10/21/2007

Christian and black and Specfic -- oh my!

As a black woman, I have the pleasure of writing in two marginalized kinds of speculative fiction: Christian spec-fic and Minority spec-fic.

These two kinds of fiction have many things in common:

1) Some folks assume christian fic and multiculti fic will be preachy.

2) Some folks assume they'll be badly written (because many of these writings are not published by large publishing companies.)

3) Some folks assume (rightly) these books will speak to areas in their own lives that OTHER books never speak about. (A black person reading an all-white Christian specfic book will feel the same kind of alienation a Christian reader will feel when the Christian reader reads a specfic book that avoids or insults Christians.)

4) Some Christian readers consider fantasy/imagination vaguely sinful. As do many black readers.

5) Both these two different types of spec-fic have to find common denominators among their readers. They don't want to splinter already splintered groups. Thus, at conventions, multicultural specfic writers often group themselves under one umbrella, despite race, religion, etc. In the same ways, Christian speculative fiction writers aren't going to get all worked up about denominational issues. At least not in public.

But Christian speculative fiction and Multicultural speculative fiction also have many things not in common.

The biggest difference is often in how white Christians and black Christians see the Bible, Eden, Paradise, and each other.

For instance,

The white Christian speculative writer often creates fiction devoid of black folks or other minorities. It's as if a great disaster occurred on earth and all the black folks and minorities in the world were deemed unsalvageable. Or, if a minority shows up in a Christian story, he or she is the odd escaped slave, drug addict, black secretary, or token. In addition all discussion of racism is generally avoided

White Christian speculative fiction is also very imitative of Tolkein, C S Lewis. Although Christianity is primarily a non-european and a non-white religion, many Christian writers write European-based --elves, dwarves, vampires, and the like-- spec fic that a non-white Christian has to pretty much put away much of her own culture in order to read.

For many white Christian writers --especially those who write slice-of-life fiction and romances-- there is a nostalgia for the rural world. Eden is kind of a home in Appalachia or on the frontiers, while the city represents Babylon. For Black or Native American Christians, the rural world is suspect. That's where we were hung..or are still being hung. That's where our people were maimed or lynched or cast out of their houses. For us, race is still very much alive. Many of us still remember uncles and grandfathers who were lynched by white townsfolk and aunts and mothers and grandmothers who were raped by white men.

Black speculative fiction writers, on the other hand, tend to lose white readers because we often have a "enemy of my enemy is my friend" mentality. We are often politically liberal in some things and spiritually conservative in others. Therefore it is not unusual for a black minority Christian writer --because for some reason we consider our white Christian brothers suspect-- and find herself aligned with gay writers, moslem writers, ultra-liberals, extreme feminists, and even wiccans. Sometimes we are so caught up with the bitterness we have suffered because of white racists, an innocent white reader has a tough time getting through a story.

The white Christian writer has to find a way to write fiction which doesn't seem as if he thinks his race is the only --and the greatest-- race. And minority Christians have to be careful lest racial bitterness overwhelms our pages.

As a black woman it wasn't easy for me to find this balance when I write a Christian story.

It isn’t easy walking through the world where people think you’re always ready to jump down some “innocent” white person’s throat. When I think of all the times I never complained because I feared some white person would think I was a touchy black woman!

It isn’t easy walking into a store and having the cashier follow you around suspecting you of wanting to steal something. Certainly more black women have grinned and borne it than have snapped, “Why the heck are you following me around?” I tell you… we black women are generally beacons of patience and forbearance.

It isn’t easy walking through a world where people assume you lack the great noble European trait of discipline. I went to a local gourmet supermarket run by a woman from Spain. I told her everything I wanted. She snapped, “I’m really busy. Do you really want to eat all that?” Why it didn’t occur to her that I was buying tons of food for a potluck dinner (’cause I didn’t want to cook) is beyond me. I’m sure she would’ve made kinder less judgmental assumptions about a white woman. And hey, although I was taken aback, I didn’t snap at her. But I didn’t explain myself either…I just kinda cowered shamefacedly and walked away feeling hurt.

It isn’t easy walking through a world where if you disagree with an editor, you are assumed to be touchy because well….”black women are touchy.”

It isn’t easy walking through the world when people – sometimes American but often folks newly arrived from the Old Country– —equate blackness with dirtiness. A Polish acquaintance of mine had a mother who actually believed blacks were dirty because they didn’t clean themselves and the dirt had stuck to their skin. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in public malls and movie theaters where I see a Hispanic person avoid an open bathroom stall because a black person has exited it. Sounds old-fashioned, I know. But remember, much of the rest of the world doesn’t go around teaching racial enlightenment.

It amazes me to think that most of the black Women I know are gentle souls saying prayers for sick friends and generally doing good stuff in the world and yet, the world insists on thinking we’re angry people. And it amazes me that when we DO become angry they belittle our racial pain by saying we are “always getting angry.” Come now, we don’t!

So as a black woman Christian writer I have to be very careful. I think I managed to make my novel, Wind Follower, honest to my Christian principles...and also honest to my race. There were moments of great temptation, though, I'll admit. There were times when racial bitterness might have entered the book, or the need to appear as a "sweet Christian woman who is above racial issues." But I wouldn't have been true to myself if I had not rightly divided my particular word of truth.

I trust that God has helped me to write a balanced book. Now that I am working on a novel that takes place in contemporary reality, I suspect the same temptations will arise. Again, I trust God will help me walk the fine line.

As Christian writers of all races, we must be careful that our stories don't become mutually exclusive. After all, we need to build our audience. But even more we need to understand each other's paths.

Dear Father, you have created one family out of many tribes. Bring unity, understanding, and love to your people. Help us to write stories that include all of your peoples, all our Christian brothers and sisters across the world. Help us to love each other as you have loved us. I ask all this in Jesus name, Amen.

-Carole McDonnell

19 comments:

cathikin said...

Thank you for this very clear and well-written article. As a White Christian, I really want to understand my brothers and sisters who come from other cultures, especially Black Americans. You are right; when I think of what I have read, even non-Christian science fiction, the separation is there. Maybe part of it is because of our lack of understanding. I really would like to read your book. I am anxious to hear an honest voice that I can learn from.

Writer said...

thanks, cathikin. I hope I managed honesty in the WF. -C

Valerie Comer said...

Thanks for that thought-provoking article. In my part of rural Canada there are very few black folk...I think here it is the First Nations folk who are treated similarly to what you say.

As a white woman in a white world, I don't even think about these issues unless pointed out. So I thank you for that!

Writer said...

thanks, Valerie. -C

Lelia Rose Foreman said...

I just ordered Wind Follower and am looking forward to reading it.
As a caucasian with asperger's syndrome growing up in a scot and swede descendent town with absolutely no minorities of any sort I never understood about race and racial thinking and racial insults. I always loved learning about other cultures and automatically love every foreigner I meet. And I can't figure out why other people don't. The xenophobia of many blacks and whites has always astounded me.
I have always had a multiplicity of ethnicities in my writing. Ha, maybe because I'm faceblind, that's the only way I can tell my characters apart.
I finally understand why whenever I talked to black women I wanted to be friends with they had curtains behind their eyes. After I adopted two black children, those curtains went away. Because I'm socially clueless I made sure there were black aunties and uncles around to teach them what I could not. I tried to teach my son to not take it personally if he were ever stopped for driving while black, since he would have no idea what the police had just been told to look for and beside that was simple statistics.
A friend was explaining to me about the informal adoptions by blacks in America and how black men hate the formal adoption process where a white female social worker goes into their home and asks intrusive questions. I said I had to answer the same questions that they have to ask everybody and didn't take it personally. Aargh! she shouted, you never take anything personally. I guess I don't. When I'm followed in a store I don't care. One of my white sons was followed from store to store to store in a mall once, we think because of his beautiful jacket he had airbrushed with a tiger ripping the back.
I remember once reading how insulted a black woman felt whenever she sat beside a white woman on a pew and the white would move her purse away like she thought the black would steal it. Oooh nooo, I thought, having always done that to white and black to invite the person to sit in closer and not have a barrier between. I thought everybody did that. Gah, social rules are so hard to figure out.
And another oooh nooo. A few hours before leaving for Rwanda with www.comeandseeafrica.org I was reading the blog of a Friend who had taught a course on sermon preparation in Burundi who told about how insulted the students felt when their American teachers wore flat shoes and slacks to teach. It was night and I didn't have time to run out and buy a dress and I can't wear high heels. Aaah! But our hosts were polite and did not complain about my clothes. However, when I bought an African outfit and wore it, their eyes lit up. I bought a lot of fabric from the market and am sewing African type garments from them and I will be prepared when I go back in two months.
Why did I tell you all this? I dunno. You started a train of thought that's still chugging along, but I think it's time to shut up.
I hope to get to know you better. And if I'm offensive, please tell what I did wrong so I'll know what to do next time. Thank you.

Writer said...

Hi Lelia Rose:

Loved your letter. As I read it, it reminded me of some of my characters in WF. They are always trying to figure out each other and the world they find themselves in. I'm familiar with Asperger's Syndrome. It must be very hard having to be so mentally aware of personal dynamics. My 17 year old son is diagnosed as severely autistic multiply disabled and is non-verbal. I often see him struggling to figure out what's going on around him. I'm still trusting God for major leaps and when I hear from Asperger's folks a part of me says, "wow, I wish he could rise to that level of comprehension." So you're inspiring me. Am trusting in God re my son. The doctor's report has to bend to God's report.

The interesting thing especially is that because you have the Asperger's you do what so many folks in the world really should be doing. Not that I want everyone walking around second-guessing themselves. But it certainly helps everyone if we become aware of how humans interact and how communication can be misunderstood.

I'm wondering how your Asperger's connects to your characters. I struggle with fibromyalgia. (Again, the doc's report is not higher than Isaiah's report so am trusting God) The weird thing is that the fibro always ends up in my stories in some way. My main character Satha had sleep issues, for instance. And my son's challenges also end up in my novels. In fact, all my stories have at least one character who has a kind of disability of some kind. I think we have to recognize everyone's challenge. Thanks for ordering WF. I hope you like it. -C

Lelia Rose Foreman said...

Well! I have a thirty-one year old non-verbal daughter with autism, retardation, bi-polar, OCD, and lately a seizure disorder. Welcome to the club.
Yes, I too always put somebody with a disability in my work. You can order a used copy of Shatterworld from Amazon to see. Do you read the blog of Ballastexistenz? Her youtube In My Language floored me.
I have a twenty-six year old son with asperger's who works as a programmer for a video game company and is one of the nicest people in the world. He needs a wife. I don't suppose you have a single, committed Christian, quirky girl for him to meet?
I have two neurotypical sons, one who understands me and is working with me on a novel, and one who finds me a trial. A funny trial. It cracks him up how I can't recognize his friends. And one daughter with fetal-alchohol-effect who is a trial to me. Not a funny one. But I can see her brain slowly integrating and I suspect and pray that by age 30 she'll start making some wise decisions.
I went to your blog and tried to comment and couldn't. I wanted to tell you that I think God already answered part of your prayer. You ARE beautiful! And what interesting links you post.
Oh, by the way, does your son sound like a wookie? My daughter does. Hence, during my daughter's violent phase the family motto: Let the Wookie win.

Writer said...

oh gee! I'm sorry you couldn't post. I wonder why. Sorry about that. Don't know what i did. Will look around.

I know a lot of single committed christian girls but unfortunately they're all over the US. Don't know where they'll end up after college.

Ah, you're sweet about my beauty. I was a cutie back in the day. Doors would open by themselves as I approached. ::giggle::

I think you'll like my character Malana. Nah, my son doesn't sound like a wookie but he has a mega-commanding finger that pretty much orders us to do a lot.

Lelia Rose Foreman said...

Mega Commanding Finger sounds like a comic book hero!

chrisd said...

Also, have you thought of submitting this piece to Crosswalk?

Mirtika said...

The mother of my first serious boyfriend would not let me in her house. No kidding. Her exact words, "Don't bring that dirty Cuban into my house." To her son. On the phone. With me on the other line as he told her about dating me.

This from a Jewish woman, who, considering the history of antisemitic oppression, one would expect to sympathize with the minority position in society.

shrug.

Yeah, been called spic. Developed a borderline case of agoraphobia after years of having the IRish gang in our neighborhood (I was the only Hispanic on the block) rag on me on the way to and from the building I lived in.

So, unless someone has walked in the shoes of being "the other" , the one considered "less than", the "dark-skinned" one who just isn't "on par with us," they can't possibly get how that can color one's days and make one a tad sensitive to the questioning glance that may be quite innocent.

I know I've seen preference shown to white persons in shops and restaurants, the idiots never stopping to consider that I might be spending and tipping way better than whomever they were giving preference to. I tip well. :)

I posted on Black Spec fic yesterday, and someone gave me the heads up to this entry. Great to read. THANKS. Will be linking.

Mir

Jason said...

I follwed this link from Mirtika's blog. This was a powerful post. Thank you for sharing with us. I always feel so awful about the ways people get treated, in small and large ways. It is really interesting about your perspective of writing, spec fiction, and how it is so culturally influenced. Eye-opening, really.

This is food for thought, and I will keep this post in mind the next time I shop at Barnes and Noble. Seriously - as an aspiring writer, it seems I need to expand my viewpoint a little more.

Blessings on your writing and your struggles with your health and your son. God is there, and He is not silent.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Hi Mirtika:

Unfortunately that happens. I'm always amazed when minorities are prejudiced against other minorities. Seems very odd to me. Which shows that maybe some part of me assumes minorities are more noble than non-minorities. unfortunately, we're all human...and we do to other folks what we don't like being done to us. I think Christians will be blessed, though, when all the tribes of man get their say and input into our religion. Right now the world is getting itself more balanced. For instance, there are more hispanic specfic writers. Maria Lima for instance. She's Cuban-American. Am not sure if she's a Christian but she's a great writer. And there are Christian minority writers such as Camy Tang, who writes Asian chick lit...with Christian characters of course. So I know there has got to be a lot of Christian minority folks writing spec fic. Don't know if you ever heard of www.wcgip.org or www.wiconi.org Both are organizations that deal with christian minorities. Great blessing to Christians.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Thanks Jason. There are some great multiculti writers out there. Great books like My soul to keep by Tananarive Due or Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower or Kindred.

Yes I have to expand my horizons too. Unfortunately I haven't read too many Christian spec fic. Will have to repair that. -C

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Hey Chris!

How goes? Nice seeing your font.
-C

lelia rose foreman said...

Mirtika,
When I read a story like yours I want to cry. There's nothing I can do to undo that experience for you. I'm so sorry.
It took 19 years after my adoption of two black kids to see my first instance of racial bias. A white guy in a truck flipped the bird to me and my daughter. My daughter said, "No, I don't know him," and shrugged, "It happens all the time, Mom." I thought, Thanks for letting me know.
Which makes me think of all the foreign worlds around us we don't see. My husband and his brother think nothing of driving the car to empty on gas, whereas my sister-in-law and I are always adamant the car have at least a quarter-tank at all times. Our best beloveds cannot seem to grasp that women live in a scarier world than they live in. We rightly fear where we might run out of gas.
And I think my voice is as chirping crickets to contractors and homebuilders. I constantly have to drag them back to lower the switches and raise the electric plugs. They can still reach such things and so can hunched over grandmothers and those in wheelchairs. They must be thinking about the ball game while they work because they always forget my specific directions. It never seems to occur to them that some people can't reach as high as they can.
I can remember as a teen wondering why the blacks seemed to think they were the only ones picked on. Everyday of my life in public school I was tripped and mocked and spitballed and accused of raising the curve for grades and left out etc. And I have yet to read the poster on Wrong Planet that says he or she was Not bullied everyday. There is great bitterness among my fellow aspies about it. I was always called weird and I couldn't figure out and still can't figure out how neurotypicals can always tell that I'm not. With growth and understanding how desperately people want to fit in and those of us who don't fit in send bad signals to the amygdalas, I have forgiven all. But complaining about dirty people is inexcusable.
I'm sorry Mirtika. All I can do is remind you that in heaven every eye will be dried.

gificor said...

Amen to everything that you said sister. I am wanting to include a lot of non white characters in my stories. I was always curious as to where the Africans and Asians went to in the future. I read a lot of Asimov, Heinlein, and other "Golden Age" science fiction that was basically about whites. Where did everybody else go?

I am glad for shows like "Firefly" that showed many races living together. We need to see more of that.

I am attending an international church now, and that has really influenced my stories. I want to include characters that are not always white Americans. (Can't green women from Orion be considered internationals?)

God bless and keep shattering stereotypes for the glory of God.

Cheri said...

Great post Carole! Last year, I ran across a post from a young black woman and I could 'feel her pain.' She said, 'it's hard being a black woman,' and it is. At times, it seems that from all sides we face criticism. We're either too light or too dark, too short or too tall, too strident or too quiet, too smart or too ignorant, too thin or too curvaceous, and the list goes on. As a writer, the struggle becomes in just 'be-ing' and hoping that in chronicaling our 'be-ing' and 'be-coming' through writing there is something said that may resound to the humanity of all readers.
God Bless...
Cheri

Rex said...

I am an African-American with Asperger's Syndrome and OCD....I am 42 years old and I was diagnosed in 2006....instead of being upset, I was relieved because the diagnosis explained so much