Friday, January 7, 2011
Racism is Alive and Well, Unfortunately
Shouts of racism are in the news every day now even though you'd think we'd be way past that here in 2011. The old saying, what would Jesus do, comes to mind.
In my book, Where Love Once Lived, the male protagonist is white and his best friend is black. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did make the story more interesting. I'm sure it has a lot to do with my personal beliefs. However, how does a writer who believes in equality, write about people of different races without sounding like he or she is emphasizing the differences? Ideally, race wouldn't be mentioned. This might work in a movie or TV show, but in the black and white of a book, how do you show the black and white of the characters?
I grew up in Austin, Texas during the segregation period, and use the father of one of the characters in the book to tell about some of my experiences of that time. I turned one story upside down, letting a black character tell about his experiences. As George McCullough, now in his seventies, describes his experience back in the 1930-40's with segregation, I'm the white boy he refers to. Well, as far as fiction allows.
"It's called historical, now," Mr. McCullough said holding a fork in the air. "It use' to be a ghetto, you know." He glanced at Brian. "I don't guess Cindy told you that. Most of the Negroes lived east of Austin, but there was a colony here in Clarksville."
Mr. McCullough continued. "When I was growin' up, there were boundaries, you see. We couldn't jus' live anywhere we wanted. Ever'one knew where the lines were. Our street here was as far south as we could live."
He shook his head. "Today, it doesn't matter. No one's shocked when black and white marry, even." He locked eyes with Brian, then moved his gaze to Cindy.
"When was this neighborhood a ghetto, Grandpa?" Cindy asked. "I've heard the story, but I think Brian would like to hear about it, too."
"Let's see." He touched a thumb to his fingers. "I'd say up until sometime in the 1950s." He pointed south. "Over at Mathews School, on 9 ½ Street, that was white. Our lot touched up to a white family's back yard." He laughed. "I'd forgotten about that. Fact is, back in the 1930's or 40's, I use' to play with the little kid who lived there. Well, not play, really. We mos'ly jus' talked through the chicken wire. My Mama and Daddy told me not to, but I did anyway."
As the author, I also worried about making Mr. McCullough sound different. To make up for using the speech pattern, which I felt gave a better view of the character, later in the book, his intelligence is clearly shown.
How do you write about race differences without emphasizing the differences? What do you prefer as a reader?
Note: This is repeated from 4/1/10.