Black is Black?
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       Hello Ladies (and of course any gentlemen), I would like to pose a question that stops me from starting a writing project that I am particularly interested in. Ever since I can remember I have been interested in the plight of the African American people and their ongoing battle for freedom and equality. I would like to write a novel about a family embroiled in this lifestyle and to that end I would like your opinion on the question I ask myself -- could I do justice to such an undertaking given the fact I am a white Australian. In other words does colour matter?

I would be interested to hear your ideas.

  • I've been working now for six years on a complex novel that includes a ton of African-American characters, including one from the eastern coast of the Honduras where there is a small population decended from two shipwrecked slave ships and a couple of native tribes. (When she migrates to the U.S. in the nineteen eighties, she gets it from all sides, including Blacks who have been here for centuries, that old immigrant/older inhabitant bigotry that pops its head up all over.)

    I've got parallel stories with Jews in Eastern Europe, too, and I now know that what I'm trying to get a handle on is two-fold--how we (minorities and majorities both) internalize bigotry, like black on black racism or the preponderance of JAP jokes, and how experiences of bigotry are handed down through the generations, I. E. how those wounds can be healed, if they can be healed. Paralleling two cultures, according to my readers, is making the issue universal. Someonefrom Kosovo, or Armeniens vs. Turk could see themselves in this novel. In other words, I'm trying to get at one truth: the effects of the experience of bigotry alongside great trauma.

    And I know, I know, I'm not doing it to exploit, but to understand and illuminate. If my novel can let majority folk see through the eyes of minority, whether it be Jew, African-American or Garifuna Honduran immigrant, and can make them both think and relate at the same time, that's grand. If it can illuminate for us, the minority, that's even better. I hope that knowing how a wound is made can give us insight in how to heal it.

    Finally, I'm looking at the strengths of the outsider:insight, empathy, the ability to both think and act outside the box, and I'm wrestling with big ethical conundrums: when does the end justify the means? What are the limits of non-violent protest? What responsibility do we have to the strangers among us? To the damaged ones?

    I don't see these as issues belonging to one race or another, and though initially I sided with the "who did I think I was, a white, Jewish person, to tell African-American stories," school of thought--which I believe is a valid school of thought, by the way--i guess I don't feel that way about this novel any more. These are stories that I listened to with an open heart among friends in my black neighborhood, or dug out of hints in documents and some pretty deep research. My perspective on these stories is hard-earned and I think has value.

    I get the disgusting divide in the publishing world, the attention given white writers vs. writers of color, the respect granted male vs. female writers. When and if I have power in that world I will do whatever I can to change that. But I have come to believe that I have a right to this story. I'm not stealing it. It came to me freely and since then I have worked my butt off to make it as rich and real as I can. When and if I get it published, I hope to hear from you, who I have come to respect, what you think about it. I would feel very proud if you approve.

  • Karla sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your post. We have been on holidays and also you hit it right on with your first sentence-- a tiger by the tail comes to mind. But it is obviously something that is very close to a lot of people's hearts to have warranted such a reaction

    By the way, why not write your Regency and make your black lady a real Woman of Substance, turn the tables so to speak. Cheers!

  • Hi Dianne,

    I'm betting that on some level you're wishing that you hadn't started this discussion! Race in America is a very heated, explosive topic; the Black culture itself adds a whole fascinating layer. i can understand your interest in delving into our culture, but obviously it'll spark reaction. i adore Regencies. But every time I think of writing one with a Black woman as the main character  I hesitate. At that time, blacks in aristocratic British society were pratcially non-existant, if existing at all (okay, don't beat me up, i haven't done the research, just read a lot of Regencies and a few history books). I do know that children of mixed descent (Spanish, Italian etc) had a harder time of it despite their family connections.

    And, we were slaves, servants or amusements for a British peer. That sorta takes the joy out of it.

    Just be aware of what you're walking into. It might not be nice and accepting.


  • Love the quote! I am not one to jump on the bandwagon in any instance Dera. I tend to write crime and mystery so a novel with an African-American flavour would probably hold an element of those genres in it. I read Persia Walkers novels and really enjoyed them, but maybe some back people would say they were not a true representation of the culture of the time either. I agree research is very necessary and would hope I would portray any race with sensitivity.Thanks for your time and advice.

  • Of course colour matters. Our ethnicity is ours alone, it is who we are. I prefer to believe that we are all made equal and as such everyone anywhere in the world deserves to be treated with respect and understanding. That said, I feel that as writers we have an obligation to write with the same respect and understanding. That is what prompted my initial question. I am not a black woman, but I am a woman and a wife and mother; and although I have no doubt that our lives are vastly different, God has blessed me with a heart that cares for others. When I write I am very character orientated and like to write about different personalities, how each different person reacts in a certain situation. I hope that explains a little of my motives.

  • Thanks for the link Zetta. I have a list of topics I want to explore but that one is way down on the list. LOL. Many of the tobacco plantations in the Carolinas were owned by the Scots. The Hairstons come to mind. The black Hairstons and white Hairstons have family reunions together. The whites pronounce it Har-ston while the black say Hair-ston. A black Scot is something you should explore; might as well take advantage of the history and culture whil you are there.

  • I'm familiar with Forest Gate. Some on my online book group read it and had good things to say despite the despair. I prefer to read stories of hope and I hope that is reflected in the stories I write and want to write but I think the journey cannot be ignored and oftentimes the journey to happiness is hard. The reality is that some folks have had hard lives. So a story about two little African boys who make a suicide pact is not unheard of. The indignities of day to day survival and embroiled in tribal warfare is overwhelming to me as an adult.

    A few years ago there was a proliferation of hard knock memoirs of black women who beat the odds to become successful. After awhile I got tired of them because it became one long stereotype, abuse, incest, poverty, foster care, prostitution, someone lends a hand, 0dds overcome. I remember some of my friends saying but this is not what all black women experience. It certainly wasn't our experience. But the memoirs about growing up in two-parent middle class homes didn't get the acclaim the others did. I've come to beiieve that as a society, no matter what color, we crave the sensationallsm, the grittiness, the dirty secrets and laundry, crave attention. 

    I agree, we have to define and make our own successes and not wait on others to recognize what we have to give. Yes, some of the writers I am talking about want S&S to validate them. Others are going with smaller presses and indies that don't give them the advances they feel they should have. And yes, it is all about luck, chance, destiny, timing, whatever to capture the eye of a New York editor. As you said, perseverance is the key.

  • I agree. A writer's passion is from the heart. That's very interesting, Dera, about your Renaissance idea.

    Here's a book you might want to consider as a resource:

    BTW, I didn't know that Scotland had such a deep connection with slavery and the slave trade. The area where I live is full of grand houses and a librarian told me that many of these grand estates were funded by the profits of slave trade and plantation trade back before slavery was abolished in the UK.

    I was glad for the information because it got me thinking about writing something from the POV of a black character in Scotland during the 19th c.