Friday, July 06, 2007

Interracial love stories and normalcy

I once had a white friend in my writer’s critique group ask me, “Why do you always write about mixed couples? That’s a very bad habit of yours. Can’t you write about normal couples in regular same-race relationships?”

I suppose I could, but I don’t want to. I want to write love stories that heal my soul. I am married to a white man and I want to tell love stories about black women and white men. The typical black woman has seen enough from the media to know that many folks consider black women the bottom rung of beauty and attractiveness and the white woman as the pinnacle. This can be very wounding to the soul. I'm pretty sure this lack of appreciation of our beauty certainly contributes to our habit of medicating ourselves with food. Racism is a cruel thing.

The white writer either did not want to see the importance of my life experiences, felt uncomfortable with interracial relationships, or perhaps (I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt) didn’t realize that by asking me to write in a “normal” way that she was trying to nudge me and my writing toward a little space she considered proper and appropriate.

Actually, let me backtrack a bit. I'm gonna be honest. She was plain racist and uncomfortable with my stories and she was trying to shame me. She belonged to that group of liberals who think they're non-racist and enlightened and deep ("spiritual") but who was really overflowing with all sorts of issues. There, I said it.

She was speaking from her privileged status as a “normal” person, someone who—like the “majority” of people in the world—are in same-race relationships. I suppose I should have challenged her, but the emotional fact is that when among the normal, the non-normal person often forgets how different he or she is. Because of the illness our son endured and other issues, hubby and I have slowly slipped into non-normality. The slippery slide was imperceptible but that's how these things happen. (Heck, I got used to seeing a naked teenager walking through the house!) Anyway, an accusation or call to normality does the trick of getting the non-normal person in line.

The non-normal will always interpret lives (real and fictional) differently than the herd; and the herd, because of majority privilege and because they hang around normal people and generally see normal things, will always consider the non-normal a bit paranoid, touchy, or contrary. But there are enough folks out there who have had life push them toward the abnormal. They will understand writers and mommies like me. And that alone enables me to speak, breathe, write, and interpret freely.

Unfortunately, in that small world (the writing group) that writer friend had a large say. She was quite a mocker and I quickly retreated and therefore did not challenge her interpretation of my “habit.” I kept quiet and seethed at her call to normalcy, knowing that—whatever her wishes—I would write what I wanted to. Being quiet was easy because in a world larger than that writing group I had allies. And I was writing for them.

Wind Follower is an interracial novel, among other things. The characters in the story aren't particularly upset by it. I'm working on Daughters of Men now. In this story, race and interracial marriage also play a part. There are so many different kinds of humans in the novel and some ways race does matter. After that there's Inheritance, a May-July Relationship between a bi-racial white/Asian young man and an African-American older woman. I'll see how that comes out.

But whatever happens, I won't be ashamed of my stories.

1 comment:

Marianne Arkins said...

Good for you... Part of me wants to say that you should've verbally stood up for yourself, but OTOH, some peoples opinions will never change.

I'm not black (obviously since my pictures is right there --->), and so haven't walked in you shoes. But I like to think I'm colorblind -- to the point where a black friend of mine from CA asked me if there were many blacks in Colorado (when I lived there) and I told her I couldn't think of any.

And a few minutes after I hung up the phone, I realized my next-door neighbors, with whom I spent a great deal of time and adored, were black. Oh. Yeah.

Isn't that how it should be? Seeing the people on the inside before you see the people on the outside?

And now I'm preaching. Sorry...

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