Friday, February 26, 2010

Look, Mom, a Nigger

Okay, so I'm lying awake in bed last night and I got to mentally tweaking My Life as an Onion -- cause as long as it isn't published, even though it's with the Delacorte editors awaiting the outcome, I can tweak away to my heart's content-- and it occurred to me that I really should slip in some little incident that deals with prejudice. Yes, the book is filled with my main character dealing with her prejudices but it's notoriously lacking in scenes where someone is mean to her because she's black and heck! in real life anti-Black prejudice is often subtly around.

So I got to remembering something that happened to older son. He was in Storm King NY near a deli and a bus stop (and take care to remember that upstate New York is often called upsouth New York) and he's kinda standing there waiting for something or other and a cute little tow-headed little girl -- about four or five, he remembers-- suddenly sees him and shouts to her mother, (while pointing at him), "Look, Mom, a Nigger."

Son kinda looked at her in mild surprise. Older son is a sweetie and way saner and less easily-hurt about stuff than I am so he kinda just rolled his eyes and moved on. He says the only thing he was thinking about was that it was a cute little kid and to hear such weirdness come out of the kid's mouth. Of course the mom looked all surprised and embarrassed... but heck kids say the darnedst things...especially if they've been hearing them from mom and dad.

So I'm thinking there has to be a little scenelet in Onion where out of the blue, apropos of nothing, someone says something really racist to my main character for no good reason. For that's the way it works. It could be a gentle kind of superiorness - the kind I've received in white churches-- or it could be harsher (like some white kids shouting Nigger from their Transam or Lexus as they whisk by main character on the highway. Or it could be pretty much the scene that happened to older son.

But the thing is: I don't want it to detract from the scene it's in. I just want it to slip in and slip out. Cause that's often how racism happens to black folks.

And why do I not want to write a scene that's about a black person dealing with racism? Because honestly, it's a big deal and it's not a big deal. That's how racism happens, subtly...and a person moves on. But I want to do it when the main character is already in a state. Cause that's also when racism happens. You're burying your mom and in grief as it is and then some racist (of whatever color but black) has to slip into the picture with some rude comment.)

The thing is I hate regurgitation. I hate showing a bad scene or something physically or emotionally upsetting in the exact way it happens. I've heard a few sermons which were nothing but thinly-disguised rants made by a preacher with a grudge. (Alas, I am way too discerning so I could see through it into the bitterness...and it often pissed me off to have had trudged myself to church to have to deal with some black or gay or feminist or whatever minister spilling out his/her agenda.) So, yeah, regurgitation is not in the picture. If I want to regurgitate and vomit all over people I generally do a really beautiful poignant essay (patting self on back.)

Kinda apropos: when I was about eleven, my half-sister (the same age) said to me "Daddy loves me more than you because I'm lighter." She doesn't remember this now, nor does she remember that she got a beating from my grandfather for that. But it's affected me all my life...a terrible kind of self-loathing which oppresses me sometimes I can't even move. To this day I don't know what I look like. I never look in the mirror. When I see myself on the back cover of my book or on facebook or on the internet, I cringe. It's that bad. When I die and am hovering over my bed, ready to transfer to the great beyond, it'll take me a while to recognize who that fat dead figure on the bed is.

But I never put that in my novels. Not the scene itself anyway. I have never written a scene where one sister says to the other, "Look, sis, you're a nigger." But I put it in Wind Follower subtly -- unregurgitated. Because storytelling is my most elegant use of my neurosis. I simply made Satha too dark and I made her unable to look in mirrors. (Of course if this ever becomes a movie (CGI please!) they'll probably make her lighter-skinned. Not a nigger like me.

Onto tweaking Onion and to slipping in the racial scenelet. I just feel -- as a black writer-- I shouldn't omit something that occurs fairly commonly in the lives of black folks. Onward.


Post a Comment

Blog Archive

Popular Posts