Talkin’ It Up!

Talkin’ bout issues. Talkin’ bout – crazy cool medallions.

So two things on which I wanna remark and let’s just make that three because the first – and the foremost – is that I have had to edit this singular sentence four times already and that in itself should have convinced me to leave serious talking points for the post-congested-head Bethany, but EQUALITY NOW. I deserve just as much stage time as any levelheaded person whose sinuses aren’t pooling and then draining and making me think things are good things to say but then I lose my train of thought.

Me too, Corrina.

Thing the 1st: You know how to ruin what is possibly the current pinnacle of someone’s career? Don’t allow them entry until your lack of diversity has become a headline. That way whomever is chosen will be the New Black Cast Member for Saturday Night Live, as opposed to a deserved comedienne. That way her basking moment will be significantly dampened by the claims of unfairness (“She only got the job because she’s Black!”) and overzealous criticisms (“She’s not even funny! Lemme pool all of the unfunniest things she’s ever done so I can prove to you how unfunny she is!”) that make life on Earth decidedly unfunny and occasionally disgusting.

Sasheer Zamata: 1

It’s A Hard Knock Life For People of Color: A Grillion

Luckily, she’s been Black for a while now so she’s primed for this. Congratulations, Ms. Zamata!

And you know what, that’s it. I’d rather not bury the story by talking about anything else. And I love you, The Choir, but the only thing that should make us feel any better about this rampant ridiculousness is an actual self-reflection and conversion of someone who didn’t get this before now. I WANNA BELIEVE PEOPLE CAN CHANGE.

You’re. Of. No. Consequence.

“I’m sick of being Nathaniel and you’re Mr. Lopez.”

I was just watching The Soloist while I did my hair because it’s my routine. It’s my routine because it’s brilliant – the film, the score, the leads – and it’s the soundtrack to that activity. It’s my ritual. I’ve tried other movies but they were too distracting or they were boring because I found I could entirely tune them out. Anyway, this is what I do. And every time this scene ends – if you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand – and the woman who is the primary aural hallucination says those words – You’re. Of. No. Consequence. – the scene ceases to be about one man’s struggle with mental illness and becomes the perfect summation for what it is to be Black American. And through that lens, the entire scene can be seen anew.

Renisha McBride was killed a week ago.

Jonathon Ferrell was killed in September.

Trayvon Martin was killed last year.

Dozens are killed every month, I’m sure, as participants of criminal violence. Maybe because of this some Americans think we shouldn’t be so upset about the three named above. Except these three were unarmed. Two of them were looking for help. One of them was denied justice already. All of them were Black Americans, part of a cultural group whose lives are very much impacted by the way the culture began. Beneath someone’s thumb, behind someone’s line, segregated in ways both explicit and not. Expected to be wrong. So when they walked back from a shop or sought help, their lives were ended. So expectation – is that not evidence of the otherwise supposedly invisible brand of institutionalized prejudice and oppression? Why would people who’ve not gotten the chance to open their mouths and explain themselves be so grossly misinterpreted?

I can’t make this make sense unless I’m preaching to the choir. Even sympathetic parties don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say.

But here comes the message all over again, from both sides – from the side confident and selfish enough to say they don’t see it and from the side who does and carries on with life as it is…otherwise, yes, we’d all be activists all the time. You’re Of No Consequence.

How have I escaped this notion when my own father’s history is too hard to process all at once? Grace. But my identity being elsewhere – in Christ – doesn’t justify that the message is still loud and clear. Be an exception. Make us see you differently or we’ll assume the worst. We’ll forget we stole your dignity and then lambast you for being undignified.

Sometimes it just hurts.

 

In Face of Certain Defeat

Perhaps you haven’t discovered your favorite author until you feel – after reading their work – like you have nothing to say. Or nothing worth saying. In written word. Which is the vehicle said author used and therefore one that you could not possibly wield to any estimation of success.

I don’t know. I’m not a doctor.

All I know is, I thought I couldn’t love someone as much as or more than Toni Morrison. I lay awake at night, struggling with my love for Orson Scott Card in fact, trying to make sense of them both in this hierarchical world we’ve created. But all of that was before. Not before I started Invisible Man – I take a notoriously long time to either read amazing books or else to move beyond them…which is why this is also before I was able to wean myself off of Ender’s Game enough to read Speaker…and I can’t even …..try to….

I’m sorry. Where were we. So no, not before I started Invisible Man, but before I was WRECKED by it. It stopped everything. Half my life came to a screeching halt somewhere around the union of factory workers. I’d known it was going to happen back when the man had him read the letters he’d been handing out. I knew it was coming, even though it had never happened before. That’s the power of this narrative. The narrative.

[Total sidebar because that was meant to be a complete sentence but then Twelfth Night overtook it and it became, "The narrative itself til seven years heat shall not behold her face at ample view but like a cloistress she will veiled walk and water once a day her chamber round allthistoseasonabrothersdeadlovethatshewouldkeepfreshandlastinginhersadremembrance!" And somehow it totally works. Ahem.]

The narrative carried me, that’s the only way to explain it. I didn’t want to read ever again. It’s like eating something and being in ecstasy which is dampened all the while by the fact that you know this won’t be the last thing you ever taste. And that’s only dealing with the LANGUAGE.

SERIOUSLY. I can’t stress that enough. It’s written down on a stark, pale screen, so you couldn’t possibly understand me, but try, my pet. Because I remember the way a man walks down the street, that’s what Ralph Ellison has done. I remember the air at a party, the darkness interrupted in a bedroom. And we haven’t even gotten to what cannot even be considered commentary because it is too authentically encapsulated in this farce of a world he reveals to us to be something as trite as “commentary”. (Commentary is now trite, that’s what Ralph Ellison has done.)

No. I did not just read the book. But I wish I had. Although nothing I’ve written since would’ve happened, because why bother.

It does make me love ToMo more, as well, because her voice is her own and there’s room for her genius. I’ll admit I’ve read others and all I could think was they’ve read Ralph and it wrecked them.

So, why now. When I couldn’t even talk about this book in complete sentences for what seemed forever. Oh, no reason really, except that SOME DUDE CLAIMED IT HAD NO LITERARY MERIT. And usually, I wouldn’t mind. But someone printed his words because they apparently had something to do with this novel being BANNED in North Carolina.

We’re not gonna discuss banning books or the way it is sometimes for better or worse “understandable” – because you don’t need to discuss the controversy of banning to discuss that RALPH ELLISON’S INVISIBLE MAN IS BANNED SOMEWHERE. That is enough. No commentary or context needed. But just in case you want some:

Ralph Ellison BannedAnd aside from the fact that it was the 50s not the 40s: You get me. I want that man publicly shamed.

*By the by, click the pic to see the NPR link. Only the first paragraph is about RayRay, but read the second one too because WHUT!

*P.S. I read this last night. Today I am sick. Coincidence? I think not.

An Old, Old Wooden Ship

Diversity

Drink it in, friends.

Because I feel like this needs to be said: there’s a difference between multicultural fiction and fiction representing the diversity of a culture. That doesn’t mean that never the twain shall meet, but the term and the characteristic are not mutually exclusive.

A book with a black mc is not multicultural fiction, if you ask me. I do not exist outside of American culture or even beside it. And yes,  I too without really thinking it through had referred to it as multicultural because, well, that’s what people do. Until I started thinking about it and went, wait. Shuddup. Or something more intellectual and intelligible but you get me.

I suppose I could hear you out if your basis was that the story was specifically about their experience as a person of color but I still wouldn’t agree. Yes, we say “black culture”, but we also say “band culture” and that doesn’t mean a book about the Mighty Matador marching band is multicultural. Having characters from different cultures… that would make a book multicultural. Having a book about an actual African-American – as in a character who was born in an African country and raised either in that country and community until a certain point OR who was raised in America but in a very specific community in which their traditional culture was still a big part of their lives – would be multicultural. Is this clear enough yet?

But just having characters with different skin colors from the same society, nation, whatever? That’s diversity. I hate to break it to you but my childhood did not exist outside of the realm of normalcy. I’m not from some subset of humanity. I don’t need you to partition my experiences on a separate shelf, thanks. You really *should* be able to relate to me even if perchance we don’t look exactly alike. (Do we all feel adequately silly yet?)

So yeeeeah. I write fiction. Sometimes YA, sometimes adult, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, always diverse. I’m really glad we had this talk.

I guess I can close this tab now: Two Awards to Promote Multicultural Children’s Books.

Don’t Speak

‘Member that movie Bullets Over Broadway? (That name totally popped to mind and now I’m wondering if it’s really the right one because I haven’t thought of that movie in YEARS.) But Dianne Wiest says, at one point, “No, no, don’t speak” – and Imma need girlfriend to have a chat with this guy.

How…exactly…do you get that out of touch with the experiences of others? Now I’ve Anon-ed him and the recipient of this ridiculousness for their sake but I needed you to see the avatar for obvious reasons. At what point does a grown white American man feel like he has such a handle on the reality of institutionalized racism, cultural history of oppression and all the effects that are still woven into our country and dozens more that he trusts himself – IN HIS PRIVILEGE – enough to make that sort of statement. The sort of statement that is followed by a declaration that I’m actually going to overlook as an intellectual since I didn’t click on his page and read the rest of the conversation. I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not compounding his insensitivity. But hey, just as a reminder, people are getting crucified (<–hyperbole) over their chosen words and “your kind” doesn’t exactly seem like the best way to describe a group of people, particularly given the first part of his message. See, there’s that demand to be the bigger person with which healthy people of color are so familiar. On top of still enjoying and appreciating our national heritage despite its flaws, we apparently must also put up with our experiences – the ones that hey may not be the end of the world to us anymore but they sure as heck would be the end of the world to you if you woke up in our place tomorrow – being disregarded or undermined.

That’s pretty much it. I just needed to say this: Shame on you.

*BTW, race is in quotes because its existence is still in dispute. >.>

Get Me Jed Colic!

I love that we all love the Simpsons equally and see the layers and genius therein.

True story: I’d never seen THX 1138. I know what you’re thinking: Good LORD, woman, how have you missed it? But NO, you guys, it’s not just the name (or the prefix) of George Lucas’ sound system. If you were or are a film student – you know, unlike those of us who switched to Sociology and failed to apply for the minor for which we’d already done a lot of coursework because we’ll talk about ridiculousness and regret later but right now we’re trying to talk about this film… wait, do over.

If you’re a film student or film school graduate and you’re gonna get all fussy about the fact that I just watched it for the first time, ____. Because the thing is that I loved it. Hm. That seems really irresponsible without framing so back up.

Whoops. I was three paragraphs deep before I remembered to give at least a brief synopsis of the story. Underground dystopia; THX 1138 works blah blah blah radioactive material; lives with an assigned roommate who – at first – seems to be swapping their compulsory medications to somehow poison him. It turns out she’s taking him off the sedation that keeps them from feeling anything for each other. So the chain of events isn’t horribly clear but suffice it to say they start a relationship, which is prohibited, and then he gets arrested. Then he sets off to escape. Then he does.

So George Lucas has this thing of when he returns to his older work and “revamps” it. I think I may have at some point turned off Star Wars or Return of the Jedi because I couldn’t handle it. It felt like someone was playing with a CG projector over one of my childhood favorites. (Now I’m singing “This Used To Be My Playground”…) The thing is that – and I’ll have to preface this with a reminder that I haven’t seen it “unblemished” – that was not the case for THX. Up until this EXCEEDINGLY STRANGE but really rather brief moment with some sort of subway werewolf monkeys, what was obviously the product of newer technology did nothing to distract. I immediately fell in love with it.

Despite the fact that I absolutely missed something that I later read about in a review (more later on why I was reading reviews) – which may have something to do with the fact that I feel like I wasn’t sure what to actually listen for – I was immediately impressed and pulled in. This is not solely based on the direction, maybe, though here’s something funny: I grew up not being too keen on George Lucas. Not because I didn’t grow up on a steady diet of his Harrison Ford trilogies (crediting him as having “invented” them, if not directed all), but because I guess I wasn’t too impressed with the breadth of his imagination in terms of not having seemingly obvious influences and then seeming – again, because I’ve never met the guy – to take credit for said things. Not immune either to the opinions of others, I sort of thought of him as the king of mash-ups.

So. How do I love the film that is so overtly We/A Brave New World/(less)1984. (Is there some commentary to be made by the fact that I named three dystopian tales that have rather impressive similarities themselves? Hi.) Well, despite the premise being extremely, painfully familiar – not the minutia per se but the white man’s dystopia concept – it’s…done so well. >.> I’m sorry. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. (Who says that.) Really. (No, seriously, who.) Visually, aurally, everything.

I seriously would have to watch it again because having read analyzes, I can see what I didn’t see before.

Okay, so why was I reading analyzes. Because I have to know if anyone else was thinking it. Is it just me… or was every person (that I recall) on hologram/television black. It immediately stands out because (to my recollection) there are no black people or people of color at all in the world presented…outside of the tv shows. And then I couldn’t find anyone talking about it so then I really wanted to rewatch the movie. Because it gets even better and I mean, did I overlook the fact that George Lucas is a genius in more than one sense, better. Aside from the fact that I am completely enamored with the film – and I’m not even sure that it doesn’t get away with the minimalism because of the fact that it borrows from familiar and iconic stories on which the viewer relies for a clarity not immediately presented in THX – I think this would actually blow my hair back, if intentional.

So once THX and SEN (whatever, I didn’t mention him) have escaped or started to, they come across this other guy. A black guy. Who turns out to be a hologram. O_o Now the parameters for a hologram aren’t really discussed and the dude eats immediately and whatever, but he doesn’t feel pain so… Okay, so he’s a hologram. He used to be on tv but he wanted to know what the real world was like. So he’s joining them in this misleadingly peaceful but oppressive society. He’s innocent but not patronizingly so and just generally likeable. He doesn’t have a problem accompanying THX even when they’re clearly disobeying the rules and eventually he’s recovered by the officers and you have no idea what will happen to him because you have no idea how his world/treatment differs from the default to which you’ve been privy. O_O He’s just there for your entertainment.

Okay I won’t talk about the scene when SEN confesses that he wants to go back in and how it totally made my brain jump to the Matrix and the dude eating a steak, talking about how he wants to go back into the system. Good stuff.

So now for the reason I chose that title (as if this’ll explain it to you) – WAS THAT INTENTIONAL, GEORGE LUCAS?! Seriously? Did I just see that correctly? Tell me what to think! Will someone correct me or point me to someone who already talked about, dissected this possible racial commentary in THX 1138? Because I am really needing to know because it has just turned my brain inside out on the whole George Lucas matter. I mean, okay, he made Red Tails (and said something really inflammatory about getting a black casted movie produced – when maybe the movie just wasn’t that good and also I can name some movies with a black cast that have been produced and did well and totally not enough films but my point is, are they really out to get you, billionaire Lucas?) but honestly. Someone tell me where to find George Lucas. (Don’t say Skywalker Ranch because I already left northern California.)

I need to pick your brain about this, Mr. Lucas! YOU’RE MY ONLY HOPE!

No, Seriously. Stop.

Aaand it’s time for another installment of What I Really Think. Not that my usual nonsense and the inane ramblings of delirium are any less me – DON’T YOU REDUCE ME, READER! – but here’s something that’s quite important to me.

Privilege. Oh, it’s so encompassing and blinding and crippling, really. And there’s more than one way to be privileged. In the context of this conversation, privilege does not refer only to the dominant default class (ie White American, and yes I sometimes or often capitalize social class identifiers and why not), it also refers to the default coupling (ie same-race-romance, whether White, Black, et cetera).

Here’s what happens: My sister, Jen-the-Twin, and I are watching old mash-up videos from Boy Meets World featuring Shawn and Angela.

Because who didn’t love Boy Meets World? No one, that’s who.

Privilege says something like: “You guys are obsessed with interracial couples.”

Excuse me?

Riiight. Here’s the deal, mon petit. Everyone who fits into the default gets the privilege of seeing themselves and their love story told and retold and retold and represented and repeatedly replayed on every station, in every movie, no matter the year. There’s nothing to think about. When you are not underrepresented, you don’t think about it, let alone “obsess” over it. You know no scarcity. (Now, the sociologist in me wants to g’head and point out that even if I’m not White/Black/whomever is constantly being portrayed – as long as I am in a homophenotypical relationship, I can relate to those couplings and it satisfies me. ::ahem:: And the same goes if we’re not the same race, but we don’t GET that we’re not the same race but no worries, I’m not going into Identity Crisisland today.)

The thing is – everyone wants to see themselves in love. That’s not the discussion. We all watch films and/or read literature and/or frequent the theatre and RARELY can you get taken in by a story that lacks all romance, subtle or not. So we can agree that the desire for a love story isn’t where my “obsession” comes into being, yes? Apparently, because it’s easy to come by, same-race romance doesn’t constitute an “obsession”, no matter how much you like it, watch it and are satisfied by its portrayal. No, no. You can only be “obsessed” with that which stands out*, I’ve found. So, my obsession is in enjoying what everyone enjoys – to have myself reflected in the story. O_o Hmm.

I write interracial, I watch interracial and neither of those do I do wholly discriminately. (If I only watched interracial, I’d have like three shows, you guys.) The point is, not only am I going to continue to be normal, I’m going to point out what’s ridiculous about being so privileged that you fail to hear the foolishness in what you’re implying.

[Insert entire thesis on related subjects - because I'm being really good right now and I need you to acknowledge the height of my self-restraint, people.]

*And before we start the discussion of oh-em-gee-there’s-a-million-interracial-couplings-now-a-days, let’s not. First of all, it’s comparative thinking and second of all, just in my lifetime, it was few and far between and always issue-oriented. Anybody remember the very special episodes of Moesha? (Was that really her name?!)

Point being, I love difference. This isn’t about saying we’re all the same. It’s about saying – before God and as far as Satan’s concerned – we’re all the same. So I’m gonna keep reading, writing, watching and loving what I do until people stop thinking it’s “cute” – i.e. until it’s no longer an issue. ::waves::

We Interrupt Our Program…

I was writing. But now I’ve stopped. Just for a moment, mind you, but maybe it’s more accurate to say I was stopped. Allow me to explain.

When dealing with history, one must report what actually happened. Whitewashing benefits no one. We all understand this. But I wanna talk about something I’m not sure the general populace – even of writers – understands to be an issue/concern/topic. Let us hope that I am able to articulate it without too much getting lost in translation. No guarantees though because it’s not like I ever claimed to be a wordsmith. (Er…)

My main characters (as in the MC in a story, not all the main characters of that story) tend to be Black. I feel like that requires no qualifying remark or explanation so bam. Done. The consideration with which I find myself faced, though, is that I have gotten rather fond of writing speculative fiction whose setting is shall we say, nostalgic. Steampunk is the easy one to place; I could say Alternate History as another, except that it’s (this book) not actually springing from a different outcome of a historical incident and so doesn’t really fit within that sub-genre, as I understand it. We’ll figure that out later. The point is. When you have characters of color in a time period in which things, well, sucked – so let’s say anything before the 1980s – there’s this sense that it would be a glaring omission to ignore it. Otherwise whatever you’re writing just went from science fiction to fairytale. But wait! I didn’t ask for all the baggage, yeah? Do I really have to go into ALL the ways one’s life was restricted and oppressed simply because I want my MC to have dark skin? Really?!

The easy answer is: Of course not.

When I say, easy, of course, I mean…it takes a while to get there. I have a real world setting, a real epoch. A world of difference [INSERT ME TELLING YOU ALL ABOUT THIS STORY BECAUSE HOMERDROOL]… but all that is racialicious would have no place. It would mean that every story involving a Black person (in particular) would have to be about being Black. From where I’m sitting in time, one’s life would be ruled well enough by it that it would reduce one to it. I mean, isn’t that why James Baldwin wrote Giovanni’s Room? So he didn’t have to talk about RACE, for Lord’s sake? But then it’s just the writer who’s oppressed. Forced to leave himself out. (Note: I haven’t really researched whether or not that’s why he wrote it, but it makes sense to me.) My point is: every historical Black story would be a slave, servant or otherwise oppressed story, no matter what their triumphs. And to leave that aspect out, even of a story about a world famous talent, for instance, would be insulting because it’s something they endured.

I guess the question isn’t just to myself and my muse. It’s to the readers. If I write a story set in (some version of) 1925, will your brain insist that this protagonist wouldn’t be the protagonist, couldn’t be the protagonist? (Of course, that would be to put aside all the other pieces of the story that could not have been!)  I am dealing with a period in history, there are references to the reality of that time period in the work and yet, the novel itself is not a historical piece. I choose to cut out what I don’t care for. Not as a student of history, but as an artist. It has no place in this book. Believe me, I couldn’t whitewash history without rewriting my own parents’ lives and it’s not something I’d care to do. But when I’m working? I reserve the right to reject it.

UPDATE: Tumblr Length

Update: Italian Vogue has – since yesterday – edited the entry. They are now called Ethnic Earrings and the mention of slavery has been completely removed. Carry on.

Jewellery has always flirted with circular shapes, especially for use in making earrings. The most classic models are the slave and creole styles in gold hoops.

If the name brings to the mind the decorative traditions of the women of colour who were brought to the southern Unites States during the slave trade, the latest interpretation is pure freedom. Colored stones, symbolic pendants and multiple spheres. And the evolution goes on.

Anna Bassi, Vogue Gioiello n. 109, March 2010

You’re welcome. And also, make of that what you will.I tried to write out/decide on my own reaction to it and couldn’t get anywhere, so I’m sticking with simply gobsmacked, neutral as far as good or bad. (NOTE: The bold and italics are not mine, btw. That’s the way it’s published if you follow the link to Italian Vogue.)