Tag Archives: John Watson

Scared? Representation vs. Cultural Appropriation

The last few days have been very frustrating for me.

Maybe it is the pull of the moon making me feel so off centered. Perhaps I am responding to the building national tensions in the U.S. Maybe I need to take a damn iron suppliment and do some selfcare.

Either way, there have been quite a few events in the last few days that have inspired me to take a long look at racial representation in fanfiction.

The spark that finally set off the brush pile building up within me, each stick representative of a casual racist comment – each as dry and tasteless as the last – was when I saw the following data from Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen on Twitter.

If this horrifying breakdown wasn’t enough for you, someone actually responded to this by saying:

“And if a white person were to write a book like that, you’d cry #CulturalAppropriation, right? Where then are the books meant to come from?”

I will not be listing their name. This is about more than one person.

This lovely person seems to be intentionally ignorant on the definition cultural appropriation and, perhaps even more alarmingly, seems to be living under the assumption that the statistics of authors who identify as races other than white cannot rise to take the place of the white authors who are currently dominating the field to obtain equal racial character representation (if we approach this with the understanding that this person is bringing to the table: that you can only write characters belonging to the same race as you. I’d personally be very interested to know what animal is writing 27% of our children’s’ books…).

Now boys, girls, and nonconforming pearls, we get to the point:

THE BOOKS ARE MEANT TO COME FROM ANYWHERE LINDA.

Ideally we would see a rise in racial representation among children’s book authors too, but as for the books themselves, they can be written by anyone who recognizes the importance of representation. Especially for the kiddos.

Most fanfiction is not something that a child would be interested in. No one wants to be read angsty Drarry before they go to sleep at night. Not even me.

However, the ideology behind the infamous comment is something that we, as fanfiction readers and writers, can address.

The difference between representation and cultural appropriation is incredibly important here. As a white author, I strive to ensure that my characters are diverse and not harmful to any groups. It is a complicated, scary road to walk, but I know that practice and collaboration will ensure that someday all stories will be naturally inclusive.

Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”

It is hard to nail down what cultural appropriation is, exactly. Cultural exchanges are natural and have been happening since people dispersed enough to have distinct cultures. However, cultural appropriation can be very harmful, especially when the culture being appropriated is a minority group that has been oppressed or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.

As fanfic writers and readers, we all understand the concept of plagiarism. Think of cultural appropriation like plagiarism: if you do not acknowledge the community that you are taking things from, you are gaining and giving nothing in return.

This is doubly important if you are privileged, and are able to use that to draw attention to a marginalized community in a positive way.

After taking the time to really learn and inform themselves, white authors of children’s books could use their power, influence, and privilege to share diverse stories and, by creating a place in their niche for these stories, plow the road for authors from within those communities to have a space to give voice to their own experiences.

I do not have a racial breakdown of fanfiction writers; it would be very helpful if I did. Certainly, a huge percentage of fanfiction features white characters and white main characters.

It is hard to say if this is because a majority of fanfiction writers identify as white and chose to feature white characters, or if it is the result of a mainstream society which, by and large, features white characters. Perhaps a combination of the two.

Roughly Three-Quarters of Film Actors Were White in 2014

SOURCE: USC ANNENBERG’S MDSC INITIATIVE

Want to read some more scary stuff? According to Maya Salam with the New York Times, researchers at USC found that of the top 100 films each year from 2007 to 2017 (that’s 1,100 films in total), representation of women, people of color, L.G.B.T.Q. people and the disabled has remained overwhelmingly stagnant.

“Women have never accounted for more than 33 percent of speaking roles in a given year.”

Maya Salam

In short, the representation we see in terms of freaking anything through Hollywood is abysmal. However, as I will state time and time again, fanfiction is about giving a voice to the voiceless and providing some really beautiful representation.

When mainstream media fails anyone, fanfiction is there to help.

It stands to reason then that fanfic writers need to do a better job at including/identifying marginalized people in their stories.

I am guilty of this too.

After just ripping into J.K. Rowling last week for having a gay character in seven books and never indicating that he was gay, I’ve been doing some uncool shit also.

Oh hypocrisy, thou art mine only friend.

My upcoming novel, A Sherlock Holmes Tale of Deep Dark Intrigue (Also Murder) features a black John Watson. He is not the only attempt at inclusive representation I have in the book, however I have released not one, but two fanfics so far that include these characters, and I have made no mention of John Watson’s race.

This is problematic because then the representation that I am seeking exists only in my head *cough* Rowling *cough*.

Due to the original books, and almost every adaptation after, my readers will be assuming that Watson is white.

So it is easy, you see, for even good intentions to fail miserably when it comes to representation.

I am going to take a few steps back and examine how I can do a better job at this. Perhaps read some articles on how to write diverse characters well (I will share any good ones I find over social media if you want to explore this with me).

Looking back at the original graphic, the one that shows that just 23% of children’s books are written about characters who identify as American Indian/First Nations, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American, African/African American, I hope we can all identify the same troublesome statistics running throughout the fanfiction world.

This is a problem because fanfiction is the haven that people turn to when the larger society fails them. It is a place for everyone to feel welcome and, in order to achieve that, everyone needs to be represented.

I think it is to easy for writers to fall back on what’s always been done. What we know. There are no shortage of tales of white experiences out there. We got it. Yet so many stories seem to feature a mostly white cast almost on default.

To combat this, I spend a lot of time with my stories planning ways to make it inclusive and broadly representative.

I would be very interested to hear how you think we can increase representation in fanfiction. Please share in the comments below.

Call to Action:

We all need to be discussing this issue in order to create lasting change. There are so many individuals in the fanfiction universe, each with unique approaches and ideas. Only together can we be impactful.

Please share your thoughts below. We can tackle this problem.

.

M.




Don't forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter below! 

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Copyright M. Grace – All rights reserved

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com



Move-In Day

The new roommate situation was going well.

Of course there was the residual awkwardness, at least on John’s end, that came from moving into a space that felt like it belonged so entirely to someone else.

John didn’t know very much about Sherlock Holmes yet, but this flat seemed to him like a perfect reflection of the man’s soul. Parts of it were organized extensively. There were beakers in the cupboard that seemed to be arranged both by size and glass thickness, impeccably clean, yet there were dishes in the sink and sprawling all over the counter, most with dried chunks of food and many that were busy cultivating colonies of mold.

A final look around the room confirmed to John that there was not a single place in this flat for any of his personal affects. It was probably for the best, he thought to himself. A lifetime of army life had left him with sparse few belongings, and he doubted he would really be staying here long enough to settle anyway.

However there was something about Sherlock Holmes. A magnitude. An electrifying excitement that, when he was truely animated, John felt like a small planet being swept into the orbit of a larger star.

John shook his head crossly, as if clearing the clouds from his mind. Such folly. He was no young boy, staring star struck at the tall shadow of an imposing general standing in his parent’s entryway. He was a grown man, a veteran of wars, a hero according to some.

Mr. Holmes may be an oddity, but he was hardly captivating.

Sherlock himself was currently sprawled across the sofa, clothes rumpled and hair falling down to cover his face.

John had come downstairs from unpacking his room to find the man like this, and to be honest, he was a little concerned that the way the man had his face shoved into the cushion would result in his slow, embarrassing death.

The rise and fall of the man’s back was slow. Too slow. Was he getting any air?

“Mr. Holmes?” John inquired somewhat nervously, a childish quake in his voice that had him clearing his throat abruptly.

“Sherlock?” He said again, more firmly.

No response.

He supposed this was one way to get a flat to himself.

Walking over a little to quickly from the kitchen – he was not nervous – John reached the other side of the couch and crouched down, shaking the man’s shoulder with the intent to wake him.

A muffled groan and Sherlock tossed his head so that he was facing towards John. He was clearly still passed out, eyes moving below thin lids covered with spidery blue veins.

John was frozen.

This man, this strange man, was incredible to look at. His face was slightly lined with age, the indents on his forehead indicating a life spent deep in thought. His skin appeared very fine though, and his features delicate. John knew that he himself might be called rugged, if someone was being kind, but Sherlock was the epitome of aristocratic English beauty.

Hair laid across the man’s face, covering half an eye and part of his nose. Unbidden, John’s had swept it back behind an ear. Sherlock’s hair was thick and possessed a slight wave that, were it wet, John thought the man might be able to get it tied back.

When his hand had returned to his side, John flushed.

He couldn’t believe what he had done. How… improper.

Jumping away from the couch, he gathered up his hat and coat, abandoning his walking stick in his haste to leave the flat.

The soles of his shoes hit the stairs with some large measure of force. Really, it was a miracle he didn’t fall down them hat over expertly shined heel.

The front door took but a moment for his hand – his damnable hand – to open, and he was out.

As John rushed down the street in search of a nearby ale, he missed entirely the large shadow that now stood in the window of 221B Baker Street.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Two Most Idiotic Men in the World

John and Sherlock continuously ignore ‘moments’

The first time that John and Sherlock met, neither of them really noted the other. In fact, if you asked them today, they would have a completely different story of their first encounter. 

The truth however, is usually not what either party thinks it is. In this case, the truth involves a particularly rainy night, a single coach, and an inadequate overcoat. 

***

John Watson was walking rather quickly down the street, broad shoulders hunched inward in a way that made the usually imposing gentleman look like he was in possession of a much smaller stature than he had. His brow was furrowed in frustration and his hat was pulled down low. 

It was scarcely eleven, and already the establishment he had been at had asked him to leave. His buddies had jeered for a moment, but quickly settled back into their cups when the owner had turned to them, ready to throw more men out.

It was true that John was the most rambunctious man in the place, but wasn’t it just his luck that he should have been singled out amongst his peers, who had been nearly as loud and disruptive as he. It seemed like ever since he has gotten back to England, he has had nothing but poor luck. 

To top off the night, the weather had taken a turn and he found himself in a simple overcoat, ill prepared for the rain and bone-numbing chill of a London night. 

He shook violently, drawing his coat even tighter around himself. Little good it did him, the wool was soaked through and heavy, clinging in all the wrong places. The damn thing would doubtlessly shrink, and be entirely useless to him. 

The alcohol he has so joyfully imbibed so excessively just  a little while ago now left him feeling cold, dizzy, and very down in spirits.

Truly, there could be no man in the whole of England who was more miserable tonight than he. 

***

Speaking of more miserable men, there was in fact one such soul. Sherlock Holmes, who found himself once again in an unknown part of the city, was striding through the lamplit streets, eating up the blocks rapidly with his long legs and drug fueled vigor. 

The last few days were a blur, and Sherlock felt as terrible as he looked. His dark hair was matted and much to long, falling about his face in wet strands. A thick black coat was wrapped around him firmly, his only solace on the nights he was unable to return to his flat and ended up sleeping it off in an alley. 

Tonight though, he had a single thought. He needed to return home. He didn’t know what drove him so. Perhaps it was the drugs – an obsessive thought that had wormed its way into his skull and proceeded to push through piles of grey matter to the front of his brain, squashing any other impulses that arose. 

He felt violently ill, the high receding along with his boundless energy. He wasn’t quite sure where he was headed, but he was sure that he didn’t have the money for a coach. It grew more and more likely that tonight he would stay in this unknown neighborhood, and wake to the light of day just as lost and penniless as before.

He passed a lone man walking rather aimlessly, and was quick to go around him. This hour of the night saw all sorts of undesirables, of which he readily recognized himself as one of them. However, Sherlock had never needed the rob another person, nor felt the need to harm another. The same could not be said for everyone else out on these streets. 

***

A driver sat upon the front of his coach, nearly asleep. The steady rain and late hour left him wishing for hearth and home. While his attire kept him warm enough, his horse looked damn near frozen and there hadn’t been a single person yet who found themselves in need of a ride. Perhaps in a few hours he would make his way down the seedier parts of town to try and catch the drunks who still had money in their pockets and were in need of a quick drive home, but for now it was to risky to sit and wait in that area. 

Gregory, the driver, considered himself a godly man. He was an honest soul who had never had real cause to fear the things that haunted the imaginations of more sinful men, but he shivered to his very bones when a tall figure pushed through the dense fog not more than ten strides from his carriage, and made towards him. 

The gaunt man was wrapped in a thick black coat, falling well below his knees. His face was drawn, pale and dirty. His face was clearly fine boned, but had strayed towards the skeletal. Cheekbones stuck out like knives, and his eyes appeared dull and sunken. 

He was shivering slightly, but Gregory chalked that up to the cold night. 

No longer in motion, the figure was no less imposing but slightly more pitiful. He has stopped by the driver, just slightly in front of the carriage but not yet close enough that Gregory was worried that he would grab him. The man swayed where he stood, uncertain what to do with his hands as they fiddled with the sleeves of his coat. 

“Never expected to find a driver at this hour,” The man rasped. 

Gregory pulled himself up straighter, now entirely awake. 

“Yes well, ‘er I am. Are you in need of a ride sir?”

The man’s hands continued to pull pointlessly at his sleeves. 

“I was hoping to get a ride towards the tower,” His eyes darted left, no longer holding Gregory’s gaze. “Only thing is, I haven’t any money on me.”

Gregory gave a long suffering sigh. Of course.

“But Detective Lestrade is an colleague of mine, and were you to deliver me to the yard I am sure he would pay you.”

Certainly, Gregory thought to himself, a detective would pay for this bums travel fare. That seemed as believable as the Queen emerging from the fog next. 

Before the weary driver could tell this man to shove off, another figure appeared from the fog. 

This man seemed the direct opposite of the wraith currently hovering near his coach. This man was considerable shorter and broader, and walked with none of the violent sure-footedness the first man had possessed. This man was slowly winding his way towards the pair, hat pulled low, and breath doubtlessly foul with drink. 

“What is going on here sirs?” He mumbled, in a very amenable way if you’d ask him, still a distance from the pair. 

Then, a bit louder, “Has this carriage been spoken for?”

Finally. Drunks paid well, had they the ability, and Gregory would be sure to get his money up front. 

“Not at all friend. Where are you heading?”

The tall man was staring only at the ground now, beginning to shuffle his way backwards. The driver had completely dismissed him now, focused on the friendly customer who would no doubt pay. It was hopeless. 

Turning, the man stared up into the sky for a moment, letting the cold droplets clear his mind and wash his tangled hair off of his face. 

The voice of the approaching man carried through the fog, chatting with the driver about the many injustices he had faced this night, and how fortunate he was to find a coach at this hour. 

He heard the slightly slurred voice call out to him as he walked away. Something about sharing the carriage ride, but it was all to easy to simply let his mind get washed away with the rainwater swirling down the street as he wandered off again into the night, following the swirling pools of water as they too rushed down the street in search of a gutter. 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.