For any other BIPOC writers and creatives out there, I feel your pain. It can be really hard to feel like you’re either the diversity hire or you’re not paid enough attention because of the “politics” you bring up (read: “politics” as “personal details”). But along my own writing and creative journey, I’ve found a couple of these tips to help me embrace my cultural background as fuel for my artistic vision rather than a hindrance to the process.
Before I begin though, I just want to offer up some information about myself.
All of these tips are specific to my experience and in no way are the end-all-be-all for all BIPOC writers and creatives.
So, some quick bullet points on me:
- I am mixed race: Japanese, Scottish, Irish, and English
- I am VERY white-passing (because I am still white)
- I am second-generation Japanese American
- I am the child of an immigrant
All of these factors have influenced my identity (or non-identity sometimes) as a POC. And I write this all out to also say that the privileges I benefit from are enormous. But I have still experienced difficulty in finding a space to document my diversity within the white, cishet, male, upper-middle-class society we have the joy of navigating today and always!
Make your work culturally specific.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a teacher was to make my pieces culturally specific.
This way, the need for diversity is unavoidable and unapologetic.
It can’t be turned into the token BIPOC character who gets killed off first or at least definitely dies in any horror movie. It’s an integral part of the narrative that cannot be replaced.
And even though cultural specificity seems like it narrows things down, it can actually open you up to the intricacies within the cultural diaspora you’re navigating.
Some of the pieces I’ve written have taken influence from my experience as the child of an immigrant and the various pressures I’ve felt to uphold the standard of fulfilling the American Dream. But other times, my writing has explored my feelings of inadequacy when it comes to not being able to fulfill those expectations.
Find your community of color.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever rejected your cultural and ethnic identity in an attempt to assimilate to the standards of whiteness!!! My hand is raised and yours probably is too!
I rejected my identity as Asian-American for a long time.
In fact, I remember getting so angry at my mom when I was in middle school when she decided to found the Multicultural Parent Collaboration. What a boss move, and yet I was so ungrateful.
When I went to college, I found myself as a part of the 19% diversity rate in which the school prided itself on. To say “YIKES” is an understatement. But weirdly enough, being in such an aggressively white space made me embrace my Japanese heritage in ways I never would have expected.
My first experience being in a space of color was when I was 20 years old. I was working at a theater, East West Players, in DTLA, the nation’s longest-running theater of color that focused on Asian American Pacific Islander storytelling.
Being around people who actually affirmed my identity as an Asian American was undeniably one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received in my life.
Return to your community.
Once you’ve found your community, don’t let it slip away. The onslaught of life makes this so easy to do. We neglect relationships all the time, especially when we feel like we can move on to bigger and better things.
But sometimes, those bigger and better things won’t have a space carved out for you. And you’ll need to rely on your community in those moments when you feel defeated and hurt.
It’s okay to ask for help, especially when you’ve been brought down by a world that doesn’t deem your experience significant enough. Instead of moving on from one project to the next, make the conscious decision to nourish yourself in spaces that make you feel at home.
Invest in those who are invested in you.
If there’s no space made for you, make space for yourself.
I cannot emphasize this one enough. This was a huge impetus for me to found the Sacrosanct Collective. There simply wasn’t a space for queer, trans, & non-binary BIPOC to share in their experiences and I wanted to change that.
It’s such an annoying reminder but it’s so important. And yes, it’s exhausting to have to do this everywhere that you go. But I promise you that when you create that space for yourself, you’re also making way for the next BIPOC creative who will come after you.
And ignore anyone else who says this isn’t possible.
That’s simply fear talking. We are constantly afraid of change even though it is the only sure thing in this life. To make space for yourself is to cause waves. Maybe you’re not ready to take that step. And that’s okay too.
But no one is going to hand you a platform. Sometimes you have to create it for yourself.
Amplify the voices of others.
When in doubt, always invest in the creativity of others that you admire. All creatives go through rough patches where we’re not able to write or make something like we naturally always do. I’ve personally found that the best way to get over these blocks is to uplift others and learn from their creativity.
Art is a constant conversation so you can’t be the only talking.
Engaging with other artists is another way to spark your creative curiosity. It will get you out of your head and maybe even into someone else’s. Talking things out and collaborating with others can also help bring out those ideas that have been stuck in the corner of your brain.
But when you’re feeling stuck, put other’s creative visions before your own.
You might learn something about yourself that will inform future projects. Staying inside your own head can be lonely. If there’s someone you look up to who’s doing the exact things that you want to do, allow yourself to experience their process of creation and open yourself up to different ways of thinking and being.
Being a BIPOC creative is such a beautiful thing because of the diversity that exists among us. Being non-white does not make us a monolith. In fact, we are the agents of possibility. We’ve already consumed and been influenced by art that tells the same story over and over again. But we have a voice that can change that narrative or at least offer up a different perspective.
It can feel really scary and really empowering to be a BIPOC creative at this time. But if you don’t come up to the plate and share your voice, no one else is going to do it for you.
Actually, scratch that.
If you don’t come up to the plate and share your voice, ScarJo will do it for you.
And we really don’t need to go through that again. Hopefully, these tips can help you in your creative endeavors. I’m always happy to receive feedback and share ideas on what’s helped you in your writing journey!