Racebending.com’s Creating Spaces for Diverse Characters and Representations Panel at SDCC 2012.
The whole discussion is interesting, but you guys… Marjorie Liu says this right at the beginning:
When I sold my first book I was told by a friend - and later on I was told by other professionals too - that I should change my last name. I should write under a different name because people wouldn’t buy a romance novel or [??], especially commercial fiction, written by someone with a Chinese last name. I know another Asian author who was told the same thing and she actually did change her name because marketing told her that her name was ethnically tainted.
I have faced covers not accurately representing the race of my characters; that still happens. I started recently receiving racially charged and sexually charged death threats because I wrote an issue about gay marriage in the X-Men.
Her name was ethnically tainted? WTF.
Thank you for watching our panel!
Authors are often pressured to change their name based on editors’ assumptions that audiences will be racist or sexist. For example, if I recall correctly, J.K. Rowling and K.A. Applegate were both encouraged to not use their first names so readers would not know they were women. The assumption is that young boys would not want to read a book written by a girl (I guess we start them on the idea of “chick” books that early…) In a post from yesterday, two Latina actresses also talked about how they worry their surnames on a list of auditioning actors set them apart as too ethnic for roles. An article about Gabby Douglas’s gymnastic coach that was published in Time Magazine last week explained how he changed his name from Qiao to Chow to make it more accessible. Of course, a part of American history and the “whiteification” of incoming immigrants includes a long history of changing surnames (eg. shortening or anglicizing Eastern European last names in an effort to categorize this group of immigrants as white.) Not to mention all sorts of “well-intentioned” name changes forced on people of color, including Native Americans and indigenous peoples, African slaves, Chinese migrant workers, etc.
I have often wondered if having the last name “Lee” as an Asian American has conferred upon me a smidgen of “white”/passing privilege (compared to other Asian Americans who have more “ethnic” sounding last names.) My mother used to say it made me lucky as an Asian living in the US. With the last name “Lee,” I can be read as white on papers and resumes, and since I have a generic Californian accent, I can also be read as white over the phone. (Resulting in awkward situations whe people are surprised to learn I am Asian…) Had US immigration spelled my father’s last name as “Li,” or if my father had a different last name, maybe it would be a different story…