Publishing stories with spouse’s name (Arabic) even though i’m white
I am a white author who plans to publish using a pen name with my significant other's last name. We are legally married but I have not (and cannot) legally change my name. (We don't live in the USA.) They have supported and nurtured my writing like no one else, and the use of their name is to honor them. However, the last name is an Arabic last name. What are some ways to be up front and honest about this when it comes to putting my writing out there?
Assume Assumptions Will Be Made
People will make assumptions about your background based on your name and there’s no real way around that. If you are writing books with Arab characters, people will probably assume you’re representing your own community and experiences. You can be upfront about it by mentioning your background in your author bio and generally in any place where you introduce yourself or talk about your writing. You can also make sure to correct any mistakes that may occur if you are offered opportunities reserved for authors of color, or placed on lists of authors of color. Still, you won’t be able to entirely avoid misleading some people, so it’s up to you to decide whether you’re okay with that.
Your intentions can be as pure as a baby's giggle, but there will always be strangers who flat-out won't believe it. Unless you are very comfortable with some people believing the worst of you, I'd advise against it.
Plus, there really isn’t a way to make sure every single reader sees you being “up-front and honest about this,” because plenty of people don’t have Twitter or read author bios on the book or whatever.
I agree with the above points. However, I especially want to emphasize what Niki and Shira’s are saying: You can be as well-intentioned and transparent as you wish. It will likely not make a difference. You can no more stop people from forming their own assumptions about you than you can stop them from thinking. Thus, I strongly think the alternative suggestions by Emme below for honoring your partner are worth considering.
Politics of Race and Race-faking in Publishing
Providing my own thoughts from a discussion that Mod Niki facilitated!
Considering how so many people with “ethnic” non-white names must assimilate in order to be seen as palatable for western audiences, I do not feel comfortable with white people doing the inverse, despite any good intentions. Too often we have “racefaking” and intentional deceit when it comes to exploiting opportunities set aside for people of color.
I agree. I don’t think it is realistic to assume that you are operating in a world where the identity suggested to your audience by your pen-name won’t impact:
How editors interact with your story
The likelihood of your being published
Who your audience believes you are
Lastly, from a professional standpoint, you should consider that once your body of work is associated with a given pen-name, it will be difficult to switch should you need to for any reason.
There are certainly ways to honor your significant other aside from publishing your work under their surname (as Mod Niki and Mod Shira described above):
A dedication page?
Creating a main character (of SO’s ethnic background) sharing that surname in your story?
These, in my opinion, are much more solid ways to honor people in your writing and allow for a natural progression of explanation (i.e. People will be interested in what you have to say about creating your world, a heartfelt message you have for your SO before you story begins).
I emphasize Mod Niki’s suggestion above, if you did continue to publish under your spouse’s surname. How transparent are you being about your own race? Is your reasoning for writing under an Arabic surname clear to your readers and publishers?
You’ve talked a lot about why you want to use your partner’s pen-name for your writing. How does your partner feel about this? If it is known that the two of you are married, anything you write with your partner’s name will also be linked to them in the public’s eye. How do both of you feel about that? Are either of you active on social media? How will you both cope if there is public outcry over the optics of a white, Westerner publishing under an ostensibly non-Western name (I recognize that sentiments might differ between different international markets, but twitter, instagram and tumblr being what they are, let’s not kid ourselves).
As a mixed person who regularly has to be tactful about which identity I present to different audiences, I view this question more as an opportunity to give advice than to tell you what to do, so please take everyone’s responses to heart and then make the choice best for you, your partner and your conscience.
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I'm writing an AU of a movie that takes place in the 1880s USA, where a travelling white character and a Jewish character are waylaid by Native Americans, who they befriend. Probably because it was written by and about PoC (Jews) the scene actually avoids the stuff on your Native American Masterpost, but I'd still like to do better than a movie made in the 1980's, and I feel weird cutting them from the plot entirely. I have a Jewish woman reading it for that, but are there any things you (1/1)
2/2 1880s western movie ask--are there things you'd LIKE to see in a movie where a white man and a Jewish man run into Native Americans in the 1880s? I do plan to base them on a real tribe (Ute, probably) and have proper housing/clothes and so forth, but right now I'm just trying to avoid or subvert awful cowboy movie tropes. Any ideas?
White and Jewish Man, Native American interactions in 1880s
I am vaguely concerned with how you only cite one of our posts about Native Americans, that was not written by a Native person, and do not cite any of the posts relating to this time period, or any posts relating to representation in media.
Sidenote: if you want us to give accurate reflections of the media you’re discussing, please tell us the NAME. I cannot go look up this movie based off this description to give you an idea of what my issues are with this scene, and must instead trust that the representation is good based off your judgement. I cannot make my own judgement. This is a problem. Especially since your whole question boils down to “this scene is good but not great and I want it to be great. How can I do that?”
Your baseline for “good” could very well be my baseline for “terrible hack job”. I can’t give you the proper education required for you to be able to accurately evaluate the media you’re watching for racist stereotypes if you don’t tell me what you’re even working with.
When you’re writing fanfic where the media is directly relevant to the question, please tell us the name of the media. We will not judge your tastes. We need this information in order to properly help you.
I bring up my concern for you citing that one—exceptionally old—post because it is lacking in many of the tropes that don’t exist in the media critique field but exist in the real world. This is an issue I have run into countless times on WWC (hence further concern you did not cite any other posts) and have spoken about at length.
People look at the media critique world exclusively, assume it is a complete evaluation of how Native Americans are seen in society, and as a result end up ignoring some really toxic stereotypes and then come to the inbox with “these characters aren’t abc trope, so they’re fine, but I want to rubber stamp them anyway. Anything wrong here?”. The answer is pretty much always yes.
Issue one: “Waylaid” by Native Americans
This wording is extremely loaded for one reason: Native American people are seen as tricksters, liars, and predators. This is the #1 trope that shows up in the real world that does not show up in media critique. It’s also the trope I have talked about the most when it comes to media representation, so you not knowing the trope is a sign you haven’t read the entirety of the Native tag—which is in the FAQ as something we would really prefer you did before coming at us to answer questions. It avoids us having to re-explain ourselves.
Now, hostility is honestly to be expected for the time period the movie is set in. This is in the beginnings (or ramping up) of residential schools in America* and Canada, we have generations upon generations of stolen or killed children, reserves being allocated perhaps hundreds of miles from sacred sites, and various wars with Plains and Southwest peoples are in full force (Wounded Knee would have happened in 1890, in December, and the Dakoa’s mass execution would have been in 1862. Those are just the big-name wars. There absolutely were others).
*America covers up its residential schools abuse extremely thoroughly, so if you try to research them in the American context you will come up empty. Please research Canada’s schools and apply the same abuse to America, as Canada has had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission about residential schools and therefore is more (but not completely) transparent about the abuse that happened. Please note that America’s history with residential schools is longer than Canada’s history. There is an extremely large trigger warning for mass child death when you do this research.
But just because the hostility is expected does not mean that this hostility would be treated well in the movie. Especially when you consider the sheer amount of tension between any Native actors and white actors, for how Sacheen Littlefeather had just been nearly beaten up by white actors at the 1973 Academy Awards for mentioning Wounded Knee, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act had only been passed two years prior in 1978.
These Native actors would not have had the ability to truly consent to how they were shown, and this power dynamic has to be in your mind when you watch this scene over. I don’t care that the writers were from a discriminated-against background. This does not always result in being respectful, and I’ve also spoken about this power imbalance at length (primarily in the cowboy tag).
Documentaries and history specials made in the 2010s (with some degree of academic muster) will still fall into wording that harkens Indigenous people to wolves and settlers as frightened prey animals getting picked off by the mean animalistic Natives. This is not neutral, or good. This is perpetuating the myth that the settlers were helpless, just doing their own thing completely unobtrusively, and then the evil territorial Native Americans didn’t want to share.
To paraphrase Batman: if I had a week I couldn’t explain all the reasons that’s wrong.
How were these characters waylaid by the Native population? Because that answer—which I cannot get because you did not name the media—will determine how good the framing is. But based on the time period this movie was made alone, I do not trust it was done respectfully.
Issue 2: “Befriending”
I mentioned this was in an intense period of residential schools and land wars all in that area. The Ute themselves had just been massacred by Mormons in the Grass Valley Massacre in 1865, with ten men and an unknown number of women and children killed thanks to a case of assumed association with a war chief (Antonga Black Hawk) currently at war with Utah. The Paiute had been massacred in 1866. Over 100 Timpanogo men had been killed, with an unknown number of women and children enslaved by Brigham Young in Salt Lake City in 1850, with many of the enslaved people dying in captivity (those numbers were not tracked, but I would assume at least two hundred were enslaved— that’s simply assuming one woman/wife and one child for every man, and the numbers could have very well been higher if any war-widows and their children were in the group, not to mention families with multiple children). This is after an unknown group of Indigenous people had been killed by Governor Brigham Young the year prior, to “permanently stop cattle theft” from settlers.
The number of Native Americans killed in Utah in the 1800s—just the number of dead counted (since women and children weren’t counted)—in massacres not tied to war (because there was at least one war) is over 130. The actual number of random murders is much higher; between the uncounted deaths and how the Governor had issued orders to “deal with” the problem of cattle theft permanently. I doubt you would have been tried or convicted if you murdered Indigenous peoples on “your” land. This is why it’s called state sanctioned genocide.
This is not counting the Black Hawk War in Utah (1865-1872), which the Ute were absolutely a part of (the wiki articles I read were contradictory if Antonga Black Hawk was Ute or Timpanogo, but the Ute were part of it). The first official massacre tied to the war—the Bear River Massacre, ordered by the US Military—places the death count of just that singular massacre at over five hundred Shoshone, including elders, women, and children. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the number of Indigenous people killed in Utah from 1850, onward, is over a thousand, perhaps two or three.
Pardon me for not reading beyond that point to list more massacres and simply ballparking a number; the source will be linked for you to get an accurate number of dead.
So how did they befriend the Native population? Let alone see them as fully human considering the racism of the time period? Natives were absolutely not seen as fully human so long as they were tied to their culture, and assimilation equalling some sliver of respect was already a stick being waved around as a threat. This lack of humanity continues to the present day.
I’m not saying friendship is impossible. I am saying the sheer levels of mistrust that would exist between random wandering groups of white/pale men and Indigenous communities wouldn’t exactly make that friendship easy. Having the scene end be a genuine friendship feels ignorant and hollow and flattening of ongoing genocide, because settlers lied about their intentions and then lined you up for slauther (that’s how the Timpanogo were killed and enslaved).
Utah had already done most of its mass killing by this point. The era of trusting them was over. There was an active open hunting season, and the acceptable targets were the Indigenous populations of Utah.
(sources for the numbers:
List of Indian Massacres in North America
Black Hawk War (1865-1872))
Issue 3: “Proper housing/clothes and so forth”
Do you mean Western style settlements and jeans? If yes, congratulations you have written a reservation which means the land-ripped-away wounds are going to be fresh, painful, and sore.
You do not codify what you mean by “proper”, and proper is another one of those deeply loaded colonial words that can mean “like a white man” or “appropriate for their tribe.” For the time period, it would be the former. Without specifying which direction you’re going for, I have no idea what you’re imagining. And without the name of the media, I don’t know what the basis of this is.
The reservation history of this time period seems to maybe have some wiggle room; there were two reservations allocated for the Ute at this time, one made in 1861 and another made in 1882 (they were combined into the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in 1886). This is all at the surface level of a google and wikipedia search, so I have no idea how many lived in the bush and how many lived on the reserve.
There were certainly land defenders trying to tell Utah the land did not belong to them, so holdouts that avoided getting rounded up were certainly possible. But these holdouts would be far, far more hostile to anyone non-Native.
The Ute seemed to be some degree of lucky in that the reserve is on some of their ancestral territory, but any loss of land that large is going to leave huge scars.
It should be noted that reserves would mean the traditional clothing and housing would likely be forbidden, because assimilation logic was in full force and absolutely vicious at this time.
It’s a large reserve, so the possibility exists they could have accidentally ended up within the borders of it. I’m not sure how hostile the state government was for rounding up all the Ute, so I don’t know if there would have been pockets of them hiding out. In present day, half of the Ute tribe lives on the reserve, but this wasn’t necessarily true historically—it could have been a much higher percentage in either direction.
It’s up to you if you want to make them be reservation-bound or not. Regardless, the above mentioned genocide would have been pretty fresh, the land theft in negotiations or already having happened, and generally, the Ute would be well on their way to every assimilation attempt made from either residential schools, missionaries, and/or the forced settlement and pre-fab homes.
To Answer Your Question
I don’t want another flattened, sanitized portrayal of genocide.
Look at the number of dead above, the amount of land lost above, the amount of executive orders above. And try to tell me that these people would be anything less than completely and totally devastated. Beyond traumatized. Beyond broken hearted. Absolutely grief stricken with almost no soul left.
Their religion would have been illegal. Their children would have been stolen. Their land was taken away. A saying about post-apocalyptic fiction is how settler-based it is, because Indigenous people have already lived through their own apocalypse.
It would have all just happened at the time period this story is set in. All of the grief you feel now at the environment changing so drastically that you aren’t sure how you’ll survive? Take that, magnify it by an exponential amount because it happened, and you have the mindset of these Native characters.
This is not a topic to tread lightly. This is not a topic to read one masterpost and treat it as a golden rule when there is too much history buried in unmarked, overfull graves of school grounds and cities and battlefields. I doubt the movie you’re using is good representation if it doesn’t even hint at the amount of trauma these Native characters would have been through in thirty years.
A single generation, and the life that they had spent millennia living was gone. Despite massive losses of life trying to fight to preserve their culture and land.
Learn some history. That’s all I can tell you. Learn it, process it, and look outside of checklists. Look outside of media.
And let us have our grief.
~ Mod Lesya
On Question Framing
Please allow me the opportunity to comment on “are there things you'd LIKE to see in a movie where a white man and a Jewish man run into Native Americans in the 1880s?” That strikes me as the same type of question as asking what color food I’d like for lunch. I don’t see how the cultural backgrounds of characters I have literally no other information about is supposed to make me want anything in particular about them. I don’t know anything about their personalities or if they have anything in common.
Compare the following questions:
“Are there things you’d like to see in a movie where two American women, one from a Nordic background and one Jewish, are interacting?” I struggle to see how our backgrounds are going to yield any further inspiration. It certainly doesn’t tell you that we’re both queer and cling to each other’s support in a scary world; it doesn’t tell you that we uplift each other through mental illness; it doesn’t go into our 30 years of endless bizarre inside jokes related to everything from mustelids to bad subtitles.
Because: “white”, “Jewish”, and “Native American” aren’t personality words. You can ask me what kind of interaction I’d like to see from a high-strung overachieving woman and a happy-go-lucky Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and I’ll tell you I’d want fluffy f/f romance. Someone else might want conflict ultimately resolving in friendship. A third person might want them slowly getting on each other’s nerves more and more until one becomes a supervillain and the other must thwart her. But the same question about a cultural demographic? That told me nothing about the people involved.
Also, the first time I meet a new person from a very different culture, it might take weeks before discussion of our specific cultural differences comes up. As a consequence, my first deep conversations with a Costa Rican American gentile friend were not about Costa Rica or my Jewishness but about things we had in common: classical music and coping with breakups--which are obviously conversations I could have had if we were both Jewish, both Costa Rican gentiles, or both something else. So in other words, I’m having trouble seeing how knowing so little about these characters is supposed to give me something to want to see on the page.
Thank you for understanding.
(And yes, I agree with Lesya, what’s with this trend of people trying to explain their fandom in a roundabout way instead of mentioning it by name? It makes it harder to give meaningful help….)
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