As a fellow white male, I understand how tough it is to get oneself noticed above the din of all the other white male voices out there. We’re so numerous and seemingly unrestrained in our desire to talk about the world at large that sometimes it’s disheartening. We want adulation, and if not that, then at least light applause or one of those bro-nods (more a half-nod really) that communicates a job well done, a point aptly made.
And I can understand that you, white male, might find yourself in a place where you feel like what you’re writing about/reporting on/experiencing is really effing important, and the world needs to catapult the propaganda or whatever and you’re afraid that your white-maleness might disqualify you somehow from having a very important viewpoint on the subject at hand (though in my experience, white males are always considered the ultimate expert on any subject you can care to name) and so you’re tempted to take some liberties.
The fact that you’ll get caught is beside the point. You’ll get caught, believe me, but that’s not the big reason you shouldn’t do it.
Look, you can claim that “while the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground,” but you’re just rationalizing your dishonesty. An innate part of being a good journalist is that you’re honest, honest about who you are and honest about the story you’re reporting on, and white male, no matter how much you think you can get inside the head of an imaginary half-Syrian, half-American lesbian blogger living in Damascus. Don’t co-opt the voice of a minority in hopes that people will take your writing more seriously, especially when you belong to the most privileged demographic group on the planet.
Do you want to write a story about a half-Syrian, half-American lesbian blogger in Damascus during the Arab Spring crackdowns? Fine–write it. But write it as fiction. When you claim to be reporting on “the situation on the ground,” you’ve entered into a contract with your readers which includes the promise that you are who you claim to be, especially if you’re claiming to be a minority in a dangerous area.
You want another reason, fellow white male, why you shouldn’t do this? How about because it can harm people in the very situation you imagined.
Daniel Nassar, the pseudonym of a gay campaigner in Damascus, told the Guardian none of his gay friends had met or heard of Amina, but they feared what the backlash to a fake blog could lead to.
“I changed my Twitter name (which was my real name) and picture (which was my real picture) after the news of Amina [emerged],” he said. “I wasn’t afraid of what happened to Amina, as I felt she was fake … I was afraid of the aftermath of her silly lie and how would it affect the way police treat LGBT people here.”
Is your very special take on the situation so unique that it’s worth potentially harming people who are actually there on the ground? Let me answer that for you–no. No it’s not. You’re making things really hairy for people who live in those communities.
If you really have something unique and important to report on, your white male-ness will not get in the way of your being heard. In most cases, it will be an advantage, as bylines and television appearances testify every day. Take, for instance, this piece by a white male who did some reporting from Palestine recently. He didn’t have to invent a half-Palestinian, half-American lesbian in order to be heard. He just had to take good pictures and write about his experience honestly, and he found an outlet.
So fellow white males, if in the future you’re filled with the desire to take on the persona of a minority and write about experiences as though you are that person, do us all a favor and watch an Avatar/Dances With Wolves double feature and get it out of your system. And then maybe find someone on the ground who actually is a member of that minority and help get their voice heard. Or make your own writing interesting enough that people won’t care that it came from a while male. It’s not like they care most of the time.