Privilege: The Writer’s Responsibility

Star Trek Fan art by Makintosh, used with attribtuion

Because even in 1966, we knew representation was important. (Art by Makintosh, used with attribution )


I was planning on writing an amusing post about the subjectivity of reviews and why you don’t ever want to be *that* writer. And then the Ferguson Grand Jury decision came out. My husband and I watched the live feed of the official statement, and then of the protests, the police response, and the violent aftermath.

I am heartsick.

We have so far to go to achieve a fair and just society and I am just one small voice; a writer with little platform and less power. What can I do to change what is so broken in our world?

I am under no illusion that I have the ability to persuade those who believe differently than I do. I vote in every election, but the reality is, our choices are often between less bad and more bad. If I gave away every dollar I had to fund social justice causes, I would be destitute and nothing would change.

And yet. . . and yet I cannot do nothing.

* * *

My sons take part in protest marches and post heartfelt diatribes on their FB walls. I get it. I agree with their passion and their message. But I am old enough and cynical enough to understand that there will be friends that agree with them, and friends that will mute them. And perhaps having some kind of written litmus test is a good enough reason to express ones outrage. My writing takes me in a different direction.

* * *

I create worlds that are not our world. I don’t write message fiction, or fiction designed as social critique (though all writing has a message and even fiction cannot mask the writer’s innate world view and biases). But because I am a writer and have at least some small audience, I have a certain degree of privilege. Because I am a white writer, I have a certain degree of privilege. Because I live in the US, I have a certain degree of privilege.

Along with that privilege, travels responsibility.

So I people my universe with a diverse cast of characters. Perhaps this is a small act. Perhaps it is a futile one that will change nothing. But I have to believe otherwise. I have to believe that not only is representation important for someone in the minority, it is important, even critical, for someone in a position of privilege.

We are influenced by the stories we are exposed to – stories in the media, TV shows, movies, plays, and books. If we never experience anything other than more stylized versions of ourselves as heros or leaders, how do we learn empathy or understand anyone else’s lived experiences? How do we break out of our conditioned stereotypes?

* * *

I know, too, that my voice cannot and should not drown out voices of minority writers. While I have had some experience of being the minority in my life, I have more often been the beneficiary of privileges granted rather than earned.  So I struggle with how to respond in the face of such inequity, such institutional and generational injustice. I do know that it is my responsibility to act, just as it is all of our responsibilities to act.

* * *

This past weekend, I attended a memorial service for a dear friend who passed away a month ago after a long illness. His daughter gave a beautiful and moving eulogy, and one of the things she talked about was how much her father, a life long Star Trek fan, had believed in the possibility of a better future, where our differences would no longer be cause for hatred and fear. I am saddened that he did not live long enough to see his beloved future become our reality.

I am saddened that we seem to be just as distant from it as we ever were.

LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen is the writing persona of Lisa Janice Cohen, poet, novelist, blogger, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, reading omnivore, and relentless optimist. Lisa lives just outside of Boston with her family, two dogs (only one of which actually ever listens to her) and the occasional international student. In love with words since early childhood, Lisa filled dozens of notebooks with her scribbles long before there were such a thing as word processors.

Latest posts by LJ Cohen (see all)


  1. Lisa, well done. I’m glad to see you put this to paper. Keep it up! What we need more than anything is open and transparent dialogue on all matters of race and any other factors that lead to division among peoples.

    • Thank you, Sidney. If we are to survive as a species, as a planet, we need to figure out how to live together, celebrating our diversity. At the core of all the discord is fear: fear of the other. But here’s the thing – we are all other to someone.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *