Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Rhythm of the Boogie the Beat

Janet's community has been at its best today, and inevitably it's all got me thinking. Thinking things like this ...

What a lot of us fail to see through our privilege is that "white is the default." I place that in quotes not for sarcasm, but because the words are not mine; they are at the base of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and the issues with diversity (not just in publishing, but I'm trying not to go off the rails here). I grew up understanding that whitneness is the signifying quality of American-ness, and never thinking about that. I lived in a suburb that was the product of white-flight, and went to a school named for a proponent of segregation and massive resistance. So-called "genteel racism" was (and even remains) not hidden.
THE major reason I decided to shelve The Ax and the Vase was that, no matter how good the writing is, nor even how interesting the story is: American publishing is not suffering from a dearth of tales of white dudes in power. There isn't a single POC in that novel, and I thought that was completely valid, and I WAS WRONG. I guilted about it, but didn't change it. The WIP is an entirely different matter.

... and this ...

Diversity is not an agenda.
Diversity is the reality of our world - in the past, where I write, in the present, in every part of the world, no matter what. There is diversity of age, of gender identification, of color, of religion, of tastes in ice cream, of economic/relationship/educational/class/intellectual status. We don't all have the same resources. There is no world without differences: yet many of us grew up not seeing that. Many grew up feeling invisible because "white is the default", and faces and voices of color were not proportionately seen and heard - even still, there's no money in it, as far as certain industries are concerned.
Dis-inclusiveness makes for poor writing. 
I write precisely because I want to see something of the word other than where I live. The inside of my navel would make an awful setting for a story. Story is for many readers not merely an escape, but a venture OUT - out of the day to day, out of what they already know, out of their own skin.
And diversity is not all about skin. Remember that it's much, much wider than "political correctness" or complaining about old white dudes. Old dudes need representation too, in cultures obsessed with youth.
Diversity is not a punishment for privilege, and it's not even the political rectitude so many who fear this punishment find so abhorrent. It's just the real landscape of the world we live in.

... and this ...

And too: diversity is not (only) about color/ethnicity.
I am mystified by those who can stomach Pandora bracelets or licorice or team fitness challenges. These things horrify me to a point it's hard not to think "You are doing it wrong" about those people who love this stuff. And I left out a lot - diversity in our health (mental illness and its challenges have been much on my mind of late), and stigmatizations that do not relate to ethnicity even tangentially. We "other" people for as many reasons as there are people marginalized or brutalized or CELEBRATED.

... and this ...

(D)iversity is not a quota system. There is no magic number to get all the people we're not to stow this talk of diversity.
Failure to include is the failure to reflect the world. ... I grew up in Downtown White Flight, but one of my closest friends was a Black girl named Holly. She wasn't invisible; she introduced me to the concept of Michael Jackson outside of The Five, and when she did Rapper's Delight, I damn near fell over in awe at the speed of her singing-speech.
Diversity is not a didactic directive that we all have to write about POC/disabled/young/old/mentally ill/poor/disenfranchised/licorice-loving/religiously alternative/gay/differently pinky-toed people. It's the distillation of the point that if we're writers, and if we pretend that non-us people are invisible, we are failing in our WORK - failing to reflect the abundance of the world we live in, or the one we're trying to build.
"I came that they might have life, and have it in abundance." Why would we want to revel in limitation?


My own final comment above brings to mind something that has always bothered me in production design most particularly, but does happen in prose.

Historicals are especially plagued with this - prop masters get so carried away finding JUST the right clothes or home furnishings or cars, or location scouts just the right place to shoot, that any other period than the exact year of their story is neglected. Nineteenth century homes contain nothing from the seventeenth or sixteenth; girls in 1970s productions wear only Dorothy Hamill haircuts and wedgies;

The picture-perfect past is only ONE single slice of the past, one instant's place on a timeline: when, in life, we all have a lot of our own past around us right now. Why would not *our* past have had *their* past about them?

It's a silly view, and it's poor world-building. It misses out on the beautiful English Georgian portrait hanging in the home of an early twentieth-century Australian. In my own home alone, thirty percent of my furniture would be gone - and the home itself - if someone reconstructed my "set" strictly in 2016 terms.

And so it is a silly view, that the world had no black people in it, just because I wrote a novel set in ancient Gaul - that only one woman was club-footed, and maybe there was like one miscarriage as a sub-plot, and everybody was intelligent and overall healthy and all the same color.

And so it is a silly view, that all the Black people in America were offstage in the 1950s, waiting for the Civil Rights movement and Jimi Hendrix and Oprah to give them stories to tell. It is a silly view, that Black people exist only in the context of cotton fields and The Cotton Club.

It is no view at all, and no voice. It is the brutality of non-seeing, of rendering people and lives invisible. Some of those people might be white, or rich, or men named William. Diversity is many things.

But a lack of it is only one thing: a bloody bore to read.


Edited to add this: PLEASE consider going to the link to Janet Reid's blog. It is not a short read, because today we commented unfettered, and the discussion was long. But the conversation is a glorious example of the best of human interaction, debate, conversation. It closes with thoughtful words from the lady herself, our hostess, Queen of the Known Universe (QOTKU) - and comments are closed. So the thoughts it will provoke: bring them into your world. Bring them here, too, I would love that.

But, for now, Lord, it is night. G-d rest you all.


Donnaeve said...

I was disturbed on Thursday - and a bit angry. If given the opportunity, I will share what I have since learned. I'm glad she closed the comments. One made (Susan's)towards the end, "There seems to be this constant need in our world now to invalidate other people's experiences, like one person's suffering isn't as bad as someone else's because of xyz."

I don't think Julie W or I are or were trying to "invalidate" anyone's experiences. In my view, we shared our stories of struggle b/c the term "white privilege" - at least for me - seems off key, and for me, there is nothing about my upbringing or experiences that have seemed privileged.

And so I've read about it on several sites, and some of the examples given to explain it resonated, some did not. Having said that I still detest the phrase. I find it as offensive because for me, personally, it doesn't represent *me.*

Anyway. Kudos to the community for keeping it sane.

DLM said...

My reaction to your and Julie's and Susan's comments were that the cry for diversity is not about me or you or them - it is the need for literature and entertainment to reflect our world. It's not a rebuke, and it's not even about privilege, though we did discuss that a lot.

I think I said at some point, I don't really mean "white" when I use the term privilege - there are a LOT of people who are invisible out there.

A number of comments went along the lines of resentment of people who clamor about victimhood. Again, the call for diversity is not a demand to be seen as victims. Only a demand to be *seen*.

I was not a rich kid. I wasn't even financially well off - but I had the immeasurable privilege of parents who were able to keep us all comfortable and provide excellent education. I had the privilege of living at a time and in a place where I didn't have to worry about oppression or violence. We were not wealthy - but my life has been lived at a standard that 99.99% of all the people who ever lived throughout history has enjoyed, and not much encumbered by fear.

At the end of the day, I do think that it is important for novels and movies and memoirs of the disabled, the disadvantaged (not always synonymous with poor, or any specific ethnicity), the oppressed or marginalized are more important than my own work, about the guy who invented France. It's still heartbreaking, and it's still a hell of a good novel, and maybe someday it'll find the light, but nobody needs it just now.

I hope my post didn't come off as saying anyone was trying to invalidate anything. I didn't mean to refer to anyone in particular other than my own comments, and my thoughts springing out of our conversation.

You and Julie and Susan are women I respect and enjoy and am so very glad I have come to know at Janet's community. I'm grateful not only that that group can have such a powerful conversation so civilly, but that everyone is so open - both with their own experiences and *to* others'.

I cannot wait to meet Dixie Dupree (November seems so far away!), and hope you and I will meet someday. You are a remarkable lady.

Donnaeve said...

I certainly/one hundred percent agree about diversity in all aspects of our world. And I am conflicted by some aspects of what this means because I tend to think in numbers/percentages.

As of the 2010 census, the U.S. is made up of almost 64% white people, 33% blacks and .7% Hispanic. If 1,000 white people query a novel, and 100 PoC query and both meet the 1% success rate, 100 whites will be published over 10 blacks. Statistically speaking, it's impossible for this to be equal.

However. When it comes to bookstores - books should be placed by genre, period. Not by genre AND color. When I read about white privilege what I learned is it comes down to some things we (whites) take for granted - when you go buy band-aids, they are "flesh" colored, and the tone works better with whites. Hotels have shampoos that are geared towards Caucasian hair, and panty-hose too. These are amenities, but again, I go back to statistics and companies manufacture for the "majority."

Anyway, I could go on and on, but I sort of got my hackles up (I hope it didn't show - much?) about the term. But I learned a lot too!

Funny, Janet brought up Dorothy Allison's BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA - it's one of my favorite books, and I'm proud to say that DIXIE DUPREE has been compared to it by my publisher (as well as SECRET LIFE OF BEES). I can't allow myself to think that - I'm too close to it, but it is a compliment of the highest order to me!

I'd love to meet you one day too - you're smart beyond words, and are such a caring person. I would think you and I could be very good friends beyond our cyberspace connection.

DLM said...

I was telling my mom about Dixie Dupree yesterday, and she wants to read it on the basis of the name alone. And who wouldn't? It's a wonderful name to speak.

Being by no means not smart beyond words, nor even right at words' level, I have learned (online!) to take time and try pick words carefully. Astonishing, the difference that makes; I fool people into believing I'm competent almost every day (exception: myself). It's a wee and paltry brain, but it's trained me reasonably well.

We'll find a way at some point ... !