August 23, 2006

Musing on Race

On the up side, yesterday I got to see the back of my eyeballs. On the downside, it was a fully wasted day -- once you get your eyes dilated, no more computer!!! I am cross, and struggling again with my edit... so, time to focus on something else...

I'm late with these thoughts, but I wanted to throw out some props to my man, Al.

Okay, actually? I think Al Sharpton is insufferable, a pervasive evil most garrulous, ostensibly in the name of equality and respect and civil rights. Hah. However, for once... I respect his opinion. In a keynote address at the annual National Assoc. of Black Journalists in Indianapolis August 18th, (at which the ever excellent YA and children's poet Nikki Giovanni read this poem) Sharpton made a pointed statement about teens and race. He said, "We have got to get out of this gangster mentality, acting as if gangsterism and blackness are synonymous... I think we have allowed a whole generation of young people to feel that if they're focused, they're not black enough. If they speak well and act well, they're acting white, and there's nothing more racist than that (emphasis mine)."

WHERE was that man when I was in school? (Actually, again... he was there. Spouting something stupid, no doubt. Better question, perhaps: WHY hasn't he said something intelligent like this before? Never mind.)

After Devas T's most excellent commentary back in May, I took a closer look at my characters. I am committed to predominantly writing characters of color -- not because I don't know enough about the dominant culture, but because there needs to be more books about people of color just... living. Not being particularly ethnic or having racial whatevers, but just living life and having issues common to mankind, perhaps just flavored with their particular cultural status; issues and storylines and plot twists that are accessible to all readers, in the name of bridging the gaps between us maintainted out of fear and ignorance. I find that I am still uneasy about this -- not because I don't think there are readers interested in my characters, or having some connection to a life like that, rather I am still afraid that someone is going to say someday (and please God, may it not be my agent),

"She's never going to win a Coretta Scott King Award.
She's not black enough."

This is, of course, ludicrous on any number of levels. First, if I don't finish this stupid edit... well, you know the rest on that one. Second, and probably more importantly, I don't need an award to tell me I'm doing well expressing the 'black experience,' whatever that is, and I'm sure the award has nothing to do with that (and apologies to anyone who has ever received it - I'm not knocking or mocking it!) But take every young adult who has been told that they're in Ethnic Deficiency since junior high... multiply their number by the divisive, pernicious, insistent media hype that says You Must Be This Thuggish To Ride, add to it the 1 in 3 Black males incarcerated, and then you'll have the number of young people, of both genders, who need to be re-educated that just being themselves -- achieving where they can, failing and trying again where they can't, speaking and thinking and discovering themselves -- is just fine.

Anyone who was or knows young people knows what I mean here. I'm sure this is not just a "black thing."


MotherReader said...

"because there needs to be more books about people of color just... living. Not being particularly ethnic or having racial whatevers, but just living life and having issues common to mankind."

Thanks for saying that. I'm glad that there are books that explore slavery and civil rights, but I would love to see more kids books that don't feel the need to address those issues, yet still feature African-American kids as you say, "just living life." Make it happen.

TadMack said...

Will do! This is my goal...

DaviMack said...

In case you blinked (or grew weary of listening to KPFA), there's a growing movement among the HipHop / Rap community to reclaim the music and culture ... and to reclaim the youth. To quote from Paris' album Sonic Jihad:

The bulls*** noise that the radio play
Where the world wanna be like and talk like and act like and rap like
The black life is all gats and crack pipes
I spit right - nigga whut?

It's hardcore. It's crude, crass, harsh ... and dead on target, and Reverend Al is just now trying to tap into that grassroots community of rappers who have struggled to be published where the music industry is dominated by those who believe that "all the black community wants" is gangsta rap.

May you be free from that prejudice.

a. fortis said...

You know I'm totally with you on this one (and we've talked about it before). I fear this tendency to want to make any books with characters of color/race/ethnicity about color/race/ethnicity. I also fear a tendency that's related--the idea that only authors of X background can write about characters of X background, or that authors of X background should only write about characters of X background.

Given that logic, I should only ever write books about half-Pakistani, quarter-Czech, quarter Euro-mutt girls! ;)

TadMack said...

Hey, I would read a novel about a half-Pakistani, quarter-Czech, quarter Euro-mutt girl! As Donal would say, "It's fairly heaving with plot threads!!"