21 November 2013

Racist Intent or Desensitized?

A fellow blogger at the FWA Conference Blog posted an interesting article and my comment to his article grew into a bit of a rant, so rather than post the entire comment on his blog, I decided to share it here and back link to the article. Here's a glimpse:

An author I follow on Facebook posted the other day that she was talking to a middle school group and brought up that one of her novels involved Mexican drug cartels.  Several of the middle schoolers in attendance immediately and forcefully declared her work to be racist. Based on her Facebook post, she reasonably found the experience to be unsettling. 

For reference:
rac·ist [rey-sist]
a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that a certain human race is superior to any or all others.

of or like racists or racism: racist policies; racist attitudes.

How does writing a novel involving Mexican drug cartels have anything to do with being racist? If her novel is about Mexican dope dealers selling drugs, smuggling prostitutes, and all other kinds of negative things, it's STILL not racist. So why are we teaching this to our children?

The last thing I would ever do is compromise the integrity of my story by tip toeing around social issues. I think I've mentioned that before. It seems to me the mass media has taken to the role of policing creative inspiration by filling our minds with this nonsense of everything being racist if it is the least bit offensive to any group. I see this more often today than I have ever before.

I guess she could have written about a Japanese drug cartel instead. Only that wouldn't make any sense, because the Yakuza are not as famously recognized in the media as are the Mexican drug cartels. The Yakuza would wipe out any Mexican drug cartel because everyone knows, with over 103,000 members, the Japanese house is, by far, the superior criminal organization.

Now, that's racist. 

Personally, I think authors risk more by presenting their characters "out of character" than if they simply tell the story. We've built this wonderful country upon common goals and objectives, yet we came together as people from different cultures and backgrounds, and we're still struggling.

The magic of fiction. I can be whoever I want to be!

Don't you think it's time we embrace Ethnic Literature in the classroom? Let our children read what real authors write about their own culture and people. Let them know it's okay to be different, that our differences are accepted, and it's okay to talk about our differences, our cultures, and our history. The good. The bad. The ugly.

I absolutely loved Ethnic Literature. It was my favorite class in college. I wish I could recall the name of the text book. It was a compilation of short stories by authors of varying cultural backgrounds. I remember stories by Chinese, Italian, African, and Mexican authors, and I was blown away by the unfiltered honesty in the stories they shared about themselves and each other.

I wish people would stop criticizing and start opening their hearts to the dialogue being shared. Get passed the individual shame and embrace humanity as a whole and I believe you will feel less inclined to accuse anyone of being a racist, even if they write fictitious stories about racist characters. At least, that's how I see it. There was a lively discussion about this issue at the end of Stephen King's short story, Herman Wouk Is Still Alive.

I'm not minimizing racism. Racists do exist. Call them out when you see fit, but like the big bad wolf, the boy who cried wolf is out there as well. When he cries wolf too many times, the power of his cry is diminished. People don't hear the cry anymore. It's weakened to the point it's not effective.

Do you think society has been too quick to call things racist or sexist? Is it easier to do that than it is to analyze what's presented before us? As writers, do you find yourselves oppressed and your creative inspirations wilted over the fear of being branded or criticized as was this author?

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