage to write about?"