You can't make anything of this without considering the purpose of fiction writing itself. The catch line in the New Yorker article is the last - "“But then again, whenever I read something, I wonder, ‘where can I find the character who represents ME?’ ”.
The way multiculturalists have politicized the 'problem' of identity in fiction is to respond with a call to a new representational flowering of fiction writing that must be both exceptional and broadly accepted. It does so with the presumption that there is an element of unambiguous oppression in such writing not deemed appropriately representational. This underlies the assumption that there is something *wrong* with the idea that internalizing a 'white' character is somehow detrimental for a reader who is not nominally white. The irony of course is that it can only be detrimental when the principle of modernity is erased - that principle that says human experience is human experience and not essentially racial. If my terms are somewhat off, it is because I associate and equate modernism with humanism.
The multicultural argument is familiar to me. I have made it myself, but in service to an agenda of cultural production that was conceived to be both one of anti-racist and ethnic chauvinist intent. While the first component is admirable, the second cannot be ignored. I don't have the time nor inclination to demonstrate the extent to which multicultural literature and literacy are chauvinist but rely on the reader's familiarity with the term 'positive role model' when considering the ethically correct sort of fiction.
But let us consider what I consider to be the neutral case - which is that authors need to make fiction writing with respect to the complexity of their characters fit into a more rainbow like spectrum. Even the color of that rainbow is biased by the American black/white polarity and other politically charged dimensions of the multicultural agenda. If you doubt this, consider the reaction you would expect if you were to suggest that authors would do just as well to make complex characters to be Czech or Eastern Orthodox. It's all rather well to consider that the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation makes its point until you try to consider a Ludwig Bemelmans Foundation making a similar point about childrens books featuring young Catholic French girls like Madeline. And what, pray tell are we to think about Bugs Bunny? Is there something fundamentally wrong with the fact that we learn and internalize stories and lessons from talking rabbits? What about curious monkeys?
If it's OK to learn from an animal, is it OK to allow readers to make racial and ethnic identifications of characters read from text? I mean is there anything that tells us quite specifically what Sherlock Holmes looks and sounds like? I've read several of Conan Doyle's books and I'm still stuck with the images I had gotten earlier from TV. And now I particularly favor the spin I get from Guy Ritchie's two films. It is difficult for me to imagine Robin as anyone other than Burt Ward. Is it OK for the reader to make what they will of a fictional character? It seems to me that the best way to answer that is to consider the alternative, which is that an author must make racial and ethnic choices for all of their characters and the reader must not stray from that interpretation. That doctrine seems further than any other in the pursuit of anti-racist aims.
It is my opinion that the best thing is done by the 'counter' fiction which is unselfcounsciously that, but it's difficult to unring the bell of political correctness. So I expect to find those black Americans writing about people they knew personally, before there was any call in the literature for such characters, to be what's best - for what it's worth. Surely those readers feeling the oppression of absence or over-simplification would find libraries worth recommending. As one who has used the multicultural argument, my recommendations are as good as any. What I have found then, is a set of a few books that makes the case, the implication being that there were so many others which ended up being a waste of my time. And then of course even as I wrote the recommendation, it was in the context of a cultural and political project, this blog.
I am finally apt to say, paraphrasing Hugh Laurie who was likley paraphrasing someone else, that there are exactly two types of fiction, good and bad. I think that what has stood the test of time as good is all we should concern ourselves with when it comes to picking what to read and how to assess them. It is only when our heads are full of that which we know to be good that we can say with any certainty whether 'the character that represents ME' is a a good character at all. After all, if ME is so damned important, then ME should write a book about ME.