Subverting tropes: Black woman protector with happy ending
Hi there! I’m writing a dragons-and-magic fantasy story, and am concerned my Black protagonist falls into the Strong Black Woman / Mammy stereotype. She was bullied and excluded as a child for her “weird” interests (alchemy, engineering) and as an effect of that undealt-with trauma, felt pushed to protect other outcast kids from that same fate; essentially trying to “save” the young girl inside her who was never protected through protecting others.
She was also forced into even more of a “protector” role by her family. She was burdened with the role of caring for her mother and siblings when their father passed away. All this has lead to my character repressing things like her hobbies, her scared/sad side, small stuff like her use of a sword and shield when she would rather use a bow & arrow—she feels like the shield is more useful to keep others safe, etc.
I try to show how much this role of “Independent, Unfeeling Protector” she’s been forced into has hurt and worn her down, and how it isn’t a good thing. Her overall arc is about learning to be cared for by her family, expressing her emotions, reconnecting with her buried interests, and letting herself fall in love. Her love interest is a kind, emotionally open Black woman, and she has friends who are PoC that are varied and aren’t protector/independent types.
My concern is that I’m still perpetuating that stereotype of the Strong Black Woman who takes care of everyone—even if it’s caused by trauma and loss. I don’t know what the line is between dismantling a trope or perpetuating it and what my role is as a white writer is, and was wondering if you had any thoughts on this. Thank you so much!
Research and feedback are key
I do appreciate that the narrative is addressing these stereotypes to subvert, as opposed to “Embracing” the Strong Black Woman and Mammy roles as acceptable characterization. Allowing her to break free from this role and have her happy ending is great as well.
However, this seems like a deep undertaking of trauma that you absolutely need to be equipped to write. Your subject matter goes beyond just stereotypes, but forced parenting.
Mod Norma adds “Definitely agree that parentification is a real form of abuse.”
So, as always, please do your research on such subject matter and have the appropriate sensitivity readers take a look at your story.
Cue your audience on what’s to come
Something to also note is that, while you are subverting the tropes, some BIPOC readers just
aren’t interested in subverting as representation
would prefer to read such stories from those who are of that identity and/or have direct experience with the topic(s)
To quote Mod Elaney from the mod representation wishlist
“Lastly, I personally do not want these tropes to be explored and subverted by people, I want them to be avoided entirely because I feel that normalizing positive representation rather than commenting on negative representation is far more beneficial and validating to the people these works are supposed to help and represent. We don’t need sympathy, we need empathy!”
With an extra layer of abuse as a subject matter, that could also make things less palpable to some.
That isn’t to say you “Can’t” write these subjects of course. Simply check your motivations. Write this because this is a topic you want to address and will heavily research and gather proper feedback on.
I (personally) have to be in the right mood for novels that address Black women going through abuse and oppression. Knowing it isn’t all about that and there’s a bright future for her does soften the blow, though. If there’s any way you can clarify to readers that this isn’t a book simply about “The struggle” and there is a hearty balance of hope and happiness for her, then that makes all the difference.
This sounds like a story that could potentially deconstruct the Strong Black Woman and/or Mammy Tropes. If your intention is to show how harmful these roles can play out and how your character is much much more than those roles, showing how she may first seem that way due to suppression of herself, then I think it will be a hard book to write, but a very good read when you succeed.
That said, this story needs to be written by someone who really knows what they’re doing in regards to these tropes, the portrayed identities/representation, and the mentioned trauma and abuse. These are incredibly complicated and hard to do respectfully and properly and even when you’re able to use your own experiences, you’ll need to do a lot of deep research. Especially given the amount of trauma here, this can easily become trauma-porn as well.
~ Mod Alice
White Authors and Topics to Avoid/Tread Carefully
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