Catherine Johnson writes stories for screen and books for children. And she’s complaining about something.
What, you ask? Well, I’d better let her tell you that…
It seems like a boom time for black literature and drama. Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, which focuses on the life of a young girl in Nigeria, is shortlisted for the Costa first novel award next month. Pigeon English, the story of a Ghanaian boy living in Peckham, made the Booker shortlist. And Channel 4’s Top Boy, depicting black gangster life in Hackney, east London, has just been commissioned for a second series. A reason to be cheerful in shiny, diverse, Britain surely?
Well, love, since this is the ‘Guardian’, I’m guessing not…
Well, maybe not.
Wow! I’m psychic…
These three works are all the creations of white authors.
*checks CiF byline image*
Ah. I see where we’re going now…
There is clearly no shortage of talented black writers – Courttia Newland, Malorie Blackman and Andrea Levy, to name a few – so why is it that, right now, the stories that receive the most mainstream recognition all seem to be the ones written by white people?
Well, clearly, it’s gotta be prejudice, right?
Many film and television commissioners still believe it’s a risk too far to commission a show that is both about non-white people and produced by non-white people. Or maybe the problem lies with an audience that is more willing to read or view stories of other races and cultures when they are filtered through white authors.
You know what, Catherine? The very last thing I consider when reading a book is the colour of the author.
The words of a white author are a comfortable buffer, a reassurance that nothing in the story will be too shocking, too hard to understand; the author is like you, and you can trust him or her to tell you this story in familiar terms.
Rubbish! I’m willing to bet most people who read do so for the same reason I do; they like the story, not the racial history of the author.
This is not just sour grapes.
Pshaw! Perish the thought…
But that’s no reason why editors and commissioners shouldn’t make the effort to bring about change. It’s wonderful that these white authors are willing to step out of their comfort zones to tell these stories, but wouldn’t it be even better if people didn’t wait for a white person to say what other people have been saying for ages before they take any notice?
Wouldn’t it be even better if some people could stop worrying about what race/class/gender/sexual orientation someone was before they decided whether they were ‘qualified’ to write a good book?
Maybe then we’ll have achieved real progress. So why not be like the rest of us, Catherine? Read a book because you want to read a book, not because you want to flaunt your status as a ‘person of colour’…