First I want to thank The Book Lantern for calling attention to this article.
I'm of two minds approaching this after reading, and there's a part of me that wonders if linking to this is a good or bad thing. Something made me think that the title and attention given to this issue was to elicit some stirrings of controversy to make people read it and knee-jerk with rage or some other strong emotions in the mix, in which case I would deliver a prompt GTFO to the narrative and walk away from the matter without a second thought.
But then again, considering there are people who actually think this way in 21st century society (or at any time for that matter) saddens me, especially coming from someone in academia. And I can't walk away from that.
I don't think that your personal identity should limit you from writing/reading about people who are different from you. It's unrealistic to say the least and it undercuts the larger complex fabric that makes up our society.
Let's think about this in reverse a second. If I'm a straight woman of color, does this mean that I can only write about characters who are like me? Am I limited to that? I mean, I identify as a black/Cherokee/Seminole/Irish American woman in lineage, so by what this article is not so subtly saying, I can only write about characters who I personally identify with? That means I wouldn't be able to write about anybody else in the multicultural playing field, or about characters who may identify under the QUILT BAG notation of sexuality (and beyond), or that I couldn't write about men, or those who may be younger or older than me in age or ideology or anything of that measure?
Or to be even more damning, because I'm a minority, I should be forgotten about and not write at all. Because "ignoring minorities" is somehow a "good" thing.
Screw that noise. Part of the reason why I write is to reflect upon the matters and people I see in society and bring forth a sense of understanding to the individuals I shape as characters in the complex web that composes their identity, and have them face circumstances that either - as people - we face each day or face in extraordinary ways. Stories themselves are reflective of reality even if they may be based in fiction. And we do not live in world simply composed of majority - but somehow it seems that even remotely opening the dialogue to the minority experience is somehow "harmful" or "irrelevant" because of some unspoken risk entailed with the dialogue.
How the hell are we supposed to expand on knowing what the minority - any minority - experience entails if we don't open the floor for it?
If anything, writing about people who have fundamental differences in their experiences promotes an understanding and acceptance of identity in ways that may not be intimate to ourselves. But to be able to understand that, the dialogue has to start somewhere.
There may be things that I fundamentally find problematic/cliche in John Green's writing or opinions for what they may present, but even if what he writes is in the vein of his experiences, ideologies, preferences, or some such, there's no "rule" saying that he can't expand in his writing and try different motifs. There's also no hard and fast rule saying that a reader should be limited in what they read based on their identities or experiences either. If a young Caucasian male who's a survivor of domestic abuse reads about the experiences of an Indian woman living on the other side of the world suffering under the oppression of her abusive family - there's a shared experience there, but the expression is different and there are complexities of identity that are variant and explored with that that the reader may learn to appreciate and view even if their identifications are not mutual on all fronts.
I can't speak for other people who identify as various minorities across the spectrum - whether for cultural identity, ideology or what have you, but I personally am not offended if someone who has a different identification than myself chooses to write about an identity that I have. Not in itself. What I have a problem with is those that choose not to open the dialogue and learn from it, especially when writing about something that may not be intimate to them. When you write about someone who is different than you, you are opening a dialogue, a window to an experience and perspectives that go beyond a single dimension.
We, as people, do not have blanket identities - whether we are of majority or minority groups. There's no one set recipe for the human experience and the way we rise to challenges or fall from grace, from the way we grow up and are shaped by the things we see, interact with, and learn from in the world around us. But there are factors that shape our identities socially, emotionally, culturally, spiritually - among other things that make up the complexities of our internal and external landscape. That in itself is worth exploring and if we are to express that either in fiction or outside of it, if we don't open up those measures, how are we ourselves going to grow enough to look at ourselves and experiences in different ways? Reading in itself is a form of expansion, of broadening our imaginations and seeing things in different lenses (which - I don't know about anyone else - but I find it exciting).
If the writer of this article had any fundamental understanding of that, then she would realize how dangerous it is to ignore ANY detail of the differences that are within these terms, whether it's in fiction or beyond.
We cannot afford to be a society built within ignorance of any part that comprises it, fiction or not. And ignoring a part of what composes our society, even if it's the smallest piece, means that the larger picture will always remain incomplete.