A couple nights ago on Facebook, I lamented how mushrooms seem to diminish after cooking them. A few days before that, I posted a picture of zucchini shredded into spaghetti strands. In between, I made some snarky remark about the Ben Affleck as Batman brou ha ha. Those were my most popular posts in the last couple weeks. Not that you need a play by play, but merely some context. Because pretty much every other thing I’ve posted has been about race or civil rights. Sometimes these things get a like… sometimes I think it is just lost in the vacuum of Facebook hullabaloo. And maybe my opinions are hullabaloo to some people.
But that won’t stop me from speaking them.
I guess I am subject to the winds of pop culture right now. Today we celebrate a 50 year anniversary of a speech. An uplifting speech – one worth remembering. One that some have declared a pinnacle of a great movement. It’s also the easy thing to remember. The easy thing to quote. To like and share on Facebook. Because it makes us feel good and hopeful. Not sick.
Maybe that’s why less than a handful of people like these posts… because they don’t want to think about things that make them feel icky. Like politics. It’s just easier to not talk about it, avoid conflict, and pretend there isn’t a problem. Or better yet, that the problem is solved because hurray! we now live in a world where a child is not judged by the color of her skin but the content of her character.
Seriously, you think that?
Are you still with me? Or have you turned away because this post isn’t about food or pretty landscapes or a scene from my latest novel… but okay, let’s go there. Because I have reflected on why I feel the need to stand on a soapbox about this issue. Not that I’m shy about soapboxes (especially in a blog or on Facebook). But why this issue? I’m not black or brown or anything that isn’t so pasty you can see my blue veins. It isn’t my problem. Am I justified to shout about it? Because I wrote a book? And… not even a book, really. It’s a rough, rough, rough first draft.
That’s the thing about writing. Especially this novel. I have two characters who are women of color. I was scared to write them. Scared to do them justice, I told myself. Scared I would use the cliché of white savior with my other narrator. Scared I would buy into stereotypes and lack honesty. But really… when I think about it, I think I was scared to see the world through their eyes.
These women are phantoms of my imagination… so really, how is seeing their world different from how I experience reality? I can’t unsee my white, Catholic, small town upbringing. But I have used that small town as a setting and put these characters there. I imagine Bekah going into a coffee shop and getting an unsettled look of not belonging. I imagine Agnes going to school and getting a dishonest grade on her test. Would these things really happen? Maybe not. But looking at history of decades and days ago, I wouldn’t doubt the probability. And imagining it, both the blow to one’s spirit and the necessary resilience to not react changed the way I see things now.
Does that mean I see things that aren’t there? I think my friends might be annoyed with me sometimes. Invoking the word racist about things that weren’t intended to be so. Does that mean I am judging them? But how different is that from judging someone who walks into a coffee shop and just doesn’t look like everyone else in town? Is judging anyone the right thing to do? No. So, let’s talk about it. Please.
I speak through my writing. And, I have no doubt this writing causes me to pay attention to things I normally wouldn’t before. A year ago, I would probably link to the video of MLK Jr.’s famous speech and proclaim it the philosophy to which we must all strive today. Instead I posted Langston Hughes’ words urging the reader to hold fast to dreams.
Because as much as it is a nice thought to think we can live in a colorblind society… I have to say I rather prefer that I see the color now. In all its messy, sickening, hopeful, infuriating, surprising, promising, thought-provoking history and present day struggle. It helps me to write better characters, to see them better, to feel for them. Which I like to think, in turn, makes me a better, more empathetic human being.