Round Table Discussion: Difficulties Involved When Writing About Racism and Prejudice.
Chair Two - In your own words...What is the difference between Racism and Prejudice?
Can a person be Racist but not Prejudice?
Can a person be Prejudice but not Racist?
Can a person TRULY be neither?
Can a person not know that they're both?
Guest:JustSarah - A person can be prejudiced against a homosexual person, and they can be racist against someone of a different race. However, you can't be racist against your own kind. Only prejudiced.
Of course a person can be oblivious to being racist. The Klan says they hate blacks, but they don't think they're racist. They are, however, still racist.
Chair One: Prejudice to me is when your opinion has been negatively influenced against an idea, thing, person, ect. Racism is a hatred against races other than the haters own, which they consider to be inferior to their own.
We are all prejudiced against something or another. For example, kids tend to be prejudiced against vegetables, homework and chores.
Racism is taught. It is handed down, generally from one generation to another. It is not a NATURALLY occurring thing. there has been occasions where people develop racism because they have been terribly wronged by someone and they choose to seize upon that persons race. But it tends to be a prevailing attitude in a group or a family that is propagated among the new ones and the young ones associated with it.
Yes, a person can be TRULY neither, although chances are they will be prejudiced against SOMETHING in their lifetime, although it may not be against a person or a race.
And if someone is raised to believe those ways to be normal and they are totally surrounded by people such as themselves, then absolutely YES, can they be oblivious to the fact that they are both.
Chair Two - I thought about the power if it within storytelling. I have difficulties integrating racism and prejudice within my stories without knowing how much is too much. Understanding the differences between them is an art unto itself, but for writers who have mastered handling this, it reflects in the depth and quality of their work.
Racism and Prejudice is as timeless and powerful as Love and Sex. Both are classics that will always raise debates within any reader or group, if presented well. In my stories, I strive to make the two symbiotic by directing prejudice to all prejudgment and stereotypes, whether based on ethnic background or race. I make racism based on any actions towards those of another race related to the prejudice within the decision maker.
Its a difficult tool and yet an effective one.
Guest:Werewolf - I'm a bit uncomfortable writing racism. But I have done it. In my second novel one of two villains is a racist quasi-cult leader. In my current one, set in the era of the Third crusade, there's lots of prejudices though not all qualify as racism as many are between religions. (Christian vs. Muslim, Roman Catholicism vs. Eastern Orthodox and Coptic...but also Frankish/Latins vs Byzantine Greeks and anyone else they met.)
The hero himself is deeply biased against the Normans. They were more an ethnic political entity than a race, but that could be splitting hairs in this era. He is half Danish half Gaelic. the Normans invaded Ireland during his childhood and he was basically enslaved by them from the age of 6 until the age of 10 when his family escaped amidst a rebellion. I later ameliorate his outright hatred of the Normans by a forced alliance with one. But I don't see him ever losing that bias altogether. From their end, it would be reinforced.
On the other hand the character is not very fanatical religiously whereas the Norman he allies himself to it, being a Templar. (116 years before their own suppression) In fact I've probably made some of the main characters a bit too tolerant for total realism, but it wasn't my main focus despite the setting. One awkward problem with racism or similar intense prejudices is whether to let a character "reform" within the story. It can seem like a good thing to do but unless handled with exceptional care often comes off as fake. They've done variations of it a lot on TV. Sometimes its made believable but often it isn't. As for myself I try not to be prejudiced but I know there's at least a little in there. But I do my best not to give in to it when sense it. Probably my most virulent bias is political but I'll leave that aside here. Politics and religion arouse to much emotion most of the time.
Chair Three - Funny you should bring this up Chair Two, as I am currently struggling to write "Knight-hood vs. the KKK." In the story Alex and Sienna visit his old Army sergeant, who is black and lives in Mississippi. Once there he discovers that a new, violent sect of the KKK has risen and he stays to help his sergeant, who is now Sheriff, bring them to justice.
It seemed like such a simple idea, but naturally with such a topic the subject of racism and prejudice is unavoidable. I wanted the tale to have a deeper undercurrent of education on this topic as well, but once I started writing it I began to realize just how complex a topic this really is.
Someone much wiser than me once said "There is nothing a white man can say to a black man on the subject of racism without sounding either ignorant or offensive." I should have listened because he is correct. Being white, I am ignorant of first hand experience in racism and so I have written and re-written this tale multiple times now, trying not to sound ignorant or offensive. It's really tough and I so want this story to come out right as it is an important topic.
Chair Two - The secret to writing another Race or another s disposition, such as sexual orientation, is to dig into yourself. Find your deepest vulnerabilities and the fears that stem from them. These vulnerabilities have to be so deep and sensitive, you would rather hurt yourself to stop them from surfacing in your life rather than admitting them to another.
The vulnerabilities that I'm speaking of would be life-changing if exposed. Imagine having a new form of HIV (HIV-X), which was transmitted simply by touch. The infection would cause madness and eventually, death. Imagine how you would change your life around this fact. Imagine how you would see others, especially the friends that you meet that aren't infected. Now, imagine your thoughts when you hear others speak about people they meet with sicknesses and diseases.
Now, let's go a step further. What happens when you are discovered to be infected with HIV-X?
This is what its like to write Prejudice from the character's aspect that is dealing with it happening to them.
Take that exact same scenario...
Now tattoo a large "X" on the face, backs of the hands and chest of those BORN with this EXACT same disease. Imagine it was you. Walk into your job, into a store, go to the park and attend a function. Ask yourself how you would be treated.
Know the differences between the two, is that one was born with the "X" signaling the Virus and the other one was not. This affects their individual cultures while growing up. While one works to keep the virus secret, the other has no choice and learns that they are a secondary being.
One grows frustrated and angry over the years from the secrets, while the other develops hatred and resentment from his treatment by others.
Some of them with and without the"X" may not take the aforementioned paths, but instead, admit and accept their infection early and deal with people reacting toward it as a way of life; this becomes the infected ones culture.
Those without the infection can try to understand, but ALWAYS have the ability to detach when things become too complicated. While struggling to be fair with the "disease" ones, the uninfected know that thy all have limited lives and therefore live more for the moment. They cannot help but see them differently.
The diseased ones are expected to be thieves, untrustworthy, have attitudes and commit crimes, they know they are going to die soon. Because of these traits, it is better to quarantine them, if possible, limit their access and growth, control those they interact with that are not infected and NEVER allow them to have enough power to move others in their infected group from the public watch. this is called RACISM.
The traits described above are NOT to be assumed fro the uninfected. The uninfected have long and enduring lives. While some do stray from the noble path and display some of the infected traits, they would have to be proven by patterns, witnesses or evidence.
This is called entitlement.
Now, imagine a society built on this foundation. Add 400 years and 1600 family generations to the culture and I want you to stop on year 401.
Imagine if the virus, HIV-X, wasn't a virus at all, but merely a different colored blood cell that performed the same functions as those around them. Imagine when it is discovered that those who were touched and around the infected where never infected, they merely became friends with them and cared about their plight. They were now and did not go insane.
Now fast forward to year 461.
What you would have after the lynchings, beatings, jailing, kidnapping, torture, raping, mauling, mistreatment, oppression, assassination, misunderstanding, following, momitoring, firing, suppression and wickedness ...is today.
Welcome to the world of Racism and Prejudice.
(You gotta learn to take it with a smile!)
Note: much of it still happens, it is just not as rampant.
Many times a writer fears dealing with stuff so much it causes them to freeze up...me included. What I have found is that, this is the main point of us having this gift! It is our job to go into the areas that aren't safe and to build an imaginative environment around it.
We can write people getting killed, husbands beating their wives, women cheating on their partners, and God being questioned...but "Hold Your Horses" when it comes to racism and prejudice.
If you speak of Blacks and Whites in the same sentence, you're dancing to close to the fire. I f you address homosexuality, an eyebrow goes up, and those listening are waiting to whisper homophobic.
We are creators. We are Storytellers. We have been given this gift for a purpose...I guess, the struggle is not to make it a curse.
When I write, especially when trying to make my character "breathe" life. I feel that the greatest thing i can do is make my character true. It's hard and it's scary, but it makes things easier and better. Remember, you are the writer.
The character is NOT you.
I have found, that if you've designed your character well enough, he/she lives independent of you within the story and all you are doing is recording his/her actions.
Ex. In Elite Forces Division - The First Factor, one of the Pro-Black characters is transformed into a white man. He has southern roots, knows his Black history and feels a brotherhood with all minorities.
Once he becomes white, he finds that his normal comments about whites roll off on others a as a joke and his statements about blacks seem racist.
When he was Black and spoke against interracial relationships, he sounded like an angry black man trying to utilize his knowledge to address the larger picture of rebuilding the strength of his race. Then he became white and spoke against it...he sounded like a bigot.
When he spoke about black names, eating bad food and attitudes within the minority cultures, those not knowing of his transformation wanted to attack him and rip his racist heart out.
The goal of the writing was to explore the complexities of racism from the simple aspect of skin color.
We are here to do what many think about but can't voice without consequence. It's just like writing a villain for your story...he has to do what others fear, but secretly wonder about.
We are merely the pen and ink transcribing the tales.
Chair Three - Well I agree with all of the above, I just doubt that I am up to the task. I feel as though I have bitten off more than I can chew. Doesn't mean I am giving up but it does cause me lots of self doubts though.
Well, I'll keep trying. My favorite writer, Mark Twain, did the best job of addressing this issue in "Huckleberry Finn." He wrote it to his generation, who were pretty much all racists. He took their ignorance and parroted it back to them from the mouth of a young boy.
that book opened minds in the age when racism was deemed normal, yet now I read of schools today banning the book due to overt use of the offensive "N" word. Banning "Huckleberry Finn?" Makes me wonder whether or not this is the real dark ages? And if a classic of literature, maybe the most important piece of fiction ever written dealing with this topic cannot stand up to today's "political Correctness" then what on earth am I thinking even considering taking on this time bomb in a silly pulp fiction tale? Yet I still want to try somehow.
Chair Two - Chair Three, I honestly think and pray that this is something that you tackle. I also think that it would be an important maneuver for a character built within the "pulp" genre, because "pulp" has always had a subtle racist tone as a part of its recorded culture. Your story would be breaking the mold and stand out from its contemporaries.