Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A World Free Of . . .

by Marjorie Brody

Most authors strive to create feelings in their readers. We want our readership to connect emotionally with our stories. We take pride when our words stir strong emotions. I certainly appreciate readers who take time to write me letters expressing the impact my psychological suspense, Twisted, has on their lives. And now, I can add an appreciation for a response to one of my other works--an incendiary response which forced me to reexamine my actions and question potential biases lurking in my unconscious.

As a first place contest winner, I was invited to read my short story, “Number One GI” at a special event at a bookstore. The story takes place during a Vietnam era court martial. I asked two male colleagues to read the roles of the accused and the prosecuting attorney with me. Our dramatic reading received a wonderful reception by the audience. Not so from the bookstore clerk.

One of the characters in the story holds strong prejudices against African Americans and Vietnamese. The Caucasian clerk took offense with the language this character used, although he only complained about the prejudice voiced against the African American--the African American is the hero, by the way. The clerk accused me of being a racist. He made accusations which I won’t go into here, that were totally untrue of me, and referred me to a website so I could  “educate” myself about racial intolerance. (I did check out the website, which to me seemed full of hatred against anyone who didn’t agree with their manifesto.)

But me being me, I questioned myself. Was I unconscious about a racial bias? Me, who refuses to laugh at, or repeat, jokes which put down nationalities, religions, races, or blondes? Me, who won’t even use the word “gyp” after I found out it was derogatory of gypsies, and even though I may never meet a gypsy in my life, I did not want to support a negative stereotype? Some may call that extreme. I call that, being me.

I spoke with the publisher of Short Stories by Texas Authors, the anthology in which the story appeared. He wanted to defend my right to free speech. I wanted to make sure if I held some prejudice I didn’t know about, I would seek it out and banish it. He called the National NAACP to discuss the situation. We received the suggestion that unless we wanted to change the story, we should be ready to defend it. The result: we added a statement of purpose with my bio in the second edition.

In the end, I think the clerk and I both want the same thing. A world free of prejudice. We just have different approaches for how to reach that goal. “Number One GI” makes a statement about the evils of racism. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Have you ever been on the receiving side of prejudice? How did you handle it?

Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Stories by Texas Authors Anthology and four volumes of the Short Story America Anthology. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the Great Midwest Book Festival and won the Texas Association of Authors Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award. The Middlesex County College Library selected TWISTED as a 2015 Best Reads. Marjorie invites you to visit her at www.marjoriespages.com. TWISTED is available in digital and print at http://tinyurl.com/cv15why or http://tinyurl.com/bqcgywl.

4 comments:

  1. This is a tricky question, Marjorie, and you have leaned into it in a good way. Knowing you as well as I do, I am not the least bit surprised.
    However, here's where I'd make a hard-bitten suggestion. While you give credit to the bookstore person for good motives, I suspect that s/he had one that was not so good. S/he sounds like part of the intent was to feel superior to others who didn't concur with his/her views. In short, the bookstore person was happy to adopt an attitude of "I'm so much better than you are because my thoughts are purer."
    It is easy to slide into that, I think, and should be guarded against. I know I have to watch myself on it, truth to tell.
    Great post. Issues worth thinking about. Thank you.

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    1. I know I tend to want to see the best in people. I appreciate you reminding me to be cautious about that--it has gotten me in trouble in the past, but you know something, Kay? I'd rather err on believing people's positive motives than the opposite. Now with my characters, however, I can allow them to be as devious and superior as they need to be. Thanks for your comments.

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  2. Marjorie, yes, as you might imagine, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of prejudice--often from well-meaning white people who simply have no idea that what they are saying or doing is basically racist. From the man who suggested, just thinking it was funny, that my little son just wrap a sheet around himself and go as a burrito for Halloween to the many people who, learning that my kids and I are also Cherokee and Choctaw, will ask us how much. (Native people are the only ones in the US who have to prove their racial pedigree with blood quantum, rather like breeding-stock animals. When was the last time someone said to you, "I'm Irish," and you replied, "Yeah? Really? How much?") The thing is that all of these people don't want to be racist and don't mean to be racist. They're not bad people, at all. We simply live in a racist society, and consequently many things that are actually racist are things people have grown up with thinking were okay because the whole world around them accepted these things as just fine. The racism of our society is so pervasive that you will find it even within the marginalized groups themselves with some members of ethnic groups tending to favor and privilege the members who have fairer skin and "better" hair (read as "more like white people's") and with many among Native peoples buying into the blood quantum crap. I haven't read your story, so can't comment on whether the book clerk was right or wrong--and Kay is right about some white folks who want to use us minorities to boost their own sense of self-righteousness--but if the NAACP felt it would need defending, then it's probably a good thing that you published a statement of intent.

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  3. That's what I want to learn to be sensitive to, Linda, saying or doing something that is racist without knowing it. I, and my daughter, have been on the receiving end of religious discrimination. It's not fun and I would never want to subject another to that experience. I'm sorry you have had hurtful, negative experiences because of other people's ignorance and insensitivity. I hope for a day when society can celebrate and respect the difference in all people. As for the NAACP, their suggestion came not as a "need" to defend, but that anytime an author writes about racial issues, the author should be aware that there will naturally be reactions and "be ready" to defend oneself.
    The publisher and I chose to be proactive, by stating my intent in the next edition. I've since received positive support--and appreciation--for the story from African American readers. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts with me, Linda. I give you permission to confront me anytime you see, hear, or read me saying something derogatory of others. Best,

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