Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Character Treatments: Do They Tell a Story?

Here's commenter Rowan Michaels' enlightening view on my previous post:

Millenia - it is so true what you say about white writers. If they can't even see their characters equally, what does that say for how they see real people? White characters get described to the reader: face features, hair color, eye color, etc. but when the character is not white, they get treated differently. They can't just be described to the reader like the white characters are, the reader is told first off that this is not "one of us". It's really sad. I always noticed it, but never thought of it in terms of how it exposes the way most whites (even when they don't consider themselves racist) view non-whites and how that results in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) acts of discrimination.

Can Oprah do anything about this? Hell yes! Oprah is one of the most influential people in the world. She commands attention and respect. Nobody preaches finding your "authentic self" and living your "best life" like Oprah. Is it just a sham brand, or does she really mean it? She could make a huge difference by talking consistently about these types of ways that racial division rears its head and hurts people, cripples many lives and family potential.

It is not so hidden after all, is it? Walk into any bookstore and crack open a bestseller--race division screaming at you. So true. This is no doubt a hard post to read for white authors and white persons in general, but it is still the truth, and somebody needs to have the courage to say it.

What is the key to solving a persistent problem? When symptoms of an imbalance keep cropping up, doesn't that mean the cause of the imbalance isn't being addressed? Complaints abound, but for those of us seeking a solution, isn't something missing?

Who is decent enough to get honest about the literary climate...and its effects?

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  1. Oh, boy. I am a white person and I know that the reason many white people don't like touching this subject is because it can provoke a lot of guilt for injustices carried out by our ancestors, stuff we have nothing to do with.

    If I'm being completely honest, I do understand why these things keep happening, it's because the root cause really is not being addressed, and that is due to the guilt it invokes. It is much easier to blame the black people who complain and find ways to say they aren't trying hard enough and they blame their shortcomings on white people, get over it already. But this isn't true. Those ancient injustices still affect us all. Our current society is a divided one because of them, race is very much a defining aspect of our lives and no one can deny that. It's a good point being pointed out about most commercial fiction. I imagine most Caucasian writers never gave it a second thought. They feel they're being inclusive by making their work racially diverse, but it does reflect poorly on how we as white people see ourselves in relation to other races.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, I get it. I just don't know what to do about it and I suspect many other white people feel the same way. Ever since I met you, Millenia, when you were here signing your book, I have been a huge fan and have always believed your work deserved better exposure than it got. I believe it would have gotten much greater exposure if you were white. That's the truth...but what to do about it?

    Perhaps it does need to be a national discussion, with issues like these being highlighted and brought to the country's awareness so everyone will start to see themselves differently in relation to other races and we'll stop thinking of race as meaning anything at all? I do think someone like Oprah could help with that.

  2. second what Gina says. the only way this huge problem will ever get solved is when there is a national level discussion that doesn't leave it alone until the racial consciousness is lessened. right now most people are born aware of themselves as belong to one race or another and that becomes a big part of our identity. we have to learn to start redefining ourselves as people, that's the only way to true equality among men. -- JJ

  3. JJ said: "We have to learn to start redefining ourselves as people".

    I think people are intimidated by the strength of the active status quo of everyday racism. This makes people redefining themselves difficult on a broad scale, which is still needed. The symptoms show up in the power-broking white establishments, such as the publishing houses that are perpetuating the relegation of non whites. And as the thread maintains, the publishing companies' racist practices have many gate keepers making darn sure it is never annulled, it speaks of Oprah's most trusted employees intercepting complaints of racism forwarded for Oprah's attention and tipping off the publishers. This is outrageous!

    Strong, vehement action needs to be taken to effect change. It seems to be the consensus that Oprah is one of the most appropriate sources to help bring this about. The question now is: will she?

    Anon #1

  4. Doesn't it say a lot when people say nothing? I find the silence on this topic deafening. As long as people refuse to be honest and forthright, nothing can change.


  5. Rowan Michaels said..."Doesn't it say a lot when people say nothing?"

    I affirm Rowan's view on this. And what's being said by the silence is buried deep in the point made about people's honesty and forthrightness.

    It's interesting to note there's no open arms of honesty in the big publishing companies. Evidence is in the handling of Millenia Black's work, no black characters, yet the publisher puts black models on the cover and releases as African American fiction, has this ever been done to a white author?

    Second, because of the way the U.S. government has protected the practice of racism since the days of the constitution's inauguration. It's the reason racism is palpably unabashed with not one, but all of the big publishers. And only black people who're willing to risk everything speak out.

    What people seem to lose sight of is that white establishments are always receptive and generous to white people...White authors' work are atomically counted as mainstream. Opposed to that of black authors, who're consistently marginalized, by intent, into black niches. White racism of black people is simply the plantation strategy, either make black people work for nothing, or let them just work enough to buy food. But never allow them to be equal. It's a high crime that's very difficult to fight, but can definitely be beaten. Very sad to say this racism is practiced everyday in the U.S. with impunity. It really needs serious media representation!

    Anon #1

  6. I agree the silence speaks volumes. These problems are not going to go away, though. It is just going to get worse. Most people don't want to touch it honestly at all.

    Don P.


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