Coming to Terms With Racism


Why don't I have any African-American characters in my stories?

I was touched by the beauty of this photograph and put it in my collection of interesting or captivating photos in iPhoto. But mainly I put it in there because I realized I had no photos of attractive black women. Not celebrities. I had photos of Vanessa Williams, Beyonce, Rihanna, and many other beautiful black celebrities, but no non-celebrities. I have noticed a couple of African-American women who follow my blogs, and I think about how I could make my work more relevant to them. Of course they don’t expect some old white guy to speak to the black experience. But it got me to thinking. Why don’t I have any African-American characters in my stories? I have Hispanics and Asians, but no Blacks. That is because I was raised a racist. In my childhood I was taught a lot of garbage which lies in my subconscious. I am afraid that some of that prejudice might show up in my writing unwittingly. Or I might convey a stereotype, instead of creating a real human being. I was afraid I might have done that with my Asian characters, but one was based on an actual friend. Still, I suspect there was more than a bit of stereotypical behavior in my stories. Therefore I have shied away from portrayal of blacks, especially men. I have to immerse myself in black culture and understand it before creating a believable black male character. I used to despise hip-hop and rap, I mean I would actually get angry over it. Now I have about twenty hip-hop or rap albums or more on iTunes. I love it now. Some of it is funny, some of it is angry, some of it is sad. But I have learned how to relate to it, Given that I have always been very poor, I understand the perspective and because I tend to be brutally honest and down to earth, I can relate to the humor and the ‘word’. I can think of at least two black women in my past, who were attracted to me. I know this because unlike white women, these women were not very subtle in expressing their attraction. A black woman isn’t afraid to look you in the eye, or touch you. As a result of those experiences I am attracted to black women. So why haven’t I written about them? Good damn question. I feel considerable guilt over things I did when I was six years old. My parents were totally racist, and I’m sure I got my ideas from them. When I was on the bus one morning, I asked the little black girl next to me why she smelled bad. I noticed an odor that was different from anything I’d smelt before, but then I must have recalled something my father said about blacks smelling bad. Even though that probably happened in 1959 or 1960, and I was only six, I still remember the way that girl looked at me. It was awful. She hated me, and I’m sure she felt horrible. Here she was on the bus dressed in her nice pink dress, and some kid asks why she smells bad. That stayed with me. Even though I was a kid, I knew I had done something terrible. I remember I apologized, and she wouldn’t look at me, but said “that’s ok” or something. I’m not sure she responded, and my memory may have added the apology to make myself feel better, but I think I did apologize because I remember how awful I felt. That early experience has shaped my feelings towards black people ever since. I feel ashamed of myself, and think that there is no way to make amends. I have no difficulty understanding why black people hate white people. I don’t like to think about race, but it is a fact of life. It enters into every relationship between races. I think my Vietnamese friend has a charming accent, but she is very self-conscious about it and thinks I am being racist when I imitate it. I worked with a Filipino and once I got upset with him. He thought I was angry with him because he was Filipino. I clarified by saying “I don’t dislike Filipinos, I dislike you!”. Later we became friends, but there was always an undercurrent of suspected prejudice that I had to stay aware of. I have often felt that I was treated differently because I was white. Conversely, I have had many friends that I think of as individuals first and their race second. Their ethnicity isn’t a huge part of our relationship. But it bothers me that I haven’t welcomed blacks into my imaginary universe, so I will think about what sort of black character or characters I want to introduce. It is my feeling that all of us are not that far apart. We can appreciate each others’ perspective. I love to immerse myself in cultures other than my own. As a matter of fact, to be honest, white culture is my least favorite, because I grew up in it, and saw it’s ugliest side.

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