An interesting side note: some of my writing group is privy to the strange conversations I have with Secret Agent Man about race and writing, and some of the strange and upsetting conversations I had at grad school about "representing" and how I wasn't doing it, by creating characters belonging to the dominant culture. It seems that the difficulty isn't new, Gene Andrew Jarrett, adjunct professor of English at the University of Maryland writes in the SF Chronicle Insight section:
Usually, readers assume that a book written by a black author is a story about black people. This definition is everywhere. It has determined the way authors think about and write African American literature, the way publishers classify and distribute it, the way bookstores receive and sell it, the way libraries catalog and shelve it, the way readers locate and retrieve it, the way teachers, the way scholars, and anthologists use it, and the way students learn from it.The fact is, sometimes writers just want to write about the commonality of human experience, instead of about race. However, it just comes across as weird to some people, and a minority writer can find themselves defensive. It's heartening to know that authors like Toni Morrison and others actually wrote "out of character" pieces in which it's almost impossible to determine the race of the characters in the work. It certainly changes the conversation when the color of the speakers is not at issue... it tends to perhaps centralize the focus on the facts, whether emotional or literal, and create a new angle on literature. A very enlightened idea, that.