I was talking to a friend recently about the curious fact that any book which is by a brown writer and is about brown characters will naturally be read through a racial lens. That is to say: readers will pick it up and read it primarily for what it has to say about race.
On its face, this doesn’t seem like it needs to be true. One can easily imagine a brown writer who writes stories about brown characters that don’t really have weighty themes. Maybe they write mysteries or romances or science fiction novels that just happen to star brown people.
Yes, you can imagine such a writer, but readers cannot. People who just want to read a good story without weighty themes tend to read white writers. People who want to read a good story with weighty themes that are not race-related tend to read white writers. The only people reading brown writers are people who care about race. The exception, if one exists, might be the audience of general fiction readers who happen to be black, and who’ve created a category of best-selling black commercial authors (most notably Terri McMillan). But generally speaking, this will not be you.
It’s easy to decry this state of affairs as being racist. Unfortunately, the very editors and readers who are doing the decrying are the same ones perpetuating the problem. People who care enough about race to want there to be a market for PoC books that aren’t about race are also the people who tend to read books through a race-related lens.
The answer is that if you’re brown, you must put race-related themes into your book. There is simply no avoiding it. Yes, you can eschew this, but the editors and agents who are trying to sell the book are going to studiously do their best to read race-related themes into it, and if the readers who buy it will also try to read race-related themes into it. And if those themes aren’t overtly there in the text, they’ll stretch really hard to find them, but ultimately it’ll be unsatisfying: they won’t know why they dislike the book, all they’ll know is that they do.
So do them a favor: somewhere in the first three chapters, just put in an explicit race-related reading (“Once again, it fell to a brown person to clean up the mess…of an alien invasion”). Just do it and be done with it. The alternative is not being able to sell your book.
P.S. If you want more such advice, check out my Cynical Guide to the Publishing Industry