How to Handle Racism in Writing II

Hello everyone. I hope your week has been well thus far. I’m certain everyone is eagerly awaiting the weekend. I know I am. We have a lovely downtown art fair to attend on Sunday, so it should make for a nice time. Today is my father’s birthday, so happy 66th, Dad!

Last time, I spoke about the racist views of classic authors and how we handle them. Today, I want to discuss how we write about racism in our own contemporary works. My first and immediate thought is that we should abstain from any form of racism in our writings. I always view the written word as another expression of art, and I feel that such derogatory language (racist language – I will handle others forms later on) would only clutter up the canvas upon which we paint, proverbially speaking. There is no room, I believe, in the beautiful for the ugly.

Most importantly, I believe we should ever strive to heal the wounds of the past with our expressions today. In order to create new mindsets, we need to move away from the sins of the past and design the positive future we pursue. We cannot do that if we are inundating our novels with the evils of the past. Such history should not be forgotten, but we can recall the past adequately without the derogatory sentiments.

On the other hand, if you are crafting a story about the US in 1953, authenticity must be the rule. You can’t create a utopia when one never existed. Rewriting history is horrible, as we are often prone to doing. Your story must be authentic and so it must run in the thread of the times. That does not mean your character has to use racist terms, as not all people always thought such, but it does mean you need a researched level of understanding as to how the people viewed one another at the time.

Still today, people cling to their modes of racism as their view of the world. That being said, if authenticity is key, you must express that in your writings. Perhaps it’s part of your character arc? Or maybe it’s how you craft your villain? Either way, if it’s how people engage with one another, then it must be done. Listening to two African American youths converse, or two Anglo Saxons or Latinos, authenticity must trump all. I hardly think “Good day, kind sir, and pray thee, what time hath thee?” would be suitable for Chicago in 1997, or 2016 Atlanta. We must craft dialogue that, though offensive to some, expresses the true nature of the episode.

Writing can also be a time capsule for out generation. Right now, in 2016 America, there is  rampant a string of “Islamaphobia” and anti-Muslim sentiments are high. I don’t agree with that, but if I’m writing about my contemporary time, I need to include that. Maybe I would craft a character who tries to defend a Muslim friend from angry friends, or a person who hates Muslims until he has to work with one? It’s part of preserving our history, for good or for ill, in our writings. Through the history of writing, then, we can see the advances we have made, and how far we still have to travel.

Well, that is all for now. Any thoughts, feel free to share them below. As always, thanks for reading.

Please check out my debut novel, Autumn Leaves, at the links below. Thanks




About Robert Oliver

I am a writer living and working in Florida.
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