So, there's this discussion going on on PF, and I thought I should share in here what my last post there says. (The discussion is on The Kite Runner and its portrayal of Pashtuns.)
It is commonly known that the average reader will take each character as a *representative* of an entire group of people – a race, possibly; a people belonging to one same faith, maybe – and so when the author is writing, she/he should be careful. But what about when they’re telling the story of a particular people? Should authors still be careful? Sure. Are they obligated to? Not at all.
You see, there are ways to be careful when you’re telling a story. For instance, you could make your focal character whoever you want, but try to make sure that you have another character of *the same race and/or creed* so that your readers don’t end up making generalizations about your characters, so that your readers don’t go, “Ohhh! Since Character A, the main character, was an Egyptian and he disrespected his wife, all Egyptian men must be like that.” Or “Ohhh! Since Character A was Muslim and he was an alcoholic EVEN THOUGH he prayed 5 times a day, all Muslims are hypocrites.”
What you can do (I won’t say “should”) is, construct your story in a way that you will have more than one character who belong to the same race/belief system. So, you have this one Egyptian character who’s Muslim, give another Egyptian Muslim who’s not a hypocrite; give a Muslim of another background who’s also an alcoholic; give a non-Muslim who’s also an alcoholic (or a hypocrite in other ways).
BUT! Doing that will mean stuffing your stories with so many characters that your readers can’t keep up with it and constantly have to go back to remember who’s who. But why feel obligated to have that many characters just because you’re afraid of the response you will receive from people? What if your novel is based on a true story (or true stories) and you want to tell only that, while embellishing it with some fictitious characters, thoughts, scenarios, etc. Remember: This is *your* novel; no one else gets a say in it.
Anyway, so, you could also make sure that you tell your story in such a way that the reader will never be able to make any assumptions about you, the story teller. Give only one character of each faith/race, as you wish, but don’t make any judgments yourself; don’t allow your characters to make judgment – no, wait, that’s inevitable; you have to do that … but you can do it by having one character say A and another character saying – A. Your doing this won’t expose your judgmental side to your reader.
But again! Why do you have to do that? Why is it that you feel like you have to provide a “perfectly accurate representation” of the races and religions of all the characters you include in your book? Sure, it’s great for English assignments when your readers have to read your book for a class and then write some analysis paper on it.
For instance, if one of your character rapes another character of the same gender in your story, why does the whole world have to assume that all of the people who belong the race of the former are like that?
I will post more later. Can't at the moment.