It's almost scriptural in our
culture now that white authors shouldn't write about Indian
people. The same attitude is applied, perhaps with less heat,
to writing about black, brown, and yellow people.
I don't agree. I myself am not
simply white--I'm a mixture of Cherokee, Welsh, and Irish.
My Cherokee ancestors were removed to Indian Territory in the
1830s along what later became notorious as The Trail of Tears.
Since we're light-skinned (like many Cherokees then and now),
the family passed as white for about a century. But I claim
no authority to speak as a Cherokee, seek no reputation as
a Cherokee writer.
When I write about Indian people,
it's because I'm powerfully drawn to their (our) stories. I
strive with all my heart and soul to tell the truth. What truth
I know comes from long, deep acquaintance with human being
in general and Indians in particular, thousands of hours of
reading, long times spent walking and riding the West, intimacy
with the sweat lodge, the sun dance, the vision quest, and
other ceremonies, and from the awareness I've gained as a Pipe
carrier myself.. None of that came to me by blood.
For me the reward of writing
is entering into other people's minds and spirits and experiencing
the world as they do. To know in that way, to expand my consciousness
thus, and (since I'm a writer) to communicate what I see to
the world. I will write a rock musician who throws away his
world, moves to the rez, and marries a Navajo woman; or a Jewish
lawyer who comes from New York to Cajun country to work as
a public defender; or the difficulties of an interracial marriage
in contemporary Brooklyn. I believe it is within the province
of the novelist, and perhaps is his special obligation, to
do the work and have the generosity of mind to enter into each
of these characters and tell their stories. This is what it
means to be a storyteller.
It works because, fundamentally,
because what we have in common--old, young, man, woman, black,
white, red, brown, yellow--is so much larger and stronger than
whatever tries to divide us. We are human beings walking this
planet, participating in all the joys and sorrows of life.
It's time to put down the idea
that people of one color cannot write about another. That's
a well-intentioned residue of racism, now outdated. Let every
man or woman with a good heart tell the truth he sees. Whose
stories will turn out best, that's for the gods to decide.